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R.I. improves to No. 25 on national Opportunity Index

by Providence Business News   •  

PROVIDENCE – Rhode Island moved up four spots to No. 25 in the annual Opportunity Index, released Tuesday by the bipartisan national campaign, Opportunity Nation and Measure of America.

The index, which rates all 50 states plus Washington, D.C., looks at access to opportunity, which it said has increased 9 percent nationally since 2011, “reflecting a dramatically improved post-recession employment picture, higher high school graduation rates and a significant drop in violent crime, among other factors.” Sixteen economic, educational and civic factors that expand or restrict upward mobility are measured in the index.

According to the index, Rhode Island trails its New England neighbors on the index, as Vermont ranks first; Massachusetts, second; Connecticut, third; and New Hampshire, fifth. Maine ranks 14th.

“While Rhode Island trails the other New England states in access to opportunity for residents, it’s important to note that the state has improved on several key indicators as the state has emerged from the devastating effects of the Great Recession,” Opportunity Nation Managing Director Russell Krumnow said in a statement.

The index noted how unemployment fell 49 percent to 5.7 percent in 2015 from 11.2 percent in 2011, and how membership in civic, social, religious or sports organizations climbed 12 percent since 2011.

Access to high-speed Internet also increased 10 percent, and access to medical doctors jumped more than 13 percent since 2011, while the number of grocery stores and access to healthy food increased 11 percent. On-time high school graduation improved by more than 4 percent, to 79.7 percent in 2015, but it remains below the national average of 81 percent.

Areas of concern include poverty, as it has grown by more than 24 percent over the past five years, which is more than twice the national increase. A news release about the results said more than 14 percent of Rhode Islanders live at or below the federal poverty threshold in 2015, defined as $24,250 for a family of four. Since 2011, that’s an increase of nearly 30,000 Rhode Islanders, or a total of 150,630 Rhode Islanders living in poverty in 2015, the release stated.

In addition, the number of “disconnected youth,” the number of young adults ages 16 to 24 who are neither in school nor working increased by nearly 15 percent since 2011, to 12.4 percent statewide, or 18,386.

Krumnow said that if Rhode Island can make progress in the number of people living in poverty and disconnected youth, its score will continue to improve on the index.

“Rhode Island’s increase over the past five years in the number of people living in poverty and the number of disconnected youth is worrisome and requires cross-sector solutions from government, employers, philanthropy and community leaders,” he said. “Luckily in Rhode Island, you seem to have a lot of the right pieces coming together such as the Make It Happen campaign, a new vision for statewide economic development and the Boston Federal Reserve Bank’s expansion into Rhode Island with its Working Cities Initiative.”

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Providence Business News Provides statewide coverage of business and related news topics.

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