December 28, 2007

(Most) "Experts" Agree that Population Loss is Bad

Marc Comtois

In today's ProJo story on the RI population loss (mentioned here and here yesterday), the Governor, policy experts and academics agree that a shrinking population isn't a good thing for the economy. Some quotes from the article:

  • John Logan, Sociology Professor, Brown University - “Michigan and Rhode Island have something in common, which is the lack of job creation....Generally, population trends follow economic opportunity very closely.…The lack of growth is a good indicator of the lack of attractiveness of the state to people who might be looking for a job.”

  • Leonard Lardaro, Economist, University of Rhode Island - “This is a continuing negative trend, of losing our working-age population, ages 16 to 65.... An economy like Rhode Island that has been lagging will tend to lose population due to the bad combination of slow job growth and a lot of home equity....We are coming to a point in Rhode Island where a lot of our positives are being offset by negatives.... We are creating some jobs, but we are losing even more than we are adding.”

  • Rhode Island Governor Carcieri - "The reported loss of population certainly reflects the state’s high tax burden, which has been a longstanding problem affecting every aspect of our economy. The need to reform state government, and bring costs under control to an affordable and sustainable level is long overdue.”

  • Gary Sasse, Executive Director, Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council - “We are losing productive people, particularly in the 25-to-39 age range, and we’re losing college-educated people.... You’ve got to create a business climate that is conducive to job growth. Instead, we as a state are getting older and poorer.”

  • Laurie White, President, Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce - “We are losing our next generation of workers, which makes for a shallower work force and erodes our tax base.... And then that makes it harder to attract industry and retailers. We are last in the nation in terms of a competitive tax policy. Our small-business friendliness is very low. We don’t fund our pension plans enough. And now we are losing population in greater numbers. This is a serious wake-up call.”

    Lardaro also explained that the RI's tax structure is "punitive" and it is ”discouraging highly paid, highly skilled workers from moving here, and high-tech companies from expanding here." Especially when our neighbors are more amenable.

    But, despite all of this, YKW (you-know-who) doesn't see a problem:

    Kate Brewster, executive director of the Poverty Institute...disputes that the state is unfriendly to business or that it is losing college-educated professionals.

    “From 1997 to 2004, the number of Rhode Islanders reporting incomes over $200,000 rose by 87 percent, a faster rate than in neighboring Connecticut and Massachusetts,” Brewster said. “Detailed IRS data show no evidence of the rich fleeing Rhode Island.”

    Brewster also said that because Rhode Island offers tax cuts and deductions to the wealthy, the actual percentage of income tax they pay is closer to 5.7 percent. “So there’s no reason to think that high taxes are driving the wealthy out,” she said.

    Brewster blamed high housing costs and the lack of new construction, as well as slowing job creation, for the loss in population.

    And none of that is related to the state's economy? Sorry, taking a page from the class warfare playbook doesn't work this time around. As the experts point out, the demographic being lost are the young and middle-class (or potential m-c), not the rich. But guess who employs them? And they aren't going to move here so long as the perception is that RI is business-unfriendly and a tax hell.

    By the way--and just an aside--why ask Brewster's opinion on this in the first place, ProJo? Aren't there other academics who may offer an alternative view instead of a lobbyist who derives her living from advocating for an expanded, tax-funded, social welfare state? Her reaction to any news that may even remotely result in a cut of social services is predictable. Time to shake up the tree a little and rotate in a couple new sources for reaction.

  • Comments, although monitored, are not necessarily representative of the views Anchor Rising's contributors or approved by them. We reserve the right to delete or modify comments for any reason.

    "why ask Brewster's opinion on this in the first place, ProJo?" Whatever the merits or demerits of Brewster's position, is she any different from the Chamber of Commerce, another lobbying group whose views are also pretty predictable? Or does their vested interest invalidate their analysis, too?

    Posted by: chalkdust at December 28, 2007 3:48 PM

    I absolutely agree with chalkdust and think Brewster's perspective should be included in this story, if only because it sheds light on someone who influences the state's policy.

    That isn't to say that I don't chuckle at the hypocrisy Marc points out.

    Brewster attributes the decline to high housing costs, the lack of new construction and slow job creation.

    But housing prices are cheaper in RI than in Boston and MA hasn't seen a decline. As for new construction and jobs, it's business that creates the jobs and funds the new construction.

    Brewster reminds me of the Iraqi press spokesman who reported that Iraqi forces were winning while you could hear American tanks in the background!

    More than likely, the $200K+ workers aren't leaving the state and there probably hasn't been a dramatic influx of illegal immigrants.

    Sasse's comments appear to be the best explanation.

    We're seeing the migration of young, well-paid professionals to other areas of the country. It would explain the resulting drop in average income as this trend would result in a heavier percentage of lifetime elderly Rhode Islanders who are less mobile and younger service workers would not make more money if they moved to a new location.

    If this is correct, the state has bigger problem. The elderly have a heavy utilization rate of public services, while the working population are the state's tax base.

    Instead of offering a quip here or there, I'd like to see Kate Brewster publish a sample proposed state budget. Advocating for a special interest is easy. It's developing a solution that takes work.

