It was good to see Rhode Island move up four notches on a national assessment of opportunity that was made public last week, but far more noteworthy is where the state stood in relation to its neighbors, and the rest of the country, and where it continues to fall short.
Rhode Island ranked 25th out of the 50 states in offering opportunity to its residents, as measured by 16 economic, educational and civic indicators that affect what the authors call “economic mobility.”
The state moved up despite overall improvement shown by all 50 states on the latest U.S. Opportunity Index, compiled by Opportunity Nation, a coalition of more than 350 businesses, nonprofits, schools and community leaders, and Measure of America, an organization that encourages dialogue on issues affecting human and economic development.
But it must also be noted where the other New England states placed. New Hampshire ranked fifth, Connecticut was third, Massachusetts was second and Vermont was first — rated highest for factors that include low unemployment (4.6 percent), on-time high school graduation (86.6 percent), and its comparatively low numbers of people living below the poverty line (12.3 percent) and young adults aged 16 to 24 who are not in school and not working (8.9 percent).
By contrast, Rhode Island’s unemployment was 5.7 percent, its on-time high school graduation rate was 79.7 percent, its figure for households below the poverty line was 14.3 percent and its figure for young people not in school and not working was 12.4 percent.
Of course, all surveys like this have their biases and idiosyncrasies. But it is hard to ignore Rhode Island’s placement among neighboring states that did much better.
What do these results show us?
Among other things, that Rhode Island needs more middle class jobs, better urban schools and determined, visionary leaders who can enact and pursue policies that will promote those ends.
None of this comes as a surprise, of course. The state’s challenges on the economic and educational fronts are well-documented. But the index is a good reminder that our elected officials, and all of us, have a lot of work to do.
Perhaps, with a concerted effort, Rhode Island will crack the top 20 on the next index. More important, however, is that we all work to turn Rhode Island into a place of opportunity, where businesses want to do business, where young people stay in school and find gainful employment, and where people living in poverty have the opportunity to pull themselves up.