Eleven Towns Could be Wiped Off Rhode Island’s Map As State Ranks 45th Nationally on Updated 2017 Family Prosperity Index
Crippling out-migration problem demands a new policy approach. Perhaps nothing is more telling about whether Americans see a state as providing sufficient opportunities for prosperity and a better quality of life than whether or not they are flocking to or fleeing from its borders. No other measure paints a more realistic picture of whether or not a particular state is an ideal place to raise a family or build a career than how people “vote with their feet.”
In this regard, Rhode Island is losing the state-to-state migration competition. Shockingly, since 2004, the State of Rhode Island has lost the equivalent population of 11 of its 39 cities and towns to out-migration. On net, over 80,000 more Rhode Island residents chose to leave our states than residents of other states chose to move here.
While America’s population grows, the Ocean State’s population remains stagnant because of such out-migration losses. Combined with the widely reported fact that the incomes of those coming to Rhode Island are lower than those leaving, Rhode Island’s overall tax base is on an ominous downward spiral. Some would call it a “death spiral.”
Out-migration losses are a contributing factor Rhode Island’s total labor force actually experiencing a decline in recent years. Although labor force decline is a negative factor, counter-intuitively, it has improved the state’s increasingly unreliable unemployment rate metric.
Strong families are the backbone to a free and thriving society. The root of this out-migration problem can best be captured by the Family Prosperity Index (FPI). As the most in-depth research on family well-being ever conducted, the FPI compiles 60 national indexes into 30 secondary categories as part of six major categories: Economics, Demographics, Family Self-Sufficiency, Family Structure, Family Culture, and Family Health.
This out-migration problem was highlighted in the Center’s original 2016 Rhode Island Family Prosperity Index report, where the Ocean State ranked a dismal 48th among all states.
In the updated 2017 FPI , while Rhode Island improved to 45th nationally, up three spots from 2016, the state suffers from a bottom-third ranking in five of six major categories and 16 of 30 secondary categories. The state ranked in the top-third in just six of the 30 secondary categories.
Despite this mild improvement, a more disturbing long-term trend is emerging. In the past five years, Rhode Island’s score in the important major category of Family Self-Sufficiency has declined by 9.8%. Over this same period, the Ocean State also saw declines in Family Structure, Family Health, and its overall FPI score, albeit with increased scores in Economics, Demographics, and Family Culture.
Combined with a separate measure that saddles Rhode Island with the worst-ranked business climate in the nation, this one-two punch to the gut has been insurmountable hurdles for many Ocean State families and businesses to overcome.
Todd Sandahl is one of those 80,000 individuals who felt compelled to make the difficult personal choice to uproot his family and move to another state that offered more financial security. An electrical engineer by trade, Sandahl couldn’t find meaningful employment in Rhode Island and became tired of his long commute to Massachusetts. He decided to pack his bags and head to Colorado for more opportunities, when he saw no future in the Ocean State.
FPI: a strategic roadmap. Rhode Islanders understand that better opportunities for prosperity can only be realized if more and better businesses create more and better jobs. Connecting the dots, it appears that Rhode Island’s poor opportunity for prosperity is a major reason why more people choose to leave our state than those who choose to come.
Rhode Island’s Family Prosperity Index not only highlights the state’s many specific problems, but the FPI can also be used as a roadmap to reverse these troubling trends. There is no single “silver-bullet” solution to the Ocean State’s many shortcomings. As it took hundreds of pieces of misguided legislation and regulation over recent decades to sink the state into a hole, it will take dozens, if not hundreds, of strategically aligned positive steps to pull us out.
Clearly, a new strategic policy direction is required for our state — a direction that the political class and civil society can largely agree upon. The high levels of taxation and regulation demanded by the state’s budget have led to the subsequent negative impacts on the business community and on family finances, as illustrated by Rhode Island’s out-migration losses. Yet the state’s political leaders continue to adhere to a misguided fealty to a budget that actually harms the very people they are sworn to serve. Indeed the state budget itself, and the policies that support it, could be considered to be the enemy of the people.
The FPI shows us the way. The major lesson of the original 2016 RI FPI report is that strong families lead to a strong economy, and vice versa. The clear, empirical evidence from a detailed analysis of reams of data from government and publicly available private sources confirms that a focus on pro-family outcomes, via policies that promote work and marriage, can lead to improved economic outcomes for the entire state.
By looking to improve each of the 60 FPI indexes, one at a time, the Ocean State can begin to turn its ship around. This focus will be at the core of the Center’s ongoing public policy advocacy and will be the primary mission of the recently formed RI Families Coalition.