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RI unemployment rate falls to 8.8 percent

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) -- Rhode Island's unemployment rate dropped in April to 8.8 percent — its lowest level since October 2008 — and the labor force shrunk for the fourth straight month, labor officials said Thursday.

The state Department of Labor and Training reported that the jobless rate was 8.8 percent, down from 9.1 percent the month before.

But the size of the labor force was down 700 in April to 558,200, in part because of discouraged workers who have given up looking for a job, officials said. Labor and Training Director Charlie Fogarty said the decline also includes people — in a state with an aging population — who are finally retiring after having delayed doing so because of the bad economy.

In addition to the drop in the overall jobless rate, the labor report contained other good news: The number of Rhode Island jobs was up 500 from the revised March estimate, to 467,400. The state has created jobs in five of the last six months.

The number of employed state residents was also up 1,200, to 508,900. The department said that's 9,100 jobs more than a year ago.

"We still have a lot of work cut out for us to get Rhode Island's economy back on track," Fogarty said, adding that the economy is still not "firing on all cylinders."

But Fogarty also noted that the state's jobless rate has declined three times faster in the last year than that of the U.S. as a whole.

Rhode Island's unemployment rate was 10.6 percent a year ago. The U.S. rate was 8.1 percent.

The U.S. jobless rate in April was 7.5 percent.