Rhode Island must come to grips with its decline and reverse it.
For all the talk about equity and living wages in the Ocean State, we hear surprisingly little about the lack of opportunity and earnings growth for working people. A recent Wall Street Journal editorial understandably focuses on larger states, but Rhode Island makes an appearance, nonetheless:
Earnings nationwide rose 5.4% on average between the first quarters of 2022 and 2023, but much less in New York (2.6%), Indiana (2.6%), California (2.9%), Connecticut (3.4%), Rhode Island (3.6%), Maryland (4%), New Jersey (4.3%), Oregon (4.5%) and Illinois (4.6%). Apart from Indiana, these states are run by Democrats—and most have been for years. They boast high taxes and a high cost of living, which along with Covid lockdowns spurred increased out-migration during the pandemic.
The case that stagnant wages result from greedy bigwigs’ hoarding the money would seem difficult to make when the places with the most redistributive governments show the slowest growth in wages.
Wages provide only one of the discouraging trends Rhode Island is experiencing. Take a look of this map of states’ change in the number of children under five from 2020 to 2022. With a 3.9% drop, Rhode Island is well above the national average of a 3.3% drop. Few states are on the positive side of this trend, but those that managed to increase their numbers of young children are conspicuously the places that Rhode Islanders often mention when they talk about getting out of here: notably North and South Carolina and New Hampshire. For its part, Florida was only slightly in the negative.
Cause and effect is subtle on such questions, and states can adjust their policies in many ways depending on their circumstances, but Rhode Island is going in completely the wrong direction. We need economic opportunity so young families looking to exchange their work and talent for money and a future have reason to stay here. We’ll get that when we reduce government involvement. This is true not only because the competencies and incentives of government are poorly suited to the task, but also because their central activity is proving to be protection of special interests in the face of new generations and a changing technological and economic landscape. Those are Rhode Island’s greedy bigwigs — the very same ones driving an inflatable big and “fat cat” around the state in the hopes Rhode Islanders don’t realize that the union organizers are actually the real life manifestations of the ugly caricatures.
When opportunity abounds, we’ll all find ways to serve one another, which will naturally spread the wealth. In the Ocean State, we’re using politics as our means of fighting over a shrinking pool. One of these decades, a Democrat administration in Washington isn’t going to swoop in with a surge of borrowed money to save the day.
Reorganizing to the degree necessary to save Rhode Island is probably not feasible all at once, but as a start, we must begin talking about our very real problems to form a clearer picture of what’s being done to us and where we’re being taken.
Featured image by Ivan Vladimirov on WikiArt.