Pa. rankings show we have some work to do
“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 Watchdog.org 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 Watchdog.org’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.