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Census Numbers and Replacement Rhode Islanders

New U.S. Census estimates of states’ populations are out, and Rhode Island just like last year, experienced a small increase in population.  And once again the details of the numbers give reason for concern.

For the second year in a row, total population increased by a smaller number.  That is, 2014’s increase was 1,447, 2015’s was 1,127, and 2016’s is 819.  The natural population increase resulting from having more births than deaths was the smallest since 2010.

Of more concern, though, is that more Rhode Islanders continue to leave for other states than to head in the other direction, but those departures are over-compensated with immigration from other countries.  This year, we lost 3,784 Rhode Islanders to other states but gained 4,203 from other countries.  (Illegal immigrants would be included in these numbers.)  According to the Census, Rhode Island lost 28,565 residents to other states but imported 25,406 residents from other countries.

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Putting aside the fact that people who arrived from other countries may have later left for other states, Rhode Island has, roughly speaking, swapped out 2.4% of its population for people from other countries.  One needn’t be xenophobic to worry that this trend might not be ideal.

As the Rhode Island Family Prosperity Index report suggests, the Ocean State’s policy decisions are pushing our neighbors to leave.  Meanwhile, the government plantation model of the state’s major industry (government) creates incentive for elected officials and bureaucrats to seek to import clients who’ll require their services (and provide them votes).

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Electing Themselves a New Population

Ted Nesi beat me to an initial review of the latest Census estimates showing what changed in states’ populations in 2015, compared with 2014:

Net migration to Rhode Island was slightly positive in 2015, as the net arrival of 4,727 international migrants was nearly offset by the net departure of 4,693 domestic residents. There were also 10,984 births and 9,533 deaths in the state during the 12 months ended July 1.

Focus in on those migrant numbers.  What that means is that more people who were in Rhode Island last year left for other states than people in other states chose to take up residence in Rhode Island.  When it comes to crossing national borders to and from Rhode Island, the picture is almost exactly the reverse.  This is nothing new, although the disparity increased this year.  Here are the last five years of data as a percentage of the prior year’s population:

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Every year for the past five, Rhode Island has displaced nearly a half-percent of its resident population with people from other countries.  That means the total differential is close to a full percent of the population, adding up to five percent in the above chart.  Think of it in terms of voters:  If everybody in the blue columns could have been expected to vote in a certain way on a particular ballot question and everybody in the red columns votes the other way, each vote counts once but changing or replacing a vote creates a two-vote change.

One begins to see why folks in state government — whatever they may say when the microphones are on — have done precious little to repair the many flaws that leave Rhode Island not competitive with pretty much any state in the nation.  Independent-minded Rhode Islanders may leave the state, but officials can opt for policies that replace them with others more likely to require government services.  As long as officials can rig the political system to collect money from taxpayers and the federal government, increasing their number of clients remains more important than increasing payers.

In the long run — or even the not-so-long run — the strategy is doomed, but at some point it becomes locked in, because too much of the population has been displaced for it to become plausible that voters will reverse course.  Rhode Island may have passed that point already.

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RI Population: Starting Saturday on a Worrying Note

Over my habitual Saturday morning coffee and pancakes, I perused Ted Nesi’s weekly column and came across this intriguing item:

Moody’s latest Rhode Island economic outlook, presented this week at the twice-annual revenue conference, is a mixed bag. … Other pluses: the job market and personal income both appear to be improving, and net migration (residents moving in versus moving out) turned positive in 2014 for the first time in a decade.

The downsides are middle-income jobs and home sales (and I continue to believe the overall employment numbers are greatly overstated).  But what about that net migration?  Slide 23 of the Moody’s presentation does indeed show positive migration, although it isn’t clear what scale the numbers are on or why they don’t match up with numbers directly from the U.S. Census.

Population is a limited measure, though.  A more critical question, for a struggling state, is: Who is coming and who is going?  Unfortunately, the IRS taxpayer migration data for 2014 isn’t online, for the moment, and detailed state-level data from the Census isn’t out for that year, yet.  Still, the Census does have the population estimates broken out by “components of change,” with some high-level detail about why people came and went.

