The anti-CNBC rankings – why RI is a well-being success story

CNBC bummed out Rhode Island for the second year in a row this month when the network ranked the state dead last in its business-friendliness rankings. In response, some of Rhode Island’s boosters pointed out that the state is blessed with abundant natural and manmade assets, and 1 million people live here.

Another ranking that never makes headlines in Rhode Island tries to take some of that into account: the Social Science Research Council’s American Human Development Index, which summarizes the well-being of each state based on health, education and income.

Connecticut and Massachusetts rank #1 and #2, while poor West Virginia is the Rhode Island of this list, coming in 50th. As for Rhode Island, the state places 11th on the Human Development Index, with a score of 5.56. (The national score was 5.17.)

In an email, Sarah Burd-Sharps and Kristen Lewis, co-directors of the council’s Measure of America project, told what makes Rhode Island above average:

As you’ve pointed out, while Rhode Island’s economic activity puts it in the exact middle of U.S. states (#25) in terms of its Gross State Product, it does far better than this on people’s well-being, ranking #11 on the American Human Development Index. This Index offers a fact-based look at how people are faring in three fundamental areas of life – health, access to knowledge, and living standards – using official government data.

This suggests that Rhode Island has done a better job of investing its economic resources in its people and their well-being than many other states with far higher levels of market activity. While many factors come together to make a state a success in terms of well-being and opportunity, the following observations likely figure as contributing factors.

HEALTH: A resident of Rhode Island can expect to live an average of eight months longer than the national life span. In two areas that are significant risk factors for premature death in the U.S. today, Rhode Island is well above the average. It has the fourth-lowest obesity rate, just after Colorado, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. Obesity contributes significantly to diabetes, a leading cause of death. And deaths due to trauma – homicide, suicide and unintentional injury – are relatively rare in the Ocean State, just above half the national average.

EDUCATION: Rhode Island stands out in terms of educational outcomes and school enrollment. R.I. ranks 13th in the proportion of adults who have a bachelor’s degree and 11th in graduate or professional degrees. R.I. also has one of the highest preschool rates in the nation, with the 6th-highest proportion of 3- and 4-year-olds enrolled in preschool. A quality preschool has been shown to be one of the most important interventions for improving educational outcomes and life chances later in life, including not only less dropout and grade repetition but also in terms of reduced incarceration and greater earnings in later life.

AN INTERESTING COMPARISON: North Carolina has a very similar level of Gross State Product per person to Rhode Island, both at about $36,000. But North Carolina ranks 40th on the American Human Development Index, in contrast to Rhode Island at 11th. Life expectancy in North Carolina is two years less than in Rhode Island, the share of North Carolina adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher is 4 percentage points less, and the typical North Carolina worker earns about $4,000 less than in Rhode Island in terms of median personal earnings. Where Rhode Island spends about $14,000 per year per K-12 student of public spending, North Carolina spends only $8,000.

13 thoughts on “The anti-CNBC rankings – why RI is a well-being success story

  1. The CNBC rankings are nothing but a tool of the corporate class to enhance the transfer of wealth from working families into the hands of the elite. In 2008 the Providence Chamber of Commerce leadership lamented about how Rhode Island ranked only 48th on the CNBC listing (here’s the link Since then the state has cut the income tax, radically reduced public sector pensions ( twice), eroded collective bargaining rights, and generally speaking, taken all of the steps asked for by the Chamber of Commerce types.

    What’s our ranking now? 50 out of 50?

    “Doctor, it keeps hurting when I do this.”

    “Then stop doing that…”

  2. Mr. Crowley you are a union leader and a spin-doctor. First of all what you call a radical reduction in public sector pensions is a large over-statement. In addition, the unions are suing the state to block those changes. The income tax cut that just went into effect a year ago will take several years to have an effect as reported by economist Len Ledaro of URI.

    In case you haven’t noticed businesses are leaving and greedy union leaders like yourself continue to buy off our politicians. In fact there are individuals in our General Assembly who are union leaders. You just can’t make this stuff up in RI. You need to spend some time looking in the mirror.

