Pa. rank­ings show we have some work to do

The Review - - OPINION -

“Penn­syl­va­nia — pur­sue your hap­pi­ness.”

The state slo­gan adopted in 2016 is based on the “pur­suit of hap­pi­ness” prom­ise in the Dec­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence, the na­tion’s found­ing fathers’ words penned in Philadel­phia.

The idea of course is that tourists and vis­i­tors to the Key­stone State can en­joy happy pur­suits while spend­ing tourism dollars in the cra­dle of lib­erty sites of Philadel­phia and south­east­ern Penn­syl­va­nia, the in­dus­trial her­itage and eth­nic neigh­bor­hoods of Pitts­burgh, the farm­ing cul­ture of Amish coun­try and Lan­caster, and the abun­dant hik­ing, camp­ing, bik­ing, fish­ing, hunt­ing, ski­ing and boat­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties through­out the state.

The beauty and the his­tor­i­cal lega­cies pre­served here add to the qual­ity of life both for vis­i­tors and res­i­dents.

But — and it’s a big but — Penn­syl­va­nia is not the most at­trac­tive place eco­nom­i­cally.

The tax bur­den, cost of higher ed­u­ca­tion and poor la­bor rank­ings make liv­ing in this beau­ti­ful and bu­colic state a chal­lenge.

A re­port pub­lished by Watch­ re­vealed a study re­cently re­leased by fi­nan­cial anal­y­sis firm Wal­letHub that ranked Penn­syl­va­nia 46th among the 50 states for jobs.

The study, ti­tled “2018’s Best & Worst States for Jobs,” looked at 29 sub­cat­e­gories to come up with a sin­gle score for each state, and then rank them. Wash­ing­ton state came in first place, and among Penn­syl­va­nia’s neigh­bors, New Jer­sey was 14th, Mary­land 19th, New York 28th, Ohio 37th and West Vir­ginia 50th.

There were a num­ber of poor fin­ishes in the sub­cat­e­gories that con­trib­uted to Penn­syl­va­nia’s over­all weak score.

• 40th in un­em­ploy­ment rate

• 40th in un­der­em­ploy­ment rate

• 40th in “in­dus­try va­ri­ety”

• 42nd in job se­cu­rity

• 40th in job sat­is­fac­tion

• 49th in in­come tax bur­den for low-wage in­di­vid­u­als

“Since 2014, the state’s job growth rate is 3.3 per­cent com­pared to 5.7 per­cent in the rest of the coun­try. Penn­syl­va­nia is also only one of 10 states that have seen a re­duc­tion in its la­bor force over the last three­plus years,” Bob Dick, se­nior pol­icy an­a­lyst for the non­profit Com­mon­wealth Foun­da­tion, told Watch­’s Dave Le­mery.

The la­bor sta­tis­tics are not the only num­bers that paint a dark pic­ture for Penn­syl­va­nia res­i­dents .

Par­tic­u­larly in south­east­ern Penn­syl­va­nia, the rank­ing of Penn­syl­va­nia as 47th among states for pub­lic school fund­ing and dead last in fund­ing equity has cre­ated a crush­ing lo­cal tax bur­den in com­mu­ni­ties from Pottstown to Up­per Darby.

Col­lege costs in Penn­syl­va­nia make it dif­fi­cult for mid­dlein­come fam­i­lies and for young peo­ple com­pared to other states where pub­lic univer­sity tu­ition is low and schol­ar­ship op­por­tu­ni­ties at pub­lic schools are ac­ces­si­ble.

The cost for in-state stu­dents to at­tend Penn State is the high­est in the na­tion for a pub­lic univer­sity at more than $35,000 a year for a stu­dent who lives on the State Col­lege cam­pus. Over­all, the in-state cost for Penn­syl­va­nia state col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties av­er­ages more than $27,000, com­pared to $9,970 as the na­tional av­er­age for state res­i­dents at pub­lic col­leges.

Stu­dents in Penn­syl­va­nia ac­crue more debt, tak­ing out $33,000 in loans, over the na­tional av­er­age of about $29,000 ac­cord­ing to the In­sti­tute for Col­lege Ac­cess & Suc­cess.

U.S. News & World Re­port ranked Penn­syl­va­nia 50th in the na­tion for higher ed­u­ca­tion based on grad­u­a­tion rates, col­lege debt and tu­ition costs.

Clearly, we have some work to do.

The Leg­is­la­ture has rec­og­nized some of these is­sues and at­tempted to ad­dress them. A fair fund­ing for­mula for pub­lic schools, prop­erty tax re­form pro­pos­als and a free col­lege pro­gram, PA Prom­ise, have been in­tro­duced. Fair fund­ing has even been passed, but not funded to the ex­tent that it ad­dresses the is­sue.

It’s time for state law­mak­ers and stake­hold­ers — and cit­i­zens — to rise up and work to­gether for so­lu­tions to these prob­lems threat­en­ing Penn­syl­va­nia’s fu­ture in lead­er­ship, com­merce, and fi­nan­cial sta­bil­ity. Leg­is­la­tors have pro­pos­als in the works.

What is lack­ing is con­sen­sus and a de­sire to put pol­i­tics aside and fix the short­com­ings. Cit­i­zens must de­mand pos­i­tive change.

Penn­syl­va­nia is a beau­ti­ful state, but without some change, an en­tire gen­er­a­tion will likely pur­sue their hap­pi­ness else­where.

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