Measuring Wisconsin’s Prosperity

Measuring Wisconsin’s Prosperity

2016 | Week of July 4 | #1158

What determines the prosperity of a state? Is it measured by a single number, such as unemployment, job creation, overall tax burden, per capita income?  Note that all of those have to do with the economy. Perhaps it’s better measured by a single number dealing with other issues, such as fertility rate or migration or married-couple households? Each of those have to do with people rather than the economy.  Maybe it’s a combination of various measurements, including all of those I just mentioned?

The truth is assessing a state’s true prosperity isn’t easy. So many factors play into that assessment that you really need cracker-jack economists to figure it out. Fortunately, a couple of those cracker-jack economists were willing, even eager, to tackle this important task.

Several years ago I met economists Dr. Wendy Warcholik and J. Scott Moody, a husband and wife team with the brains, the education and training, the experience and most important, the heart to go where no one else has dared to go.  This dynamic duo made a pitch to a group of us pro-family leaders about a project they called the Family Prosperity Index. As they explained it, it would be an enormous project involving looking at all kinds of data and variables from both the economic and social areas for each state and then annually assign an index number to each state and rank order them.

It’s taken about five years for these dedicated economists to get everything pulled together.  The project is housed at American Conservative Union Foundation and has substantial financial support from the Milwaukee-based Bradley Foundation.

Wisconsin Family Council has proudly championed this project from the beginning and is very honored to be a state partner with The Family Prosperity Initiative.  Last week, Wisconsin was privileged to be the first state to have its own state-specific report released.

Based on the truth that as the family so the state, the Family Prosperity Index assesses the economic and social status of six discrete index categories—economics, demographics, family structure, family self-sufficiency, family culture and family health. These six categories are supported by 57 datasets from publicly accessible data and backed up by current documentable research. In the inaugural 2016 edition of the Family Prosperity Index, in which Utah was ranked fist and New Mexico last overall, Wisconsin scored well in family health, family culture and family self-sufficiency but low in economics, demographics and family structure. The composite data gives Wisconsin an overall ranking of 18. Regionally Iowa and Minnesota rank higher than Wisconsin, with both of them in the top 10, while Illinois and Michigan rank lower.

The Wisconsin report released last week shows that two measures are particularly responsible for weighing down Wisconsin’s overall score – entrepreneurship in which our state ranked 50th and marriage, in which we ranked 44th.  These are intertwined with three other measures that show troubling signs of worsening – the fertility rate where we rank 27th, net natural population rate, in which we rank 28th, and domestic migration where we rank 31st.

Further analysis shows these factors are self-reinforcing as Wisconsin suffers from out-migration of its community and business leaders, who are the most entrepreneurial, have the highest marriage rates, and have the largest families—all factors that contribute positively to Wisconsin’s overall prosperity.

The report provides direction for a path forward for Wisconsin.  Now we know where the problems are as well as some of the contributing factors. For instance, we know we need to improve the economic climate that fosters new entrepreneurial endeavors. That means, among other things, continuing to de-regulate and to reduce taxes on businesses. In addition, at a minimum we need to reduce the overall tax burden on families as an incentive for them to stay in Wisconsin rather than to move to other states. The marriage rate and the fertility rate are harder to deal with but we can begin with individual families and churches truly becoming marriage and family champions.

By using this report, we should be able to enact policies and changes to move Wisconsin into the top 10. There’s no reason we shouldn’t be there right along with Minnesota and Iowa. But being better than our neighbors isn’t the reason we should make full use of this report. Improving Wisconsin’s rank in the Family Prosperity Index is ultimately good for our families—and that’s what really matters.

For Wisconsin Family Council, this is Julaine Appling reminding you the prophet Hosea said, “My people are destroyed. for lack of knowledge.”

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