Guest MINDSETTER™ Smith: Newport’s Dilemma is RI’s Nightmare
Wednesday, November 21, 2018
The implications of this could not come at a worse time for the City by the Sea.
Newport’s problems may surprise many of those outside of the city. Many still hold an image of Newport being a city of the privileged and rich. The reality for many year-round residents is far from that.
Yes, Newport is teeming with beautiful mansions, and arguably the most striking coastline and beaches in America. Its summer days and nightlife are by far the best in New England. Three million visitors a year from all over the world visit Newport in the summer months.
It would surprise many if you told them the stark realities that Newport’s “year-round” residents are realizing all too well.
The most striking figures from the 2016-2017 US Census data are:
- Newport is the 9th Poorest City in Rhode Island.
- FBI statistics ranking Newport the 4th Most Dangerous City in Rhode Island.
- RI Department of labor ranks Newport near the bottom in the state with $40,699 in median household income.
- Making matters worse is that Newport’s public schools continue to drop each year. Ranking slightly above figures of Woonsocket and Central Falls.
So, how did this happen?
Last year the Newport Planning Office published the Comprehensive Land Use Report. Its goal was to address the grim realities facing Newport, and to change course.
A few of the most eye-opening conclusions were:
Year-round Population Drop
The city’s current population has dropped to 24,779. That equates to 30% population drop in the last 30 years. That study confirmed an 8% population loss in the last 10 years, and a continued 24% drop by 2040, If current trends do not change.
Key findings showed that the current population is predominately aging, at 55 plus. The largest population drop is the age range of 35 and less. This age range generally represents the working class.
High home pricing, fueled by out of state retirees or investors, combined with high rent pricing attributed to military and college rentals have made living unattainable for average income families.
A Vanishing Middle Class
Year-round families have stopped moving to Newport and buying homes.
Instead, the city has one of the highest percentages of public housing developments in the state. These developments also supply most of the children that attend the public schools.
Newport’s economic disparity has created a climate of either very rich or very poor. Again, the middle class has been choked out, due to costs of living, lack of real year-round employment, substandard schools, and housing and rent costs that are out of reach. This situation has resulted in dire consequences for businesses that depend on year-round populations, and to the tax base which is needed for the city to properly operate social and city services.
Neighborhoods, such as the Point and the 5th Ward, were once flush with families. Now, these neighborhoods are relatively quiet. Once average middle-class homes are currently selling for either close to or well over a million dollars. Just about all new housing deeds registered at Newport City Hall are from age 55+ buyers, out of state residents who use these properties for second vacation/summer homes, or out of state investors for rental purposes and/or high-value future flips. Few, escaping our high tax environment, claim RI residency.
An Economic Tsunami
The report also emphasized the reliance that Newport has on tourism. Newport is great at what it offers the world primarily for 3-4 months a year. However, the reliance on tourism creates an economic vacuum. Tourism jobs are generally seasonal; thus, Newport sees higher unemployment in winter months. Regrettably, most of the tax revenue generated by tourism ends up in the state’s budget, not Newport’s. The city has seen a massive drop in new business start-ups, and a continued loss of existing businesses.
Lack of economic diversity is a major reason why US News and World Report published last year that 79% (3rd Worst in the nation) of college students leave Rhode Island upon graduating. Nowhere in the state is that more problematic than in a city that thrives only on 3-4 months of tourism dollars. You can’t raise a family on seasonal income.
Taken together, this data does not bode well for the future. Companies looking to relocate to a city or state look at three major factors:
1. Talented workforce
2. Affordable housing
3. Education rankings.
Newport is on the bottom of all these factors.
With these ominous figures, one would assume the economy and year-round jobs would be the major campaign platforms for candidates in Newport. They would be wrong.
Far left progressives, many who smugly call themselves the oxymoronic word, “Democratic-Socialists," have parasitically attached themselves to the Democrat party and generally campaign and exploit social issues for the poor with financial backing from the gated community rich. The result; Newport’s state delegation (House and Senate), city council (including the mayor), and even the majority on the School Committee, shifted to the progressive left; in a sense, a Progressive Trifecta. This will have damaging impacts on Newport’s future.
This Progressive takeover could be the arsenic in Newport’s economic IV bag. They will pursue economy-killing policies. More taxes, regulations, and overall larger controlling government are what they are all about. The fruits of their efforts will be declining school achievement, a stagnant economy and a flight of struggling middle-class workers
This could and should be a lesson for the rest of the state. Continuing to elect the same tax, spend, and borrow politicians has put Rhode Island at the bottom of every economic and viability ranking in America.
Sadly, oblivious to these realities, Newport spirals toward that growing political trend.
Extreme politics, whether it is left or right, is great at creating enthusiasm and victim status. They are effective at garnering support through very narrow and specific platforms. But they do not engender or create a diverse economy through private investment. A growing middle class that is the main government tax source are starved of the employment. The consequence is a shrinking population picking up the tab for all.
The extreme division in economic classes, and the liberal political class that feeds it and ignores the consequences, creates a lesson to be learned, feared, and avoided. Newport’s best, and perhaps only, hope is to move to the center politically, adopt free-market policies and aggressively seek to bring back the middle class by building a year-round and diverse economy.
Socialist policies of the progressive left have and will continue to extract a heavy toll on small business creation and expansion, and on the middle-class families who bear the brunt of bankrolling anti-business and special interest-based politics. Unfortunately, this is exactly where our beautiful City by the Sea finds itself today. And this past election has furthered the decline at the expense and peril of everyday Newporters.
Mike Smith, a Republican, is a former candidate for both the Rhode Island House and Senate in Newport
Related Slideshow: Election Night 2018: Photos of Democratic Heaven and GOP Hell in RI
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