Thursday, September 2, 2021

The Best and the Worst States


I have ranked the world’s countries in terms of quality of life several times on this blog. Today, I want to do that   with America’s own fifty states. There is as much  chauvinism at this level as there is internationally. Just as most Europeans feel that they are better than Americans and vice versa, so Texans feel superior to Californians and vice-versa.

For the facts, I examined a recent USNews and World Report study: Best States Rankings

The study ranks the states on eight criteria:

Health Care





Fiscal stability

Crime and Corrections

Natural Environment

First, I wanted to compare blue states and red states, something which  USNews and World Report does not do. The country’s political climate is  extraordinarily polarized, and I was curious to see whether the data confirm one of my  preconceptions, namely that overall, blue states are better than red states. Well, they most certainly do:

According to 270towin, there are 18 blue states, 22 red states and  10 “mixed” states. They are located as follows:

West:   4 blue states: Washington, Oregon, California and  Hawaii.   1 red state: Alaska.

Midwest: 4 blue states: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan. 5 red states: Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Kansas and Missouri. 3 mixed states: Iowa, Indiana and Ohio

Rocky Mountains: 5 red states: Utah, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Arizona. 3 mixed states: Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico.  ZERO blue states.         

New England: 5 blue states: Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut, Maine, Rhode Island. 1 Mixed state: New Hampshire. ZERO red states.   

The South: 11 red states: Georgia, Tennessee, Texas, Kentucky, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Alabama, West Virginia, Mississippi, Louisiana. 3 mixed states: Virginia, Florida, North Carolina. ZERO blue states.

Atlantic Coast: 5:  blue states: Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Delaware, Pennsylvania. ZERO red or mixed.

These six regions are those used by the US Census Bureau.

Clearly this country’s problem is (1) in the South and (2)  in   the Rocky Mountains. As Heather Cox Richardson explains in  How the South Won the Civil War, America’s political evolution is the result of a long-term alliance between the South and “Cowboy Country,” which has increasingly  imposed its reactionary and authoritarian  agenda on  the country. This coalition is  trying to  destroy American democracy. Its long-term aim is to impose a Republican  minority government upon the nation and to reverse the social progress we have made thus far. Had the South achieved secession during the Civil War, the North would  be far better off today,  similar to our civilized Canadian neighbors.

So, the first correlation I examined is that between states’ ranks and their color - blue or red. This confirmed that blue states are better than red states: The former’s average rank is 20.6, whereas the latter’s is 31.3. Blue states clearly enjoy a higher quality of life than do  red states.

OVERALL, the  10 top ranked states are the  following: 1.Washington (blue), 2. Minnesota (blue), 3. Utah (red) , 4.New Hampshire (mixed), 5. Idaho (red), 6. Nebraska (red) , 7. Virginia (mixed),  8. Wisconsin (blue), 9. Massachusetts (blue)  and 10. Florida (mixed).

The bottom 10 states are the  following: 41. Kentucky (red), 42, South Carolina (red), 43. Oklahoma (red), 44.  Arkansas (red), 45. Alaska (red), 46. Alabama (red), 47. West Virginia (red), 48. New Mexico (mixed), 49. Mississippi (red),  50. Louisiana (red). Of personal interest to me are the ranks of California, (#24, blue) and Texas (#31, red).

The next correlation I wanted to examine is that between states’ ranks and their degree of urbanization.  The obvious  hypothesis was that urban states are better than rural states. To test this, I  ranked all the states by their population density, and compared the average  rank of  the 25 most densely populated states with that  of the 25 least populated (Rural vs. Urban).

The hypothesis was confirmed: The average rank of the more urban states is 23.6, whereas the more rural states’ average  rank is 27.4.

Also evident is the fact that urban states tend to be more blue and rural states more red: Of the 25 most urbanized states, 14 are blue and 5 are red. Of the rural states, only 4 are blue and 17 are red. So clearly, rural America is the problem.

* * * * * * *

How do the states rank on the eight  separate criteria used by the USNews study? The tables below list the 5 best and the  5 worst states for each criterion. 

