Pennsylvania is Leading in all the Wrong Categories
Pennsylvania is undoubtably unique, from our sports teams to our diverse landscape, to our most impressive asset – our people. We truly believe there is no mix of people across the country with the values, skills, experiences, and talent like here in PA. In Pennsylvania, our industrial potential should make any investor or entrepreneur want to rush to our Commonwealth. But potential needs to be realized and that potential has largely been squandered in recent years. According to American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) state economic competitiveness index, PA comes in at 35th in economic outlook and 46th in economic performance. Neighboring states are watching. They’ve seen our once mighty state atrophy and have taken advantage and begun to lure businesses, manufacturing plants, and the jobs and tax revenue they produce, away from Pennsylvania. We don’t blame them. We do, however, blame the policies and laws that are sending them packing. We must do better, and mottos like “we’re open for business” and “competitive as hell” won’t cut it. Slogans don’t easily translate into success. 

The truth is that when it comes to economic advantage we’re lagging. This is inexcusable. Pennsylvania’s geography alone commands consideration. We’re nicknamed the “Keystone State” for a reason as we connect the population-rich Northeast to the South and Midwest. We are within a day’s truck drive of roughly 25% of the U.S. population.  Our three ports and medley of airports make domestic or international travel convenient. Our natural resources are virtually unparalleled as well. We export more energy than any state and produce more energy than every state but Texas. We have enough natural gas alone to power the rest of the U.S., with enough left over to power our allies abroad.  Then there are our people. We’ve long produced innovators and creators who have been trained in our schools and colleges, which rank among the most prestigious in the world. Agriculture, our No. 1 industry, is powered by a superb climate for growing staples like corn, wheat, soybeans, and even timber.  Pennsylvania, particularly our home county of York, has a rich manufacturing pedigree.  If you research the “York Plan” you’ll see the key role York played in winning World War II.  But rather than leveraging these advantages, we’re wasting them. We have the prime ingredients for growth and prosperity here in Pennsylvania, but we’re instead growing smaller, older, and poorer.

Pennsylvania is Shrinking
Over the last decade, Pennsylvania has lost over a quarter million residents. Just in the last two years, it has 50,000 less people. Pennsylvania ranks 46th out of 50 states in domestic migration index (2013-22), according to an economic analysis from ALEC. Sadly, this trend trudges on with apparently no plan to reverse it. After the 2022 congressional redistricting, we found ourselves with 17 House seats instead of 18 and 19 electoral votes instead of 20. That means less influence in Washington, D.C., and it means fewer teachers, nurses, and entrepreneurs as they flock to states where taxes are lower, and where it’s easier to get certified, simpler to work, and less expensive to start a family.

Pennsylvania is Getting Older
Although we may be a net exporter of people to states that are friendlier to businesses and families, Pennsylvania continues to import retirees. We’re near the top, according to various sources, in proportion of residents aged 65 or older and total population of seniors nationally. A 2021 Population Reference Bureau index showed that 2.5 million seniors live in PA, which accounts for 20% of our total population. As much as we love seniors, it can’t be said that they’re the demographic which can revive our economy, create jobs, assume risk, and innovate. In fact, in certain areas of the state, South Central Pennsylvania included, steep property tax bills are threatening to drive seniors out of their homes. Seniors aren’t filling the tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs that remain unfilled. They’re not making a dent in the so-called teacher shortage or nurse deficit. They’re instead doing what retirees do. 

Pennsylvania is Getting Poorer
It’s true that younger wage earners are leaving the state for opportunities and being replaced by retirees. This is evidence enough to point to Pennsylvania getting poorer but consider the data as well.  Census Bureau data from 2022 showed that 17 states had significant dips in median household income and, unfortunately, one of those states was the Keystone State. Then there is real personal income, or total income adjusted for inflation. Pennsylvania, between 2021 and 2022, saw a 5.8% dip in real personal income, among the highest losers in the country, only bested by typically low economic performers like California and New York. Lastly, in a more general economic sense, Pennsylvania finishes in the bottom tier for cumulative Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth over the last decade. At 35th, this statistic speaks to wealth, or the cumulative loss of wealth, more than perhaps any other figure.

Pennsylvania need not be shrinking, aging, and losing wealth. We can and should compete again. But to reverse this modern curse, we have to look at more government as the enemy to competition, not the antidote. We have to flip the script, step back and allow businesses and families to flourish with the use of more of their own money and time, not employ hyperactive government agencies to micromanage the affairs of Pennsylvanians.  We’re hopeful for a prosperous Pennsylvania, but we have to rally around the time-tested principle that the solution to our economic woes isn’t more government, it’s less government. 

Representative Joe D’Orsie, 47th District
Representative Mike Jones, 93rd District

Pennsylvania House of Representatives