the states

U.S. News’ ‘Best States’ Rankings Don’t Smile on Red Ones

Baton Rouge, the capital of the state that edged out Alabama and Mississippi for dead last. Photo: Brian Miller/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty

There are lots of ways to rank states, cities, and even regions, and something can be said for all of them. No ranking should be taken as gospel truth. But comprehensive rankings like the one U.S. News & World Report just published have at least some basis in reality, and the divisions it shows among different types of states are pretty stark:

The Best States ranking of U.S. states draws on thousands of data points to measure how well states are performing for their citizens. In addition to health care and education, the metrics take into account a state’s economy, its roads, bridges, internet and other infrastructure, its public safety, the fiscal stability of state government, and the opportunity it affords its residents.

When you look at the states’ political complexions, the patterns are quite clear. The No. 1 state is Washington, and eight of the top ten are states Donald Trump lost (the exceptions being Utah and Nebraska). Twelve of the bottom 13 are states Trump carried (New Mexico is the exception).

This is not a list dominated at all by big states, but since California and Texas are forever being compared, it’s interesting that U.S. News has California at No. 19 and Texas at No. 38 (Texas suffers especially from low marks in health care and natural environment, two of California’s highest-ranked categories).

History buffs won’t be surprised to learn that former states of the Confederacy, particularly the more conservative of them, don’t do well in these rankings: Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana are at the very bottom, while Arkansas (45th) and South Carolina (42nd) also do poorly. It’s an interesting commentary on the ancient reactionary idea that a low-tax, low-regulation, anti-union environment guarantees growth. If that were true, Alabama and Mississippi should be dynamos with high living standards. They really, really aren’t. But the myth endures that the good life is found where government is weak and job creators walk tall, particularly from the safe distance of conservative think tanks far away.

U.S. News’ ‘Best States’ Rankings Don’t Smile on Red Ones