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Disintegration of RI Families? Center Invites Civic, Religious, & Political leaders to Forum to Discuss New Report

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: December 21, 2016

Turning the Tide Toward Prosperity in the Ocean State:
Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity and American Conservative Union Foundation Unveil Report on Underlying Reasons for Rhode Island’s Rank (48th) on Family Prosperity Index

Government Crowd-Out of Business & Civil Society, Family Disintegration Contribute to Migration of Residents to Other States, Create Drag on Family Prosperity

Providence, RI — The Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity, along with its national partner, The American Conservative Union Foundation, today unveiled an in-depth analysis of factors contributing to the Ocean State’s dismal score on the Family Prosperity Index (FPI). The Rhode Island Family Prosperity report – the second “deep dive” state study following the national introduction of the FPI at CPAC earlier this year – highlights Rhode Island’s poor scores on a number of factors, including family self-sufficiency, family structure, fertility, and illicit drug use, compounded by its significant out-migration rate, as the determinant factors in the state’s overall FPI rank of 48th in the nation.

In conjunction with the release of the report, the organizations announced their plans to co-host a forum featuring national and local experts in early 2017 to explore the problem areas outlined in the FPI report as well as possible solutions. The forum will take place on the afternoon of Tuesday, January 17, at the Hassenfeld Institute for Public Leadership at Bryant University.

The Family Prosperity Index, created by ACU Foundation economists Wendy Warcholik, Ph.D., and J. Scott Moody, M.A., is an entirely new tool that does what no resource has done before – demonstrate quantitatively the undeniable link between economic and social policy in determining family prosperity. In so doing, the Index provides a road map for finding real solutions to the cultural and financial problems that keep families – and the nation – from flourishing. A more holistic measure than the one-dimensional unemployment rate or GDP, which only considers economic data, the FPI makes it possible to measure U.S. progress every year and rate states against each other according to how well they are providing an environment for families to flourish.

The FPI provides the credible data that state policymakers, civic and religious leaders, think tanks and activists need in order to develop and advocate effectively for policies that improve the prosperity of families and the communities where they live.

“Everyone concerned about the well-being of our state’s families should be alarmed by our unacceptable 48th-place ranking,” said Mike Stenhouse, Chief Executive Officer of the Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity. “It is time to challenge the status quo insider mindset and to search for a more holistic path to help real Rhode Islanders improve their quality of life. Our January forum will provide an ideal opportunity for community, religious, and political leaders to convene to begin this process.”

The FPI assesses the economic and social status of six discrete index categories – economics, demographics, family structure, family self-sufficiency, family culture and family health. The categories are supported by 57 data-sets from publicly accessible data and backed up by current documentable research. In the inaugural 2016 edition of the FPI, in which Utah was ranked first and New Mexico last overall, Rhode Island ranked in the bottom ten states on economics, demographics, family structure, and family self-sufficiency; dead last on family health; and in the middle of the pack on family culture.

According to the report released today, “With such a low overall FPI score, Rhode Island clearly has a lot of work to do to improve the economic and social conditions necessary for enhanced family well-being. On the economic side, we must expand the private sector, boost entrepreneurship, and reduce net out-migration. On the social side, Rhode Island would benefit from a boost in fertility, stronger intact families, and a significant reduction in illicit drug use and incarceration.”

The report provides direction for a path forward for the Ocean State. “Rhode Island’s politicians would do well to focus on minimizing government encroachment on its citizens by reducing its onerous tax burden, which, in turn, would spark new entrepreneurship and jobs, and on taking up pro-family measures that encourage healthy familial activity. Rhode Island’s community and religious leaders would also do well to inspire their constituents to aspire to a higher level of self-sufficiency as part of stronger marriages or otherwise healthier lifestyles.

“Religious institutions and other elements of civil society can help mitigate Demographic Winter in the Ocean State by addressing issues associated with family fertility, out-of-wedlock births, incarceration and drug abuse, and overall religious participation….

