Jobless jeopardy

Friday, October 24, 2008

Rhode Islanders learned this week of the numbers behind what many have already realized: We have a jobs crisis. The state’s jobless rate jumped to 8.8 percent this month, giving Rhode Island the highest in the nation – even higher, as many news organizations pointed out, than Michigan.

Like with the nationwide financial crisis, there is plenty of blame to go around. There are not enough high-paying, high-tech jobs, for instance, which limits the state’s tax base and contributes to its large deficits. Those deficits limit job training programs, education, health care, public transportation and any number of other services that raise the quality of life and allow people to find gainful employment.

For the state’s inability to break the negative feedback loop that comes with a smaller tax base, local politicians are partly to blame. Everything from cuts in programs for the homeless to the formula used to allocate funds to public schools reeks of elected officials’ recklessness.

But we don’t soon anticipate the arrival of smarter, more adept people in the State House any more than we expect an alien spacecraft to park itself on the Main Green this morning. Students should instead use their basically unemployed time here to be a voice for those who need an extra hand. This means protesting to local officials who try to cut programs that promote job growth. It means using our academic skills to provide impartial information to legislators who we suspect are often confused by the issues before them.

As a large, high-paying employer in Rhode Island, the University can also help in this crisis. In its efforts to cut back, it should absolutely avoid cutting jobs. And, because the University is so close to Massachusetts, it should consider providing incentives for faculty and staff who choose to live in Rhode Island.

We have also reported there is an admissions preference for Rhode Islanders. While always important, it’s never more crucial than at a time when the state is in a job crunch. Brown alums who are natives of the state are more likely to stay here and expand that ever-important tax base.

The University should also make an urgent effort to expand giving to its fund for the Providence schools. The goal for a $10 million endowment, set in response to an inquiry into the University’s connection to slavery, should be increased. Brown should also make sure that it is helping researchers here use their findings to start local companies that will create jobs.

With a tight job market, we don’t expect politicians to come to anyone’s rescue. But the University and its students can help make things easier for Rhode Islanders.