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.

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