“If we want to turn the tide of friends and family members moving out of Rhode Island…we must embark on a new path toward renewed well-being. The Family Prosperity Index shows us the way.”

The FPI, which will be published annually and ranks each of the 50 states according to their respective scores, is the basis for a multi-year effort of the ACU Foundation’s Family Prosperity Initiative. The Initiative includes a deeper analysis of each state and its performance on the Index, providing potentially county-by-county guidance for possible policy changes. The state reports – of which Rhode Island’s is the second – will occur on a rolling basis.

Said American Conservative Union Chairman Matt Schlapp, “I hope Rhode Island’s leaders will take to heart the recommendations in the report released today to help turn the tide toward greater prosperity for Ocean State families.”

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Jobs & Opportunity Index (JOI), November 2016: A Quiet Entry to the Holiday Season

The final Jobs & Opportunity Index (JOI) report from the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity to be released in 2016 brings little change, leaving until next year information about how factors such as the problematic Unified Health Infrastructure Project (UHIP) will affect Rhode Island’s position nationally.

Of the 13 datapoints used for the index, only five were newly updated for the November report. Employment was down 365 from the previously recorded number, while labor force fell a substantial 1,758, although RI-based jobs increased by 300. (Note that these are calculated with pre-revision data for the prior month.) Medicaid enrollment decreased by 1,369 from August to September and SNAP by 667. The enrollment numbers for Rhode Island’s welfare programs will be a key variable to watch as 2016 data is completed early in the next year. Assuming UHIP doesn’t undermine data reporting to the federal government, the question will be whether increased information finds more current enrollees ineligible than connecting all of the program brings more people to benefits.

The first chart shows Rhode Island locked in the last position in New England on JOI. Although New England experienced a mix of improved and declining JOI scores, no states changed position in the national ranking. New Hampshire remained 1st in the nation, with Maine a distant second, at 20th. Vermont was right behind, at 21st. Connecticut narrowly held its 34th position, with Massachusetts next, at 35th.

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The second chart shows the gap between Rhode Island and New England as well as the United States, with the Ocean State’s lag worsening slightly in both cases. Rhode Island kept pace with New England for the gap on the unemployment rate but lost ground against the national average (third chart).

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Results for the three underlying JOI factors were:

  • Job Outlook Factor (measuring optimism that adequate work is available): RI remained at 39th.
  • Freedom Factor (measuring the level of work against reliance on welfare programs): RI remained at 39th.
  • Prosperity Factor (measuring the financial motivation of income versus taxes): RI remained at 47th.
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National Study Blasts Politicization of RI Pension Portfolio Management; Center renews Call for Pension Fund Protection Act

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: December 15, 2016

Special Interest Politics Should Never be Investment Criteria

Providence, RI — A national report released yesterday by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) – Keeping The Promise: Getting Politics Out of Pensions – dedicated an entire chapter (p.27) to highlighting a “politically-driven decision to divest from a high performing hedge-fund” by then Treasurer Gina Raimondo. With this incident and others in mind, the Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity renews its call for legislative action that would end the cronyism and overt politics that has caused instability to the retirement-security of public employees and that has exposed taxpayers to further risk. The mismanagement and politicization of Rhode Island’s public employee pension fund have resulted in sub-standard portfolio returns.

“Enough of the political correctness and insider cronyism. We call on lawmakers to act now to ensure that sound fiscal guidelines are adhered to,” reiterated Mike Stenhouse, CEO for the Center. “The dismal performance of the state pension fund, under General Treasurers Raimondo and Magaziner, could have been minimized if sound investment practices were followed. Some kind of pension-fund protection act is clearly in order.”

