Why are Rhode Islanders Unhappy?
Monday, October 23, 2017
According to one recent national study, Rhode Island ranked in the bottom half in the country for happiness -- with all other New England states ranking higher for "emotional and physical well being, work environment, and community and environment."
"Rhode Islanders have long had a strong tendency to be pessimistic and cynical because of past political scandals and an economy that is still generally much less vibrant than in next-door Massachusetts, which now might be becoming the richest state on a per-capita basis," said GoLocal columnist Bob Whitcomb. "It's a powerful tradition in the Ocean State to always express pessimism, [but I'm] not sure how much of that translates into true unhappiness."
It is the economy -- and direction of the state -- that recent findings in GoLocal's benchmark poll with SocialSphere and Harvard University's John Della Volpe show the majority of Rhode Islanders believe their family's finances have stayed the same or gotten worse over the past three years, and that the state is going in the wrong direction
SLIDES: See Leaders on Why Rhode Islanders are Unhappy BELOW
"This anxiety is reflected in 54% believing that their family's financial situation has not changed despite low unemployment and a surging stock market. It is also seen in 43% saying they see no change in the state's economy despite the millions being spent on economic development programs, particularly preferential tax deals for real estate developer," said Sasse.
"This may indicate a disconnect between the state's economic development priorities and what the middle-class believes could make a difference in their lives. Finally, with more people responding that Rhode Island is on the wrong track then the right one may indicate concerns about the judgment and experience of leadership," added Sasse.
Della Volpe said that overall Rhode Islanders are frustrated with the economy, but pointed out that younger Rhode Islanders, specifically those under 35-years-of-age, and Democrats are most satisfied.
Relative to the direction of the state, the majority of Rhode Islanders said the state is on the wrong track -- 45 percent -- and 39 percent said it is moving right direction. Ten percent said mixed and 6 percent said they didn’t know or refused to answer.
The groups that thought RI was moving in the right direction were Democrats (65 percent), younger voters who were 18 to 34 (59 percent), and Metro Providence (58 percent). All other demographic or political subsets believed Rhode Island was going in the wrong direction. Most concerning for Raimondo must be that just 30 percent of independent voters believe RI is going in the right direction.
Related Slideshow: Leaders - Why Rhode Islanders Are Unhappy
Rhode Islanders believe the state is on the wrong track, they don’t believe their family’s finances have improved under Governor Gina Raimondo, and they are adamantly opposed to financing the proposed new Pawtucket Red Sox Stadium, according to a poll released by Socialsphere in conjunction with GoLocal in October 2017.
Now, Rhode Island leaders weigh in on why they think Rhode Islanders are "unhappy."
Speaker of the Rhode Island House of Representatives:
"The view of Rhode Islanders is very important to me and I am assessing the results of Go Local's poll very carefully. The House will continue to focus on policies that move us forward so people can feel more confident we are heading in the right direction in the future.
I took note of the poll question showing that jobs and the economy is the highest-ranked issue, and I share that sentiment and will make certain we continue to make that the highest priority for the House of Representatives."
URI Professor of Economics:
"Rhode Islanders are unhappy for a number of reasons. First, they understand that state government too often pays no attention to their wishes. Because of this, I believe more and more persons have come to the realization that Rhode Island is an oligarchy, the most recent evidence of which concerns the moving of the PawSox.
Second, this recovery has been extremely uneven here, as evidenced by a labor force left behind in the last recovery (i.e. train wreck), the number of residents straining to pay mortgages, issues with credit quality and credit-worthiness of our residents, sluggish job growth until recently (which might be revised away), and a list that goes on and on.
Put all of this together and our residents know that our state government’s characterization of”all is well, we’re doing great” is little more than propaganda and that we are clearly not prepared for the next national slowdown, which we will be thrust into well before just about any other state."
Bernie Sanders Delegate & Our Revolution Rhode Island
"Wrong direction...not changed... but a lot more anxiety over the potential blow-up of Healthsource RI. Right now it is very affordable, but nervous over losing federal subsidies.