From 2013 to 2014, the Census estimates that 1,375 more children were born in the state than people died, but that’s not the detail we’re interested in.  Under “net migration,” the data does show 903 more people coming here from elsewhere than the reverse, but the “where” is important.  When it comes to domestic migration — that is, people moving from one state to another — Rhode Island lost 3,387 residents.  International migration that makes up the difference, with 4,290 more people coming to Rhode Island from other countries than emigrating.

Obviously, the world is full of varied people, so any assumptions made at this level are just that: assumptions.  Still, recalling my observation, in August, that the increase of students in Providence schools came almost entirely from Hispanics who need extra help with English, the picture comes into focus pretty well.  The Census’s FactFinder tool can fill in some of the details.  From 2009 to 2013 — over the course of just four years — the percentage of children living in households receiving cash assistance increased by more than 50%.

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To deepen the picture a little, consider that the percentage of all families receiving public assistance increased by just 17%.  That’s still a big increase, but it suggests that Rhode Island’s population growth is in large part attributable to migration of poor, young families from countries to the south of the United States.

One needn’t be xenophobic to worry about the consequences of this demographic shift on the well-being of Rhode Islanders overall.  If Rhode Island’s economy were healthy and was therefore able to accommodate foreign families and empower them to lift themselves up, that would be wonderful.  More likely, though, like Lawrence, MA, we’ll continue to see government bring in new clients to turn RI into a company state, and somebody’s got to pay the bill.

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Warwick and RI Can’t Be Generous While Shrinking

The Warwick school department is considering closing up to three schools, and predictably, people aren’t happy about it:

So far, the city has fielded complaints of traffic jams, unfinished construction projects and overcrowding at Warwick’s high schools.

And in an excellent civics lesson, democracy is producing candidates implying they’ll make all the problems go away if elected:

School committee candidate Dean Johnson said he lives nearby and sees the problems every day.

“Nothing but traffic,” he said. “It was 15 minutes from Benny’s to Pilgrim – it was absolutely ridiculous.”

Fellow school committee candidate Nathan Cornell is just 18 years old and said he still has friends in high school.

“At the first day, I called them and say, ‘how was school for you,’” he said. “And they told me it was crowded, especially the lunchrooms.”

Rhode Islanders want to run things as if the state is economically healthy and growing.  It’s not.  When I looked at Warwick’s population in 2012, it had dropped nearly 4% from the 2000 Census to the 2010 Census.  This May, I wondered how the school department could be considering any raises at all (let alone the 10% per year the teachers union reportedly wanted) with a smaller, less-working population with shrunken house values, and what justification there could be when the under-performing district had seen its enrollment drop 34% since the 2000-2001 school year.

Look, if you want neighborhood schools, you need the population and the enrollment to support them.  If you want small class sizes, you need to control the costs of teachers.  Rhode Islanders can’t keep up the economy-strangling approach to government and the union-gorging approach to employees and expect to maintain the quality of life they’ve enjoyed.  It is not paradoxical to observe that when you let government take more money from you and your neighbors and to limit your freedoms, you wind up getting less from government.

What will it take to make Rhode Islanders realize this?  Or more precisely, what will it take to make Rhode Islanders realize this and then change things rather than simply move away?

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Where Do the Numbers Come from for Public Union Negotiations?

Don’t get too caught up in the conflicting claims about negotiations over the Warwick teacher union negotiations.  Even if it’s completely true that the union countered a relatively reasonable offer from the school department with an outlandish joke, that fact is most significant because of its illustration of the fact that they’re really just throwing darts at a board:

On April 20, members of the union and the School Department met with mediator Vincent F. Ragosta Jr. Thornton says that the School Department offered a 2-percent raise every year for the next three years. The union disputes that, stating that the initial offer was no raise for the first year, and 2 percent raises in each of the next two years.

