Rhode Island's economy was historically based overwhelmingly on industry; agriculture, mining, forestry, and fishing making only small contributions. The state's leading manufactured products were jewelry, silverware, machinery, primary metals, textiles, and rubber products. In the late 1990s, manufacturing declined steadily as a contributor to state economic output, falling from 14.7% in 1997 to 11.1% in 2001. The recession of 2001only accelerated the contraction in the Rhode Island's manufacturing output to 3.3% from its previous rates of about 2% a year. The strongest growth sectors in terms of output coming into the 21st century (1997 to 2001) were financial services (up 44.3%); trade (up 28.5%); general services (up25.6%); and government (up 20.6%). Unemployment rates in Rhode Island exceeded those of the US throughout the 1970s, and the state's economic growth lagged behind that of the nation as a whole. Unemployment fell dramatically in 1983 and 1984, rose again to 8.7% in 1992, and but had fallen to around 5% by 1996. Manufacturing employment declined 23% between 1983 and 1992 while service jobs increased 36%. In all, only about 1,000 jobs were lost between 1988 and 1998, mostly in the manufacturing sector, while service-related jobs rose, accounting for about half of all personal income in 1998. The impact of the 2001 national recession and slowdown on Rhode Island's employment and income was the mildest among the New England states. By mid-2002, job growth had surpassed the peak reached in 2000.
In 2001, Rhode Island's gross state product gross state product was $36.9 billion, 8th smallest among the states, to which financial services contributed $10.9 billion; general services, $7.9 billion; trade, $5.1 billion; government, $4.4 billion; manufacturing, $4.1 billion; transportation and public utilities, $2.3 billion, and construction, $1.9 billion. The public sector in 2001 constituted 11.8% of gross state product, close to the 12% average for the states.