    Posted by: Anthony at December 28, 2007 4:27 PM

    Chalkdust, my point re: Brewster in this piece is that she seems to be the "go to" gal on nearly every story that deals with taxes and budgets. Of course she is as valid a source as the Chamber of Commerce, but they aren't quoted neat as much as Brewster and her advocacy crowd. And even then, isn't there someone else on her "side" who has just as valid an opinion, but maybe with new talking points?

    Posted by: Marc at December 28, 2007 4:47 PM

    Marc- Well, I took your point to be that it was wrong to ask Brewster because she is a "lobbyist who derives her living from advocating for an expanded, tax-funded, social welfare state" My point was that, if we're going to criticize the source rather than the data, the Chamber of Commerce is not likely to be more objective than is Brewster.

    I do take your other point about Brewster being the "go-to gal". I've been the go-to guy" for at least one reporter in the past. They call you because they have your number and know you'll have a point of view. They do it because it's easy (we all do that, don't we?) but if they think you're a nut or irresponsible, they'll stop calling.

    I agree with most of Anthony's points, especially the last. I am so tired of people, left and right, criticizing and tearing down without offering well thought-out solutions.

    However, after playing with the census numbers a little, I wonder about Anthony's RI-MA comparison. If you look at 2000-2007. Just looking at just 2006-2007 is year can just be a blip, not a trend, so I looked at 2000-2007.

    It appears that, in terms of both domestic and total migration, RI lost less of its population (in percentage terms) than did MA! Neither did very "well" but, as I said before, I think the second most densely populated state in the union can afford to shed a few folks. It just shouldn't all be prime earning-years, professional, well-educated folks!

    I'll be happy to post the numbers, if anybody cares.

    Posted by: Chalkdust at December 28, 2007 6:14 PM

    I'm glad when they quote Brewster. They should give her as much ink as she needs to prove to everyone in the state that she's a raving crackpot.

    Posted by: Greg at December 28, 2007 6:30 PM

    Serial / reflexively going to the Poverty Institute is the local equivalent to how the media used to go to NOW because they "represented women."

    Of course, once NOW stayed on its knees for Bill Clinton it was exposed for what it really is / was - a front group for liberal Democrats.

    We don't hear much about NOW anymore.

    Hopefully someday, somehow the Poverty Institute will be exposed for what it really is - a socialist group that also serves as a the lobbying arm for well paid state social workers - and it too will be rendered irrelevant.

    Posted by: Ragin' Rhode Islander at December 28, 2007 7:27 PM


    I'm curious what your numbers represent. Looking at state population change (2000-2007) here, I'm coming up with a 1.36% increase in population in Massachusetts and a 0.66% increase in Rhode Island. The national number is 6.88%, and the New England average is 2.63%.

    Posted by: Justin Katz at December 28, 2007 7:43 PM

    "Of course, once NOW stayed on its knees for Bill Clinton"

    Another reason (along with "brown babies") that Anchor Rising MIGHT be an interesting place to debate issues, if one can manage to close one's ears to this trash.

    Does anybody in charge here ever try to actively disassociate from this crowd? I don't mean censor, I just mean say loudly that they're over the top and unwanted. Just curious.

    Posted by: chalkdust at December 28, 2007 8:18 PM

    Hey Chalk?

    When you walk into the men's locker room you have no grounds to complain about the locker room talk.

    When you log onto a conservative blog you have no grounds to complain about the conservative talk. If you want wacko-liberal conversationalists favorable to your ears, you may find to be more palatable.

    And the five of them are getting bored of just talking to each other. You'd be a welcome edition.

    Of course, feel free to remain here and engage. But when we call it like we see it you don't get to call a foul and have a ref here step and fetchit for you.

    Posted by: Greg at December 28, 2007 9:30 PM

    Gotcha, Greg. I hadn't realized until now that "conservative talk" actually requires crude sexual and racial references. Maybe I was reading too much Buckley, Safire and Scalia, but thanks for the clearer picture of what conservativism in RI means.

    (working on that answer, Justin)

    Posted by: chalkdust at December 28, 2007 10:00 PM

    Chalk, you forgot the pathological obsession with Kate Brewster in here. I've decided to find it kind of amusing - I wonder if somebody here tried to date her and got shot down LOL.

    Posted by: rhody at December 28, 2007 10:26 PM

    I don't know anything about that, Rhody. It's just that being raised by very, very conservative parents (Goldwater Republicans) , I was taught that, at least in public discussion, vulgarity, name-calling and hubris were not only improper, but sinful. I guess it's a different game today.

    Posted by: Chalkdust at December 28, 2007 10:39 PM

    Chalkdust, NOW had nothing, absolutely nothing, to say about Bill Clinton harassing vulnerable and subordinate women - exactly the women NOW supposedly champions.

    While Ragin's language is a little crude, it accurately conveys NOW's abandonment of one of their core principles to kowtow to the forty second President. I also take into consideration that 99.9% of Ragin's comments are free of such language and are usually well informed and insightful.

    As to comments about "brown babies", I am not altogether comfortable with them either. However, it should be noted that the term is used accusatorily - Mike and Greg are predicting that social advocates in the General Assembly will play the race and pity card to justify the indefensible - their continued support of maxed out social programs.

