None of the research-type projects that the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity puts together are designed with an outcome in mind. Sure, when we set out to score legislation as a means of rating legislators or to develop an index to present a better gauge for state’s economic progress, we have some expectation of the general range of the likely results, but we don’t reverse-engineer the design to hit targets.
What we’re really after are a quantification and a definition of principles that we sense to be true, because getting such things on the table allows conversation beyond conflicting assertions. Still, sometimes even I’m surprised at (in my view) how well these things confirm my impressions, even in contravention of the received wisdom.
On our new Jobs & Opportunity Index (JOI), for example, the first monthly brief compares the narrative of the official unemployment rate — which is that the state has been improving and catching up with the rest of the country for years — with the narrative of the JOI findings — which is that Rhode Island has barely stopped losing ground, let alone recovering. Indeed, the following table/chart, which isn’t published elsewhere, illustrates precisely the trend that I would have argued occurred over the last decade.
That’s a state-level ranking of states on JOI since 2005, and Rhode Island is the pink “line” (click the image for a larger version). What it shows is that Rhode Island was hovering at the better end of the bottom 10 states until the recession, which knocked us down a few steps. We then held that relative position until around 2011, when the election and policies of Governor Chafee stood as a marker that the state wasn’t intending to make better decisions anytime soon, at which point we slipped to 48th. We’ve been stuck there ever since. (The simultaneous halt of the state’s education improvement is another telling point.)
Time will tell if the approach of Governor Raimondo and House Speaker Mattiello to the economy makes any difference, but I don’t expect to see much improvement. Trying to pick winners in the economy while reeducating the population to fit the mold that connected employers want and emphasizing the health of the government and its clients isn’t a formula for broad success.