Thornton stated that the union countered with a demand for a 10-percent raise each year for three years. He added that the request would result in most teacher salaries reaching $100,000 by 2018.

Three sequential 10% raises is obviously outrageous, but what makes three 2% raises not outrageous, except for the fact that the union wants even more?  What are these numbers based on?

Is Warwick’s enrollment growing?  No.  According to the state’s data, Warwick’s enrollment has fallen every year since the turn of the millennium, with an average annual drop of 2%, with 3,125 fewer students starting the 2015-2016 school year as started the 2000-2001 school year in the district; that’s a 34% drop.

Are the residents of Warwick substantially wealthier, such that they can pay for increases in the school budget despite decreases in students?  Not really.  Sure, according to the U.S. Census, median household income increased from the $46,483 in the 2000 Census to $62,803 for 2014 (a 2% annual average increase), but employment fell from 63.6% to 62.1%, and individuals living in poverty increased from 5.9% to 7.3%.

Are Warwick residents gaining wealth on their homes?  No.  From 2010 to 2014, according to the Census, the median home value fell from $234,300 to $198,200 (-15%).

Are the schools preforming at very high levels? It wouldn’t seem so, considering that not a single one is recognized as “commended” by the state.

So, again:  By what criteria can a smaller population with many fewer children, more poverty, and falling home values afford any increases in teacher pay at all?  If a business or other private organization were contemplating raises (especially contracted out for three years), it would have to base them on experienced and expected sales or other revenue, as well as productivity and the ability of the employer to replace employees who feel they deserve more money than the employer is willing to pay.

In the public sector, by contrast, we see the very different dynamic that one might expect when the negotiation is a bit more like: “How much can you and I take from that guy over there?”

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Refugees and Benefits

Terry Gorman, of Rhode Islanders for Immigration Law Enforcement (RIILE), sent out a Facebook post linking to a Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) analysis of the cost of accepting Middle Eastern refugees:

As Americans continue to debate what to do about the humanitarian crisis in the Middle East, this analysis attempts to estimate the costs of resettling refugees from that region in the United States. Although we do not consider all costs, our best estimate is that in their first five years in the United States each refugee from the Middle East costs taxpayers $64,370 — 12 times what the UN estimates it costs to care for one refugee in neighboring Middle Eastern countries. The cost of resettlement includes heavy welfare use by Middle Eastern refugees; 91 percent receive food stamps and 68 percent receive cash assistance. Costs also include processing refugees, assistance given to new refugees, and aid to refugee-receiving communities. Given the high costs of resettling refugees in the United States, providing for them in neighboring countries in the Middle East may be a more cost-effective way to help them.

Gorman says Rhode Island takes in about 500 refugees a year, which equates to more than $32 million over five years, or $6.4 million accumulating every year.

The CIS study does take into account usage rates, which brings down the average cost per program (because not all refugees utilize every program).  The table included with the report provides a total possible average annual payment amount for 10 common programs of $55,374 per year.  That’s almost Rhode Island’s median household income.

Consider that number in the context of the fact that Rhode Island has actively been changing its demographic mix to include higher proportions of people who use these programs as well as the investments that Rhode Island is making in ways to ensure that everybody gets as much government assistance as possible.

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Destructive Policies, Waning Influence

Let’s be honest.  This would be a healthy thing for the country:

 If the trend since 2010 — dropping an average of two spots a year — continues, Rhode Island will be relegated to a single House seat [in the U.S. Congress] when the 2020 U.S. Census is tabulated.

If you’ve got a state that can’t keep the population it has and to which others don’t move, it’s clearly doing something — a lot of things — wrong.

Obviously, things don’t have to be this way.  Rhode Island has the natural advantages to thrive, but the thing is… it won’t.  An hour of listening to politicians shift blame and utter falsehoods concerning energy costs, yesterday, was an instructive exercise.

They want to do what they want to do, whether for friends or for ideology, and no amount of pain for the rest of us will penetrate that personal interest.  Worse: We’ve proven unable to overcome their institutional (and probably corrupt) advantages to make the electoral system work as it should.