Initial research shows that a number of other states have implemented, or are currently considering, provisions that require specific fiduciary guidelines to making pension fund investment decisions. A Pew Charitable Trusts report to the Committee on Alabama Public Pensions indicates that the National Association of State Retirement Administrators (NASRA) has suggested that pension fund trustees should adhere to “a robust fiduciary standard” in the execution of their duties. NASRA supports the action of setting strong fiduciary standards into law so that the paramount goal of investment strategies should be the financial security of pension assets.

In recent years, conversely, Rhode Island policy has put retirees and taxpayers at increased exposure, because political correctness appears to have been the primary motivation for making certain investment decisions:

  • Treasurer Raimondo announced a divestment strategy in 2013 from high performing “gun” related investments … for political reasons. (In a similar move the City of Providence divested from eight fossil fuel companies.)
  • As highlighted in the ALEC report, Treasurer Raimondo divested in 2014 from the states highest performing hedge fund, Dan Loeb’s Third Point LLC … caving to political pressure from teachers unions
  • Instead, Treasurer Raimondo invested in other high-fee hedge funds … some of which were associated with her former investment company
  • Treasurer Magaziner announced in early 2016 that state’s proxy votes would be used to influence investment vendors to diversify their boards … to meet an arbitrary politically-correct standard
  • Treasurer Magaziner announced last month a “back to basics” investment strategy to divest of most hedge fund investments … bowing to political pressure from third-party critics

“Each of these fiscally-irresponsible decisions has led to deteriorating performance of the pension fund. There’s little reason to trust that Treasurer Magaziner’s new back to basics strategy will not continue be overly-politicized,” added Mike Riley, Chairman of the Center, and an investment and pension expert. “It is obvious now that the General Assembly must act to ensure proper fiscal due-diligence is conducted, devoid of political correctness considerations.”

In order to protect the security and stability of state retirement funds, Riley suggests that legislation should include the following goals:

  1. Ensure that all investment decisions are made solely in the best interest of the beneficiaries
  2. Limit considerations for investment vehicles to measurable economic or fiscal factors only
  3. Ban other non-fiscal considerations, except in the most extreme instances (e.g., Iran-based companies)
  4. Ensure that investment fees and costs are reasonable in relation to the assets of the retirement system

The Center encourages lawmakers to honor the promise made to public employees and to support related pension-protection legislation in 2017.

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STATEMENT: RI & Department of Health Reality Check; Center Renews Call for Inspector General

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: November 30, 2016

State Lawmakers Need to Face the Realities of a Trump Administration

Providence, RI– As it warned four years ago, when it advised against Medicaid expansion and the Unified Health Infrastructure Project (UHIP), the Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity again warns against the ‘business as usual approach’ on display this past week by state officials. The Center suggests that the Rhode Island Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and the state administration need a reality check with regard to the now epic UHIP computer systems disaster and the recent announcement of more funds planned to be sunk into expansion of the state’s Medicaid infrastructure.

“Newsflash: in seven weeks, Barack Obama will no longer be President. There is a shifting healthcare landscape and state officials need to recognize that unlimited federal support to continue these costly boondoggles is going to end,” suggested Mike Stenhouse, CEO for the Center. “At a time when the federal government will be making dramatic new course changes towards making private health insurance more accessible to more American families, our state, stubbornly, is doubling down on its plans to keep plowing ahead with the failed government-centric approach.”

The Center believes it is irresponsible to plan to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to expand our state’s Medicaid capacity at a time when the federal government and many other states will be moving in the opposite direction: towards reducing enrollment in the government’s public health insurance offering and, instead, towards increasing private health insurance enrollment through an aggressive offering of premium subsidies and/or tax credits. An even more poignant question is whether or not the new presidential administration and Congress will even re-authorize these funds?

The Center expresses further concern that the hundreds of millions of dollars of planned federal and state spending will do little to help working families and small businesses, who will be expected to pay for this spending, most of which go to enriching insider institutions that are part of the Medicaid system. “For every dollar we spend on this wayward path, that’s one less dollar we can proactively spend on education reform or tax cuts,” suggested Stenhouse.