    You are a new visitor, Chalkdust. Be assured that crude sexist comments are extremely rare here and racist comments are either non-existent or are quickly removed.

    Posted by: Monique at December 28, 2007 10:43 PM


    Here's my best shot at an answer to your question. I'm pretty sure you and I are using the same data…it's the data that Marc posted a link to earlier. It's possible I've misconceived the correct approach, but I don't think so, and I'm pretty sure the math is right.

    Population change is POP2007-POP2000
    MASS +100,650
    RI +9,513

    Since percentage change is more relevant :
    MA 1.6%
    RI .91%

    (Both are much lower than the US average of +6.8%)

    Population change is made up of a) natural change (births-deaths), b) international migration c)domestic (internal) migration of people to and from other states.

    Summing across 2000-2007, I get the following for each (with percentages of the 2000 population after)

    2000-2007 Natural Change
    MA +196,618 (3.1%)
    RI +23,124 (2.2%)

    2000-2007 International Migration
    MA +206,438 (3.2%)
    RI +23,874 (2.3%)

    2000-2007 Domestic Migration
    MA -305,690 (-4.8%)
    RI -30,249 (-2.9%)

    So, as to domestic migration, if people are "leaving in droves" for other states, they are leaving MA more rapidly than RI.

    International migration is a little odd, since it appears to include various factors including military service people going to and from overseas duty. Apart from that, it seems to me that RI's slower population growth, relative to MA, is due to MA's higher birth rates and higher international immigration, not from domestic emigration. 7 states other than MA, and D.C, have higher rates of domestic emigration than RI.

    My only point was that I'm not convinced that people are leaving RI any faster than they are leaving MA. I have no conclusions about the significance of this.

    I'll also note that Natural change, International Migration and Domestic Migration should all sum to be equal to total change. They don't. I'm not quite sure why. The Census data has a table of "residuals" that might explain it. I think the errors are not great enough to change the conclusion, though. Maybe there is something wrong with my approach)

    Posted by: Chalkdust at December 28, 2007 11:27 PM

    I'll have to take a closer look at the numbers, because I'm still not getting the same results using internal migration data.

    Whatever the case, I don't think it affects the intra-Rhode Island discussion if MA is losing people more quickly than RI. It could, after all, be that MA is exporting its takers, and RI's more extensive social spending (welfare-type) programs would give those folks reason to move here from MA.

    Posted by: Justin Katz at December 29, 2007 12:13 AM

    Rhody, Nope, never dated Poverty Kate, not my type (and I was married before moving to RI, anyway). And the reason I keep mentioning her is because--when it comes to state budget issues reported in the ProJo--she is nearly always quoted and nearly always makes the same sort of "we need higher taxes, not less government" type of argument. So long as she throws that up, I'll knock it down. Hey, I don't particularly want to keep bringing her up. And that's also why I wish the ProJo would go to other folks on the social welfare side of things.

    Posted by: Marc Comtois at December 29, 2007 4:29 PM

    Bottom Line:
    1. Revenues from our highest in the nation sales tax-DOWN
    2. Revenues from 2nd highest income tax-DOWN
    3. Revenues from 2nd highest cigarette tax-DOWN
    4. Suckers remaining in state to pay the above-DOWN

    Union contracts, health care, babysitting, pensions and welfare-Up, up and away.

    Chances of the above spending not being (sooner or later, hard way or easy) being drastically cut-NONE

    2 more days. The games begin-and yes the shameless Left will have a brown baby with a placard declaring GOVERNOR: PLEASE DON'T STARVE ME (or VERY similar lingo) at the state house.

    Posted by: Mike at December 29, 2007 8:34 PM

    "with a placard declaring GOVERNOR: PLEASE DON'T STARVE ME (or VERY similar lingo) at the state house."

    ... presumably hoping for a case of mass amnesia. Because that's the only way the General Assembly's exclusive role in decades of misguided spending, some of which faciliated bad decisions, will not get mentioned.

    Posted by: Monique at December 30, 2007 1:36 PM

    >>mass amnesia. Because that's the only way the General Assembly's exclusive role in decades of misguided spending

    RISDIC. Operation Dollar Bill. Traffic Court. Bevilaqua. Harwood. Bianchini. Smith. Fay. DeAngelis. Irons. Martineau. Montalbano. Moura. Celona ...

    I hate to say it, but the Democrats' counting on "mass amnesia" is not irrational.

    For some reason a majority of Rhode Islanders seem to embrace corruption, incompetence, patronage, high taxes, potholed roads, collapsing bridges, lousy public schools, declining economy, welfare magnet status ...

    Posted by: Tom W at December 30, 2007 5:21 PM

    I'm not sure that I agree with your assertion that tracking population numbers from 2000 to 2007 is a better indication than looking at the past year.

    MA's tech sector was hit disproportionately hard when the tech bubble burst and I suspect that the MA population numbers for the 2-3 years of the bust would be more of an statistical anamoly and less indicative of future population trends.

    Posted by: Anthony at December 31, 2007 3:31 PM
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