A new report on economic freedom released this week by the Fraser Institute ranks Pennsylvania 27th among the 50 states. The report notes that states with the most economic freedom enjoyed a $55,000 average GDP per capita while the least-free states averaged just $48,000—a $7,000 difference per person.
Say you’re working your way through college, supplementing student loans with a part-time job managing inventory at Wegmans. You make a decent hourly wage, but your health insurance benefits are key, saving you thousands per year in premium costs. Then, one Monday, your boss tells you part-timers are no longer eligible for benefits.
Jim VanBlarcom, a busy Bradford County dairy farmer, set a work day aside to come to Harrisburg and tell his story to Gov. Tom Corbett's Marcellus Shale panel. Royalty money from leasing farmland helped him double his dairy herd size, and he's glad the industry's here.
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The stories continue: more jobs, increased tax revenue and cheap energy, all from the free-market production of Marcellus Shale gas.
Take last week's report from the Central Pennsylvania Business Journal: A study commissioned by Sunoco Logistics says two of its pipeline projects will produce more than 30,000 jobs across Pennsylvania, including as many as 400 permanent positions once the project is complete. The projects are also projected to generate $23 million in personal income tax and contribute $4.2 billion to the state’s economy.
The pipeline project is just one isolated example:
- Dura-Bond’s Steelton plant “plans to add 150 jobs after being awarded a contract to produce $400 million worth of pipeline for the 540-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline in West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina,” according to PennLive. The work at the Dauphin County facility is expected to extend through March 2017.
- Sunoco Logistics’ Marcus Hook Industrial Complex — an 800-acre energy hub for the processing, storage and export of natural gas products — continues to expand and add jobs as Delaware County officials work to identify additional business opportunities for it, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer. Sunoco Logistics’ pipelines serve the complex.
- New Jersey’s largest gas and electric utility will decrease the typical residential gas bill by 31 percent in February and March, according to NorthJersey.com. Public Service Electric & Gas “has repeatedly cut the cost of gas to its lowest rate in 14 years as a result of low-cost gas from the Marcellus Shale formation in Pennsylvania and surrounding states,” the website said.
A new tax on Marcellus Shale drilling could put at risk these jobs and countless future projects. The economic benefits from a revived natural gas industry are impressive. Marcellus Shale counties saw more than double the employment growth of non-Marcellus counties last year. While government programs continue to hand out individual grants and loans, they can't compare to the industry's track record of improving employment for entire counties with zero cost to taxpayers. Government programs simply pale in comparison to the revitalization spurred by natural gas.
Residents continued their exodus from Pennsylvania in 2014.
The latest Census population estimates, released last month, show that Pennsylvania gained 5,913 in total population between July 2013 and July 2014. This increase was driven by natural causes—13,400 more births than deaths—and international migration (a net of 29,000).
However, on the negative side, the state lost 31,400 residents to other states in net domestic migration. Only New York, Illinois, New Jersey and California lost more.
United Van Lines data supports this, putting Pennsylvania among the top 10 "outbound states" (again, New York, New Jersey, and Illinois top the list).
But it's part of a larger trend as well. State residents have been fleeing from high tax states to lower tax states. Indeed, while a net loser on the whole, Pennsylvania has gained population from residents fleeing higher-taxed New York, New Jersey, and Maryland.
That residents "vote with their feet" must be considered in any discussion of increasing Pennsylvania's tax burden.
Pennsylvania is the 27th freest state in America according to the Fraser Institute's annual Economic Freedom of North America report, which is hardly news to be celebrating.
States were ranked based on their size of government, level of taxation and labor market restrictions. Texas and South Dakota topped the US list, while Maine ranked last.
Why is economic freedom important? Higher levels of economic freedom directly correspond with more job opportunities and a higher standard of living.
According to the study, the most-free states averaged $55,000 per-capita in 2012 gross domestic product compared to roughly $48,000 for the least-free states. In other words, more economic freedom translated to a $7,000 boost in income per person.
When you consider the entire continent, Pennsylvania ties for the 30th freest state or province. Texas is the only US state to make the top five (the rest are Canadian provinces). Over the past decade, economic freedom has declined in both the United States and Canada, but the decline has been more gradual in Canada.
If Governor-elect Wolf and the new state legislature truly seek a fresh start for the commonwealth, they must take steps to restore economic freedom.
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The Commonwealth Foundation is Pennsylvania's free-market think tank. The Commonwealth Foundation transforms free-market ideas into public policies so all Pennsylvanians can flourish.