We never ask the right questions about surveys like the Rhode Island Life Index.
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Rhode Island and Brown University now have several years of data in the compilation of their Rhode Island Life Index, which is basically a survey of how Rhode Islanders perceive various aspects of the Ocean State experience. Subindexes contributing to an overall score of 63 (out of 100) include:
- Quality of Community: 57
- Community Life: 71
- Children (i.e., how residents “rate programs and services for children”): 74
- Older Adults (i.e., how residents “rate the availability of services in their community for older adults”): 67
- Access to Nutritious Food: 73
- Affordable Housing: 40
- Cost of Living: 31
- Job Opportunities: 57
- Healthcare Access: 73
- Racial Equity: 74
- Food Security: 88
- Economic Situation: 64
- Access to Technology: 88
These categories present an interesting lens through which to view statewide politics. If we see government as a collective institution by which we address the biggest challenges of our communities, then one would expect politicians to be stepping forward promising to address areas with low scores. The alignment, however, is mixed at best.
Progressives don’t really want to talk about the lowest-rated category, Cost of Living, because it’s bound up with so many of their economic and environmental policy solutions. On the other hand, we hear a lot about addressing Racial Equity, even though Rhode Islanders don’t seem to be too concerned about it.
This intrinsic bias toward an ideological framing can be seen in the fact that the survey creators thought it most relevant to break the results down by race (“Latinx,” black, and white) and “Core City” versus “Non-Core.”
Of course, I’m falling into the trap of these sorts of studies, which is to draw one into thinking government ought to be actively looking for discomfiting problems to solve. Readers rarely click away from such surveys thinking about how we as individuals or a community distinct from its government can address complaints. It’s almost not a question what we can do, perhaps because part of what we can do is to restructure the way we do government. One suspects blank stares of incomprehension would meet any suggestion that government is the cause of many of our problems.
This point comes home with a wallop in what is not said in Barbara Morse’s WJAR article about the study. Consider:
“Certainly kids have been among the group hardest hit by the pandemic,” said Michele Lederberg, executive vice president for Blue Cross & Blue Shield of RI.
Our government officials must have done something wrong in the handling of the pandemic in order for a disease that doesn’t affect children much to claim them as an acute group of victims. Government did that — Gina Raimondo, Dan McKee, the General Assembly, town and city councils, school committees, and so on.
Only in a system that directs attention in the wrong direction (a misdirection, some would say) would it be possible for Morse’s employer to headline an article by her fellow journalist Ashley Cullinane, “Should school districts go remote after the holidays?”
No. Next question. Somewhat surprisingly, the RI Life Index finds that residents are not very down on services for children. Government officials should stop working to mess that up.
Featured image by Justin Katz.