The current chatter is that Rhode Island will most likely to lose one of its two seats in the U.S. House of Representatives- which are currently held by Congressmen David Cicilline (D) and Jim Langevin (D). Unless one of them chooses not to seek re-election, it would come down to a face-off in the 2022 primaries.
This is a direct result of our stagnant population growth, a symptom of a much bigger and much more serious problem. We haven't kept up with the rest of the nation in every other measurable financial metric, why should population growth be any different? To put it simply, when the boat is sinking, people jump ship.
This should not come as a surprise to anyone who’s been paying attention. Think back to July, when CNBC released their list of the Top States for Business. Rhode Island ranked 45th.
The story quickly faded from the headlines, and so did the outrage. Should we have been so dismissive? No, we shouldn’t have been. Perhaps if we had taken the time, and looked a little closer, we would have seen that the predictable and preventable warning signs that led to the downsizing of our representation in Washington.
Sadly, as a result of our shortsightedness, this will eventually result in the depletion on our last valuable economic resource. Our workforce.
Once we lose that everything will get much worse, and our elected leaders know this. You have noticed the frenzy to keep companies like Hasbro here, the push to bribe others to move here, free college tuition for some residents. What’s next? Perhaps tax breaks to keep college graduates here because the money and the jobs are somewhere else.
These are nothing more than temporary band-aids to a much bigger, festering wound and just like in medicine you need to treat the whole patient, not just the disease.
If it’s so simple, then why hasn’t it been done? That one’s easy. The time it would take to fix decades of neglect and see the beginnings of actual progress would take longer than one election cycle.
No one would ever think of running for re-election on a campaign platform of “Trust me it’s getting better, you just can’t notice it yet.” Democrats thrive in a society of instant gratification because it’s just easier and safer to throw money at something and proclaim results. Feel-good legislation brings feel-good votes, all without having to produce anything of substance.
Right now in RI, you are looking at the results of decades of making people feel good.
So, what does CNBC’s Top States for Business report have to do with Rhode Island losing a Congressman, and how could it have helped? The report comes from a study that scored all 50 states on 64 metrics across 10 categories of competitiveness. In a nutshell, it grades the states on the qualities the states use to sell themselves; it is based on what the states think makes them a desirable place for business. The big take-a-way word here is competitiveness. When you look at each category, you can easily see how the success of one category is achieved due to the success of every other category and conversely failure in one category can lead to failure in all.
This is what landed Rhode Island in 45th place and lost us a Congressman. It’s not due to a single issue like the economy, that is just the tip of the iceberg.
In the three categories, Infrastructure, Access to Capital and Cost of Living, Rhode Island scored an F.
Infrastructure looked the quality of our roads, bridges, dams and commute time. If you have either driven in or were a passenger at any point in Rhode Island, it would have been no surprise to you last August when Rhode Island ranked in at 50th. The worst in the nation. We have the highest number of roads (24.6%) in poor condition, deficient bridges (23.3%) and the 9th highest number of dams at high hazard risk (42.3%). Not surprising, we are the 16th lowest in state highway spending per driver ($408).
Speaking about being cheap, Access to Capital ranked our small-business lending and venture capital investments that earned us a pathetic 19 out of 50 points and based on the price of basic items, food, utilities and health care Rhode Island scored an embarrassing 9 out of 75 for Cost of Living making us the 9th most expensive state to live in. The water begins to fill the boat.
Cost of Doing Business looked at taxes, state-sponsored incentives, energy costs, real estate and wages; Technology & Innovation considered the number of patents as well as science and agricultural research grants and the infrastructure to support it. Uh oh, didn’t we get an F in Infrastructure? Quality of Life took into account the crime rate, environmental quality and tourism. I’m going to say right here that for a state whose biggest employer is CVS Caremark and our main moneymaker is the environment and tourism, we should have nothing less than a letter grade of an A, this is pathetic and embarrassing.
Lastly, the category of Business Friendliness or as we call it here in Rhode Island, Business Regulations, were all tallied up and in all four categories we earned a big fat letter D. If you’re one of those people who would be happy with a 66 on a test, we’re going to have issues because I personally would like the state in which myself and my loved ones are residing to have a much higher quality of life score than barely not failing. Apparently, I’m not alone as the bow of the boat begins to dip just under the water.
Last July when this report came out, Rhode Island received the passing grade of a C in two categories, Economy and Education. The economy report analyzed job creation, real estate, our budget (also now known as the deficit), economic growth and the number of major corporations headquartered in our state. Since CNBC’s Business report was issued, Rhode Island’s 3rd quarter GDP report was released, and it ranked our economy in 45th place, still proving that employment is not a metric of the economy even though Gina Raimondo likes to believe that it is.
Even though they were available before the 2018 Election, Raimondo recently released Rhode Island’s Comprehensive Assessment System (RICAS) scores. There was a reason she kept them out of public scrutiny until she won the election.
On the English, Language and Arts section, only 34% of our students are considered proficient and only 27% of our students met or exceeded expectations. Our K-12 system has been horribly broken for quite some time and as if that weren’t enough, college retention and graduation rates are depressing and of those that do graduate 70% move someplace in search of a lower cost of living and better chances for employment. By now the bow of the boat is well submerged beneath the waves.
The only category we scored well in was workforce, and that was calculated using several metrics, including the education level of our workforce. Currently, of the state’s working age population 13% do not have a high school diploma, 58% have a high school diploma or an Associate’s degree and 29% have a bachelor's'’ degree or higher.
Projections for 2020 estimate that 29% of jobs in Rhode Island will require a high school diploma or less, 32% will require an associate degree, 39% will require a bachelor’s degree or higher. This means that 71% of jobs in Rhode Island in the year 2020 will require a degree from a college or a university.
When the educational level of the workforce doesn’t meet a company’s criteria, those companies will look and hire elsewhere. What is the outlook for our young adults, the ones making the transition to higher education? You only need to look at our future highly coveted STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) workforce to realize that we are in serious trouble.
The percentage of Rhode Island ACT-tested High School graduates meeting ACT college benchmarks is 38% and the average STEM score for Rhode Island’s graduating class of 2017 was 23.6%. Of 1,132 students only 53%, had an interest in STEM, but only 496 (23%) plan to pursue a STEM major or career. Even worse, only 2 Rhode Island students have planned to enter math education, and only 1 in science education. Another metric factoring into the grading of the workforce is the net migration of college-educated workers and Rhode Island loses almost 70% of its college graduates either due to the high cost of living, leaving for that first job after college or returning home.
Finally, they add to the equation organized labor which is not popular with businesses as well as right-to-work laws. Let’s just leave that one there without comment for all the obvious reasons.
As I watch this economic death spiral, I’m reminded of sitting in the theater watching Titanic and this is part where the Titanic’s stern is being lifted into the air by the weight of the water in the bow and hull.
The loss of a Congressman in Washington was preventable, and the optics this sends to the rest of the country is clear. Rhode Island is very much in trouble.
Our null population growth will begin to decline as more business continue to leave in search of more business-friendly environments in states where companies are not choked to death by state overreach, redundant regulations and where an educated, happy and healthy workforce exists.
As a result, more Rhode Islanders will continue to seek employment out of state leaving behind a workforce with major gaps in skill sets and demographics leaving fewer choices for employers. For years indicators that something was going horribly wrong were staring us in the face, we just chose to listen to the music the Democrats were playing instead of realizing our state was sinking.
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