As it has also maintained for years, the Center continues to warn that the real costs of UHIP have not yet fully materialized. The one-stop-shopping aspect of UHIP will purposely lead to increased enrollment in various government services – resulting in new costs that our state cannot afford and – because of the changing landscape – that the federal government may cut funding.

Based on these examples of government incompetence and the continued hemorrhaging of taxpayer money, the Center renews its call for government checks-and-balances via legislation that would create an Office of the Inspector General. The Center believes it is vital than an independent, non-partisan entity should keep watch over state spending in order to prevent the squandering of taxpayer money as has been seen with the UHIP and DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) computer systems. Similarly, major spending projects in other state agencies, such as the multi-billion dollar RhodeWorks program to repair the state’s crumbling bridges and roads, must also be subject to close fiscal oversight of this kind.

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10 Multi-partisan Policy Principles to Improve on RI’s 48th Ranking in Family Prosperity

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 6, 2016
Multi-partisan Policy Recommendations to Improve Family Prosperity and Upward Mobility

Offers public policy ideas for 2016 State candidates to consider

Providence, RI — With statewide elections in just two months, voters must consider whether a turnover in elected officials is necessary to to see a turnover in public policies that may actually improve their families’ prosperity.

Ranking just 48th on the national Family Prosperity Index (FPI) published earlier this year, the broadest available measure of family well-being, the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity (Center) today published a summary of the state’s rankings in dozens of FPI categories along with a set of policy principles that lawmakers are encouraged to consider.

“What if we were to realize that the status quo public policy approach, as well-intended as it may be, in reality, has had the unintended consequence of reducing the overall prosperity of our Rhode Island families,” suggested Mike Stenhouse, the Center’s CEO.”The FPI research clearly demonstrates that cultural, social, and demographic factors must also be considered, in addition to economic factors, when formulating effective public policy.”

The Center maintains that a new public policy approach – an approach that considers the whole person, not just his/her material needs – and that takes the best ideas from across the political spectrum – is required to improve the lives of Ocean State families and individual taxpayers.

The two page policy brief provides a color coded summary of the Ocean State’s rankings. As part of its 48th place ranking among all states, Rhode Island: ranked in the bottom-third in 5 of the 6 major categories, and 18 of the 30 sub-categories; ranked in the middle-third in 1 of 6 major categories and 8 sub-categories; and in the top-third in zero major categories and just 4 sub-categories. The state’s worst rankings are in the major category of Family Demographics, where it ranks red in all 5 sub-categories.

To directly address these problems the Center has developed 10 guiding policy principles that candidates should debate this fall and that lawmakers should consider in the 2017 session. “The solution for our families is not about corporate welfare to targeted ‘advanced industries,’ but rather broad-based policies that enhance opportunity for every family and business,” continued Stenhouse.

In this regard, the Center’s ten policy principles include ideas from the playbooks of both the right and the left. “A new spirit of across-the-aisle and civic cooperation is required if our state government is to effectively serve its constituents. Additionally, community, religious and business leaders also have a very important role to play as public policy cannot address many of the problems Rhode Island must overcome if our families are to improve their chances of upward mobility,” concluded Stenhouse.

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Center Releases Bright Today School Choice Video to Celebrate Milton Friedman Legacy Day

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: July 29, 2016

NEW VIDEO: Parents Discuss Why School Choice Would Benefit Their Families as Part of Friedman Legacy Day Celebration

Bright Today Educational Scholarships Would Empower Parents to Choose the Best Educational Path for their Children

Providence, RI —  The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity (Center) joined in the national celebration of the 10th annual Milton Friedman Legacy Day by releasing a new school choice video, featuring two Rhode Island families. Milton Friedman, regarded as the ‘father of school choice’ , would have been 104 years old today.

