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%.
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.