People are unhappy because of uncertainty with both state and federal government. Health Insurance and student debt plays a big part, plus working multiple jobs to survive."
National Education Association of Rhode Island Executive Director:
"For the teachers, education support professionals, higher education faculty and staff, state and municipal employees and retirees represented by NEA Rhode Island and other labor organizations, especially those in the public sector, their concerns start with the diminishment of their retirement security and the loss of faith in government to keep its promises. Those changes combined with funding concerns at the state and local level have certainly taken their toll on public employees and retirees.
More broadly, most Rhode Islanders are not only gravely concerned about the Trump administration, but they have also witnessed multiple issues causing cynicism about the state's ability to manage itself - the list is well known, including the legacy of 38 Studios, UHIP, the loss of life of children under prior DCYF management, the "Cooler/Warmer" campaign, infrastructure issues, and budgetary problems. As we enter the 2018 election cycle, Rhode Islanders will want to see statewide candidates effectively address not only these specific issues, but a mechanism for avoiding similar problems in the future, or they will demand change. Unfortunately, in the meantime, projects that make sense may be adversely impacted as well."
South Providence Neighborhood Association Chairman:
"I agree with the 45% who say that Rhode Island is heading in the wrong direction. However, I am part of the 26% whose financial situation has changed for the better. Yet, one reason why Rhode Islanders are so unhappy, especially as it relates to the financial situation, is that we have to look outside & go elsewhere out of Rhode Island to achieve such financial success
Another reason is that Rhode Islanders are so unhappy is that for all of the high-level research, planning, hiring of outside minds with no ties (& thus, no knowledge of Rhode Island ) to spearheading the state's initiatives, those actions DO NOT benefit, either directly or indirect, the majority of the state's residents
In terms of jobs, the economy, income, & housing, another reason RIers are unhappy is the investments in such areas are NOT for those who are currently residing here, have been here for 10+ years, or provide outlets for advancement if you're over a certain age."
Former State Senator and CEO:
"Rhode Islanders are unhappy for a very simple reason, lack of leadership. It is imperative that we no longer elect "perfect people" with no real world experience and training. There is a stunning lack of vision in Rhode Island and it starts at the top. You will soon see and understand what a trained, experienced leader in tactical, operational and strategic planning and execution looks and sounds like. Fortunately, 2018 is around the corner and you can replace the JV team with experienced leadership ready to implement a clear path to a vision built on systems and standards that will raise everyone's standard of living regardless of your socio-economic background.
A simple example is how do you not make the decision to offer Providence Place Mall as your bid for Amazon headquarters? It is a no-brainer. You empty the mall onto Westminster St, create a vibrant city with a Newbury St (Boston) equivalent, then retrofit the balance of the mall into awesome 21st-century housing units for all the employees and tie that to new transportation systems that further tie into upgraded public safety units. Instead, they think they are handing in a book report with nice drawings, it is so goofy and yet sickening to watch at the same time. Yes, put me down on the unhappy list. Leaders lead, you will see the difference, it will be night and day. We will become the best state in the country as soon as the varsity starts playing. Let's Go."
Libertarian Party of Rhode Island Chairman:
"Despite a collapse in private sector employment, broken school systems ... crumbling infrastructure, the "Leadership" of Rhode Island -- some elected, some self-appointed -- continue to display a callous, institutional disregard for the wishes of ordinary citizens. Witness the PawSox hearings, where working Rhode Islanders are forced to endure a parade of coat hangers, 3rd string politicos, apparatchiks and hacks -- potentates from a feudal state where privilege is granted based on political connection -- are given the energies of the entire State Bureaucracy. The citizenry .. a mere 3 minutes to object.