    • The Feds have been working according to these austerity measures for longer than the state, and the results have been disastrous. Tax cuts for the wealthy don’t produce jobs. Businessess are sitting on trillions of dollars. They are not going to hire until consumers begin to spend, and consumers are not going to spend until their wages increase. High property taves for the middle class in RI is one of the biggest factors. If the wealthy paid their share, these taxes could be reduced, and/or infrastructure could be improved. Reducing taxes on the wealthy will not create jobs, it only creates private wealth for those at the top.

      • Tax the rich, give to the losers wahhh wahhh wahhh. Typical Rhode Islander. No wonder this sewer is circling the bowl.

  3. This is an important story. Ted, you should expand this story and maybe do a series concerning these issues.

    The Chamber of Commerce and other groups love to point out how Texas is business friendly and has all the right economic outcomes. Well, go there sometime, you have never seen poverty like the poverty in Texas, unless you go to the other right-to-work southern states. Wealth inequality is staggering in states that pay labor low wages. School systems are also much, much, worse in states without unionized teachers. Child poverty is also much higher in these states.

    We all love to complain about RI, but the truth is that it is a great place. We shouldn’t let the RI Chamber of Commerce work to shine a light on all the negatives. Yes, unemployment is high, but we are an economy in transition. The constant harping about the business climate has contributed to bad state decisions. Consider the Studio 38 debacle. On Newsmakers, Speaker Fox pretty much said he brokered the meeting between Schilling and state leaders because he panicked over the states’ economy. Panic and negativity are going to attract the negative outcomes we are now seeing, not prevent them.

    We should focus on providing the best public services we can, and hopefully, businesses will thrive. I’m enough of a Keynesian to know that right now, the public sector needs to be supported if we are to improve RI’s economy. Consider Carcieri’s poor management of the public sector when he was governor. Laying off 1,000 public workers caused untold unintended consequences, from pension fund inadequecies, to long lines at the DLT, and more. Many of those workers have been hired back, and those jobs that were privitized, have resulted in lower wages, lesser benefits.

  4. How refreshing to see the same nanny state socialist drivel restated as quality of life measurements. Never mind that federal and state governments have a track record of failing miserably in their macro-economic manipulations. Never mind that government has no higher nor legal basis to guarantee economic outcomes. Never mind that similar policies have and are failing all over the world. Just keep shoveling the same nonsense, repackage it, relabel it, and confiscate more from those who are successful. Excuse me if I take a pass on this failed approach. I don’t want more government in my face, in my pockets, and on my back. I don’t believe government… organized political power… can solve but a few things which are its’ primary reason raison d’etre. Confiscatory taxation and redistribution is so “great” until you run out of other people’s assets.

    • YRI great post. This Human Development Index is sociologist double talk, just a manipulation of numbers to produce a result that justifies liberal tax and spend methodology. BS plain and simple.

  5. 11% unemployment, cities bankrupt, state going down the tubes. That’s great, at least being unemployed gives us more time to take in the wonderful scenery and fabulous beaches. And the wonderful people million people, 999,000 of whom have yet to learn how to use a turn signal but sure know how to use their middle fingers. Why don’t we all just click our heels together and say “there’s no place like Rhode Island”. Thinking like this is why RI has been going down the drain for the last 70 years. Anyone who buys into this crap please give me a little of whatever you’re smoking.

  6. The people of North Carolina may make an average of $4K less per year but for their money they have a better quaility of life than the average Rhode Islander. The taxes are lower the housing a better quality. Same with education it cost less and North Carolina is putting more emphasis on education than Rhode Island.

  7. Our high unemployment rate and miserable business competitiveness rankings are directly linked. Just look at our regional competition to see the truth in this statenent.

  8. There is much going on in these CNBC rankings and not all of the analysis should be ignored. But as far as ranking what economic model should be pursued the criteria falls far short. In this CNBC ranking Texas finished first – one in four Texans don’t have health care coverage. OOOOOPS!
    A state that leaves 25% of its residents behind should not be the standard economic model for other states to achieve. See article:

    -Emmanuel Falck

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