Table 1. The 5 best and 5 worst states in Healthcare, Education, Economy and Infrastructure





Best 5:

1. Hawaii Blue

2. Mass. Blue

3. Conn. Blue

4. N. Jersey Blue

5. California Blue 

Best 5:

1.N. Jersey Blue

2. Mass. Blue

3. Florida Red

4. Wash.Blue

5. Colo. Mixed

Best 5:

1. Utah Red

2. Colo. Mixed

3. Idaho Red

4. Wash. Blue

5. Mass. Blue

Best 5:

1. Nevada Mixed

2. Oregon Blue

3. Wash. Blue

4. N. Dakota Red   

5. Utah Red

Worst 5:

46. Louisiana Red

47. W. Va Red

48. Oklahoma Red

49. Arkansas Red

50. Miss. Red

Worst 5:

46. Arizona Red

47. Alabama Red

48. Louisiana Red

49. Alaska Red

50. N. Mex. Mixed

Worst 5:

46. Hawaii Blue

47. Louisiana Red

48. W. Va Red

49. Miss. Red

50. Alaska  Red

Worst 5:

46. Conn. Blue

47. Louisiana Red

48. Miss. Red

49. R. Island Blue

50. W. Virginia Red

Table 2. The 5 best and 5 worst states in Opportunity, Fiscal Stability, Crime and, and the Natural environment


Fiscal Stability

Crime and Corrections

Natural Environment

Best 5:

1. Iowa  Mixed

2. Minn.      Blue

3.N. Hamp. Blue

4. Missouri Red

5. Michigan Blue

Best 5:

1. Alaska  Red

2. S. Dakota Red

3. Tennessee Red

4. Idaho Red

5. Utah Red

Best 5:

1. N. Hamp.  Blue

2. Maine Blue

3. Vermont Blue

4. Mass. Blue

5. N. Jersey Blue

Best 5:

1. Hawaii  Blue

2. N. Hamp. Blue

3. S. Dakota  Red

4. Mass. Blue

5. New York Blue

Worst 5:

46. New York Blue

47. Nevada Mixed

48. Louisiana Red

49. N. Mex. Mixed

50. California  Blue

Worst 5:

46. Hawaii  Blue

47. Pa. Blue

48. Kentucky Red

49. N. Jersey Blue

50. Illinois Blue

Worst 5:

46. S. Carol. Red

47. N. Mex.  Mixed

48.Arkansas Red

49. Alaska Red

50. Louisiana Red

Worst 5:

46. Alaska  Red

47. Utah Red

48. Indiana Mixed

49. Louisiana Red

50. Nevada  Mixed


1.Health Care: Access, quality and Public Health  

No contest: Blue states are MUCH better than red states. The South is doing an especially bad job  in this regard.    

2. Education: Higher Ed and Public K-12

Similar: Blue states are  in far better shape than red states. Only one southern state is  among the five best: Florida.

3.  Economy: Business Environment, Employment, Growth

The advantage goes  to the blue states again. Although some red states (e.g. Utah and Idaho) are  doing quite well,  the worst states are mostly red (the deep South plus Alaska), and they include, surprisingly,  blue Hawaii.

4. Infrastructure: Energy, Internet Access, Transportation

Blue states are again ahead of red states, although not by much: Some red states (North Dakota and Utah) are doing well and some blue states not so (Connecticut and Rhode Island).

5. Opportunity: Affordability,   Economic Opportunity, Equality

Blue states do not excel in this regard. While some of them (Minnesota, New Hampshire, Michigan) are doing well, the two  blue megastates of New York and California are among the very worst.

6. Fiscal stability: Long-term, Short-term

Red states appear to do much better in this respect. However, these  are not the Southern red states.

7. Crime and Corrections: Corrections, Public Safety

Blue states do a far better job than  red states regarding  crime control and public safety, especially New England. Red states of the Deep South and Alaska  handle crime and corrections extremely  poorly.

8. Natural Environment: Air and Water Quality; Pollution

Similarly, red states  handle the environment very badly, especially in the South and in Alaska (#46).  Blue states, including first-ranked Hawaii, are doing a much better job.

In sum, red America is  in much worse shape than blue America in most respects. To explain this difference would  require a separate piece. For now, let me just say this: The immediate reason why  red states are generally the worst states  is their failure to govern themselves properly. That, in turn, is caused by a deep-seated culture which favors ignorance over knowledge  and obsolete and  irrational   values over rational ones.    

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