At least in the case of Congress, there’s a formula to force some acknowledgement of the “these boots were made for walking” vote.

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Rhode Island Lags in Food Stamp Reductions

Neil Shah reports, in the Wall Street Journal, that food stamp usage (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program [SNAP]) is down in the United States.  Although “food-stamp use remains high, historically speaking”:

There were 46.2 million Americans on food stamps in May, the latest data available, down 1.6 million from a record 47.8 million in December 2012. Some 14.8% of the U.S. population is on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, down from 15.3% last August, U.S. Department of Agriculture data show.

According to the data, there were 3.0% fewer SNAP participants in May 2014 than in May 2013.  In Rhode Island, the reduction over that same period was 1.3%.

In Rhode Island in May, 178,110 people were participants in the SNAP program.  That’s 16.9% of the population, according to the latest estimate of the U.S. Census, That’s 2.1 percentage points higher than the number for the United States as a whole.  Rhode Island has the 14th highest SNAP usage in the country.  Only Maine is higher, in New England.  (New Hampshire’s at 8.4%, while Connecticut and Massachusetts are both between 12% and 13%.)

It’s interesting, though, that Rhode Island’s reduction of SNAP participants has been so much slower than the national average, given the employment boom shown in Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data.  I’ve asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture if it provides previous monthly estimates of SNAP participation.  It’d be interesting to see how that’s changed month to month.

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The Rhode Islandification of the United States

Wall Street Journal reporter David Wessel tweets the information that a record 2,999 Americans renounced their citizenship in 2013, mostly (he says) for tax reasons.

We should be clear-eyed about the fact that this is around one one-thousandth of a percent of the population (while admitting the likelihood that they account for quite a bit more of government revenue than that). Still, the stunner is the comparison to other years:

That’s a very dramatic change in the annual number of expatriates, almost like the canary in the coal mine of American hope. The dip during the election year looks like a pause to watch for signs of change.

Which makes me think of Rhode Island. On net, almost 4,000 Rhode Islanders left for other states, last year.

The Ocean State’s civic problems may be too deeply entrenched, at this point, for there to be any hope of a turnaround, but the rest of the United States should take the warning before allowing President Obama and Congress to continue moving the nation in our direction.

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Minimum Wage Talk, the Worst Sort of Pandering

GoLocalProv’s Kate Nagle cites RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity CEO Mike Stenhouse in her article, today, on talk of raising the minimum wage. As the Center’s report from last spring suggests, a minimum wage of $10.10 would destroy an estimated 3,466 Rhode Island jobs, and it wouldn’t affect the demographic that the politicians promote:

… 24,846 Rhode Islanders currently have jobs that pay them at a rate of $8.25 per hour or less. The “typical” profile … is of a white non-Hispanic high-school graduate, 21-years-old or younger and with no college experience, who lives with his or her parents and works 20-34 hours per week.

The Providence Journal’s PolitiFact crew contacted us a couple of months ago to fact-check that claim, but we haven’t heard anything since. (It doesn’t take much cynicism to think they’ve found other topics more interesting that didn’t require them to give the Center a “True.”)

But the economics aren’t really the key concern of most politicians. Rather, they want to say to a large group of people, “I will give you stuff.” Or, more accurately, “I will make other people give you their stuff.”

The part about 3,466 people losing their jobs kind of disrupts the narrative.

Politicians have internalized as a moral given that this redistribution is allowed and appropriate. We’ve permitted them to conclude that they have a right to take our stuff away, or force us to give it away.

The only question, then, is whether you’re in the disfavored group that ends up giving more than you get back. One suspects that individual answers to that question help explain who’s leaving our state and region for other states and who’s coming here from other countries.

For the people making the top-down decisions — politicians and bureaucrats — the most relevant question isn’t whether this flow is good for the economy, but rather, whether it transforms the population into one that will vote for them and their massive budgets.

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