Or the Town Of Burrillville -- the EFSB, another unaccountable, beyond reproach "Quasi Governmental Agency" -- without due process chooses to ignore the wishes of the Town Councils of some 30+ communities, and in the stroke of a pen, dismisses the demands of an entire community ... an entire state. "Trust The Process" is the "Let Them Eat Cake" for the 21st Century."
Rhode Island Young Republicans Chair:
"As Rhode Island hangs around the bottom rankings for business friendliness, tax environment and a rapidly increasing cost of living, it is no wonder Rhode Islanders believe that we are still heading in the wrong direction. Rampant and embarrassing stories of corruption and scandals surrounding our state house damages our reputation nationally, as well as diminishes local confidence in our elected officials. Working class families have been taken off the priority list to make room for the politically connected and special interests.
In 2014, our governor told us over and over again “Main Street not Wall Street”, yet RI landmark businesses continue to close as Wall St. capitalizes off of poor RI investments. Her unwavering support of mandatory paid sick leave, tolling of vehicles, and incentivising big companies with corporate welfare clearly shows she is not really in touch with Rhode Island’s small businesses. Recently, she reached out to Vista Print, a large national wholesaler, and offered over $2 million in tax incentives, instead of spending that time working with RI based companies such as Moo, located in Providence or even former RI based company Teespring, on expanding their market here in the ocean state. RI landmarks like Benny’s have announced that their end-of-the-year closing will lose 400 jobs while CVS, to the governor's surprise, has even announced expansions into Massachusetts instead of their birthplace here in RI. With only 39% approval (exact % she received in her 2014 election), it is clear to see that her base has not yet abandoned her, but no one else seems to be fooled.
We are one of the highest taxed states for business, cost of living, retirement and even death, all of which factor into lower constituent confidence. When state house spending is twice that of our friends just to the north (New Hampshire), with a population close to a third larger than ours to fund, it’s clear that our retirees flee to other states for tax and pension relief. These are people who spent their entire lives working to make RI what it is today and can't even afford to finish their lives here.
Millennials need a well-run state, an affordable cost of living of living, and jobs to support themselves and their families; under the current administration, I believe they are not on the path to achieve them."
Roger Williams University Professor of Political Science and former Barrington Town Council President (D):
"As with everything is politics these days, these poll results are confusing and inconsistent. While 45% of respondents think Rhode Island is on the wrong track, only 19% say their family’s situation has gotten worse (and that’s still too high for those families, obviously) and just 16% respond that the Rhode Island economy has changed for the worse. So, if less than a fifth of respondents are unhappy with the economy, why are almost half of them answering that the state is on the wrong track
Part of it may be the perennial self-criticism and lack of boosterism that Rhode Islanders are said to demonstrate, especially when compared to attitudes held by our neighbors in Massachusetts about their Bay State. That, of course, begs the question about why that difference exists. Perhaps it’s Rhode Island’s history of corruption (although MA has that, too), or perhaps size does matter when it comes to state self-esteem.
It is also possible that Rhode Islanders see the state on the wrong track because they see the whole country on the wrong track. The constant drumbeat of stories from the Trump Administration about chaos within, about Russia, about North Korea, may have cast all politics and government in a negative light. It would be helpful to have comparable data from other states to see how the “wrong track” question is answered elsewhere.
Also, if the Della Volpe poll could provide a breakdown by city and town, we could examine whether the East-West divide that was so stark in the 2016 election has any relationship to these responses."
Democratic Candidate for Governor:
"The financial numbers speak for themselves. State budgets are the highest in all the New England states. What we need is a leader who is inspirational. Someone who can lead us into directions that are bold and progressive. I believe we have lost that vision. And when a vision is stated, the disconnect between the vision and the action results in distrust. That is what we have here.
We do not trust our leaders. We do not trust our Governor. Signing an executive order in favor of climate change legislation and then going to Chicago to collect a check from the very company that causes climate change is misguided at best.
We need better leaders. Rhode Island deserves a steady, consistent leader who exemplifies the Democratic party principles and not waivers to anyone who writes a check."
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