There’s been a lot of hand-wringing in Rhode Island since the U.S. Census Bureau announced last month that the state was one of only two that lost population last year, with the total number of residents down by about 25,000 since 2004.
But Dean Baker, the liberal economist and co-director of the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research, said Monday he thinks the focus on population loss is somewhat misguided.
“I think it’s misdiagnosing the problem,” Baker told WPRI.com. “The problem is you have a bad economy, and because you have a bad economy people are leaving. But the problem is not that people are leaving; the problem is the bad economy.”
“If the people stayed there it wouldn’t make anything better – just imagine if you had the 25,000 people and they stayed there and they’re all unemployed,” he said. “Obviously they wouldn’t all be unemployed, but assume the bulk of them would be unemployed.”
In Baker’s view, a declining population isn’t a bad thing in and of itself. “There’s always an upside to it,” he said. Housing will be more affordable, infrastructure will be less strained, roads will be less congested, beaches will be less crowded. The real problem is why Rhode Island’s population is declining.
“There will be offsetting factors that would make it a positive, but again, in the context of people leaving because of a weak economy, it’s pretty hard for me to imagine that the net on that would be positive,” he said.
Here’s our 5:30 Q&A on Rhode Island’s population decline: