Why Are Best or Worst State Ratings Like a Box of Chocolate?

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Greg Markley

By GREG MARKLEY

OPINION —

For years, people have moved to Florida for the sunshine and warm weather. Many others have moved to Texas for its plentiful jobs and hugeness. Yet Florida, in a 2022 Money Inc magazine rating, was listed as the 15th worst state to live in. And Texas emerged as the 18th worst state to live in.

What is going on here? Was Forrest Gump in the 1994 movie correct in declaring, “Life is like a box of chocolates: You never know what you are going to get”? The people relocating to Florida (the third most populous state) are going to a state that received a “Worst” rating mainly due to its poverty that has hit 13.6%. That is 0.5% above the U.S. average.

       The other contributor to the Sunshine State’s 15th-place rating is that just 30.4% of Florida residents have a bachelor’s degree or higher. But as crusty Sgt. Walters said in “A Soldier’s Story” about college: “Not gettin’ is no excuse for not havin’.” Florida is a good way for young people to get a job, such as at Disney World or on a cruise ship. Those lacking degrees might well have one later.

Plus, the state has plenty of universities and colleges. Most of those undergrads will get a degree in Florida. So criticizing the state by including students in the midst of earning a degree as part of the “No College Degree” statistics is inaccurate. Hurry up and call Gov. Ron DeSantis and tell him Money Inc magazine is “fake news, or fake surveys.”

Texas gained the 18th negative spot this year for two reasons. First, it does not, as of July 2022, provide adequate protection against discrimination in public accommodations. There are federal laws that Texas (the second most populous state) must heed, but apparently not for motels and the like. Is it plain prejudice against blacks or Hispanics or members of the LGBTQ+ community?

 It could be, regrettably, but it’s understandable if one knows Texas. The Lone Star State values businesses, so it does not tell an innkeeper who is allowed to stay overnight in their motel. Texas, like Alaska, still has aspects of the American frontier, where people don’t like to be told what they can do. Gov. Greg Abbott would wholeheartedly agree.

The second reason for Texas’s negative score is changes to voting rights. Several were quickly passed by Republicans after the 2020 election. That’s bad news if they are unnecessarily restrictive and hurt one race or ethnicity or class of people more than others. Anyone who meets age, residency and other standard qualifications should head on down to the polls, pronto, on election days.

“Quality of life refers to how an individual feels about their current station in life,” notes thebalance.com, a personal finance website. “It includes their perception of their overall well-being, as well as goals, expectations and concerns. Multiple factors play into someone’s quality of life, such as their levels of job satisfaction, wealth, income and leisure time.”

CNBC released its 2022 America’s Top States for Business study in July, and it has always paid attention to quality of life. What do four of the top five states listed by CNBC share? Answer: They are all cold-weather states. People must take their queue from quotes like the one above. Still, other quality of life issues — healthcare and inclusiveness — are present in the top states, says CNBC.

Minnesota, No. 5, boasts of the acclaimed Mayo Clinic in Rochester. But the state has a high rate of health care providers per capita and a commendably low rate of premature death. Yet childcare continues to be a weakness. North Dakota, No. 4, has made constructive changes to curtail drug abuse, and its air quality is a strength.

 Hawaii, No. 3, is the only of the top five states that is known for consistently warm weather and sunshine. It has good health care and low crime, something most states are craving. Although it is in the top half of the states for access to childcare, the Aloha state is the most expensive for childcare.

“Maine (No. 2) isn’t just a safe state — it’s getting safer,” writes Scott Cohn of CNBC. “The Maine Department of Public Safety reports that overall crime decreased for the ninth consecutive year in 2020, based on recent statistics. Violent crime dropped nearly 5% and property crime fell more than 6%.” Worth mentioning, as well, is that voting rights are a key strength in Maine.

Vermont, No. 1, has strength in voting rights (mail-ins, a voting period of 45 days, etc.). Other strengths are in childcare, healthcare, air quality and low crime. Despite living in Rhode Island until age 25, I did not visit Vermont until 2018. I stayed in Bennington surrounded by stunning scenery. Not even a billboard that would block the views.

Greg Markley moved to Lee County in 1996. He has master’s degrees in education and history. He taught politics as an adjunct in Georgia and Alabama. An award-winning writer in the Army and civilian life, he has contributed to the Observer since 2011. He is a member of the national Education Writers Association (focus-Higher Education). gm.markley@charter.net.

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