SCAs creator of and lead advocate for Educational Scholarship Accounts (ESA) in Rhode Island, the Center encourages families concerned about the lack of educational options available for them to learn more about its “Bright Today” ESA scholarship program, Bright Today legislation, which would empower all Ocean State families with new capacities to choose alternative public or private schools for their children, has not moved in the state’s General Assembly over the past two years.

“Everybody agrees that educating our youth is a moral obligation and a vital basis for renewed economic growth. Yet very few in our political class have the courage to stand up to the special interests who want to maintain a government-run school monopoly,” commented Mike Stenhouse, CEO for the Center. “Just look at the kids in our new video and tell me how we can deny them a better opportunity to improve their chances to go to college, to build a career, and to succeed in life.”

The video, featured on the BrightToday.org website, includes commentary from Gertrude Jones, former President of the Providence School Board and Lifespan Vice President and diversity consultant, who is also an adjunct educational scholar to the Center.

Improving educational outcomes for Rhode Island students is a key component towards improving the state’s dismal 48th place national ranking on the Family Prosperity Index. The Ocean State Current, the Center’s blog and journalism website, also published today a related op-ed – Doing Better by RI’s Children – on the school choice issue.

Over recent year, the Center has partnered with the national Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice and with the local RI Families for School Choice to promote the ESA legislation

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New: JOBS & OPPORTUNITY INDEX – RI’s Score Drops; Still Mired in 48th Place

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
November 21, 2016

Rhode Island loses ground, based on lag in long-term employment security

Providence, RI — Despite October data that showed an end to a two month job-loss skid and a slight improvement in its unemployment rate, Rhode Island actually lost ground and is still mired in 48th place by a broader measurement of overall employment opportunity. This according to the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity which noted today that relative long-term unemployment security concerns dropped the state’s total score, keeping the Ocean State stuck with the 48th rank nationally in the Center’s October Jobs & Opportunity Index (JOI).

The state’s weak JOI score (which dropped in October to 17.5 on a scale of 0-100 from its September score of 17.9) parallel findings from another national study, the Family Prosperity Index (FPI), where it ranks 43rd overall in “economics” and 44th and last in New England in the sub-category of “entrepreneurship”, which can be largely attributed to an overly-burdensome governmental regulatory regime.

Rhode Island’s poor JOI and FPI rankings are personified by Robert Martinez, a US Navy veteran, who fought a losing battle against oppressive local government regulations and a statewide hostile business climate that has derailed his dream of forging a better quality of life for himself by developing a successful mobile food vendor business.

“The notion that a falling unemployment rate is indicative of improved job prospects and financial security is false,” commented Justin Katz, research director for the Center. “Meaningful long-term work and high-paying jobs that are vital to individual dignity and family self-sufficiency are not in high supply in Rhode Island as compared with other states.”

A more detailed analysis of the October data can be found on The Ocean State Current, the Center’s journalism and blog website.

Of the three factors that make up JOI, the Ocean State ranks:
  • 39th on the Job Outlook Factor (measuring optimism that adequate work is available): a drop of 3 spots from last month.
  • 39th on the Freedom Factor (measuring the level of work against reliance on welfare programs): no change from last month
  • 47th Prosperity Factor (measuring the financial motivation of income versus taxes): no change from last month

The Center’s monthly JOI report is based on state and local tax collection data from a a variety of federal agencies including the U.S. Census and on income data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA).

Rhode Island has not gained ground on the national JOI metric, remaining – as it has for years – in the bottom five among all states. JOI is a broader and more accurate measure of employment and well-being than the traditionally cited and highly narrow unemployment rate, which has fluctuated more dramatically in recent years for Rhode Island, but which is not an accurate barometer of economic growth or family prosperity.

Supporting the findings of the JOI metric, Rhode Island also ranks 48th in the Family Prosperity Index, the broadest national measure of family well-being.

For the JOI homepage, click here

For a description of JOI and its three sub-factors, click here.