By Jim Davis
What the locals say
The Ocean State’s economy is still at half tide.
Rhode Island renounced allegiance to the British Crown on May 4, 1776,
becoming the first of the 13 original colonies to do so. Fourteen years later,
Rhode Island became the last of those 13 to ratify the U.S. Constitution.
At the time, Rhode Islanders apparently worried about the establishment of such
a strong central federal government but relented after the other colonies threatened to treat it as a foreign nation and after the addition of the Bill of Rights.
It’s nicknamed the Ocean State, a nod to its 400 miles of coastline syncopated by some 30 islands. It is the smallest of the states in terms of land mass.
Rhode Island could fit inside Alaska more than 500 times.
The official name is State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. Voters in 2010 overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to drop “Providence Plantations.” ( The term plantation was apparently a reference to settlements in the
17th century, not slavery.) The state motto is “Hope.”
While Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo recently pointed to the number of
cranes towering across the state as a sign of progress, there’s evidence that economic pain still lingers years after the recession. The single-family median home
price, for example, reached $255,000 in 2017, and rose to $275,000 as of this past
May. That still lags behind pre-recession levels, however. The unemployment
rate fell to 4. 4 percent as of this past May from a recession high 11. 3 percent.
Yet, that’s a higher unemployment rate than the U.S. as a whole.
Rhode Island has a population of 1.06 million, the 43rd largest state in terms of
population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That’s only grown by about
6,000 people since 2010. Economic analysis company IHS Market noted in a report to state government that Rhode Island has actually experienced negative
net domestic migration over the past several years, but migration of residents
from foreign nations has helped keep the state’s overall population growing.
Just under a half million people are employed in the state, according to the
Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training. Health care is the single largest employment sector in the state, with 81,300 workers. Health care spending is expected to outpace the national average going forward, according to
IHS Market. That is expected to help drive future employment gains.
Other major employment sectors include professional and business services,
with 65,800 employees; government agencies, with 60,600; and accommodation and food services, with 50,200.
The state’s per capita personal income in 2017 was $51,503, which is slightly
higher than the national average, Department of Commerce figures show.
About 12. 8 percent of Rhode Island’s population lived in poverty, on average,
over a four-year period ending in 2016, census data shows. n
Home sales and prices
Rhode Island’s home prices have been on a steady rise since the end of
the recession. The median sale price for a single-family home reached
$255,000 in 2017, according to the Rhode Island Association of Realtors.
That’s up from $195,000 in 2011.
That’s still not as high as before the recession. The state saw median sales prices for single-family homes reach $282,500 in 2006 and
$275,000 in 2007. The number of closed home sales, however, has been
on a steady climb in recent years, going from 6,706 in 2011 to 11,282
in 2017, according to the association. The 2017 figure is higher than in
2007, when 7,600 homes were sold. Last year, the average home sat on
the market for about two months — down from 2011, when the average
time on the market was 105 days.
Rhode Island Single-Family Home Sales
Sources: Rhode Island Association of Realtors
Closed home sales Median sales price
*Based on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac loan data; Q1 1991 equals 100
Rhode Island Association of Realtors
“Houses are selling quickly. The average [time this year] on
market is 49 days. It’s the shortest time frame for selling
houses in nearly 14 years. …. We’re fortunate in Rhode
Island. You get a lot of house for your dollar. A lot of folks
in nearby Massachusetts are realizing that. They’re choosing
to relocate to Rhode Island out of the more expensive neighborhoods of Massachusetts.”