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Massachusetts Ranked 5th Overall Best State in Nation

Monday, January 27, 2014


Massachusetts is one of the “best states” in the nation in a new comprehensive ranking of health, wealth, and education.

Overall, New England leads in the state-by-state comparison by Politico, which averages 14 different quality of life indicators and pegs Massachusetts 5th.

The final results largely mirror a 1931 three-part series by H. L. Mencken and Charles Angoff, titled “The Worst American State,” which put Massachusetts atop the heap and Mississippi last.

Robert Ross, a Sociology professor and director of the International Studies Stream at Clark University, pointed to several weaknesses with the survey methodology.

“All that said there is something intuitive about both lists and the reasons seem straightforward,” he continued, why states appear on the top and bottom. Namely, whether or not they are associated with high value-added activity like industry, technology, or finance versus agriculture.

“I should point out that no one lives in a state,” Ross said, besides perhaps residents of Rhode Island and Delaware. “Rather people live in metro regions. ... If we broke the country into its 230 some-odd metro regions the picture would be a bit different.”

Deborah Martin, associate professor and associate director of Clark's Graduate School of Geography, agreed. “There is tremendous spatial variation within places (in this case states) as well as between places,” she said. “Mississippi has areas of wealth/opportunity,” evidenced by census tract. “And we all know Massachusetts has areas of considerable poverty, but these are masked by overall relative wealth and higher ed achievement, for example, when measured at the level of the whole state.”

Mass ranks high on many indicators

As a state, the Commonwealth performs well for its per capita income, relatively low poverty and obesity rates, high life expectancy, and percentage of residents employed in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields.

The state is number one for lowest infant mortality rates, one measure of health and well-being that reflects the status of maternal health and the accessibility and quality of primary care. Massachusetts is also in first place for high school math and reading scores (but only 19th for the percentage of high school graduates).

Source data for each indicator comes from the latest available information from the U.S. Census Bureau, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Kaiser Family Foundation, Gallup “State of the States,” and National Center for Education Statistics.

New England sweeps most of nation

In Politico's overall ranking, New Hampshire comes out on top, followed by Vermont in 3rd, Massachusetts in 5th, and Connecticut rounding out the top in 10th.

Maine follows at 14th while Rhode Island is stuck in 29th place.

Another separate report released last week by the National Bureau of Economic Research in Cambridge showed something of a similar comparative picture in one key indicator: economic mobility.

A joint project of economists from Harvard University and University of California, Berkley, that working paper demonstrates states in the south have the worst social mobility in the nation. To determine relative odds for mobility, researchers measured how individuals' incomes stacked up against both their parents and peers.

The Great Plains region had the highest opportunity for advancement, followed by the West Coast and Northeast. Boston had the fourth highest opportunity for mobility, among the 50 largest metropolitan areas, while the bottom 10 cities were all located in either the Southeast or Rust Belt.

Demographics not well evaluated by in ranking

Responding to the Politico survey, Martin pointed to demographic differences glossed over in those rankings.

“New Hampshire has, relatively speaking, a rather homogeneous population, relatively white and middle class. So what we are seeing is an 'average' and the fact that it doesn’t have huge spikes of, in particular, disadvantage or poverty,” notwithstanding that the state does have poverty. “It might have more 'middleness' and fewer challenges to, for example, the school and health systems that deep, chronic inequality and disadvantage pose.”

Mississippi (along with other southern states with a historical sharecropper, agricultural labor force) “has deep fissures to overcome via public policy, or through economic growth that simply hasn't happened there at the relative levels it would need to in order to overcome its unevenness in relation to many other states,” Martin continued.

“Where is Mississippi's Boston?”

Methodology not quite scientific

One issue with the Politico study pointed out by Ross is equal weighting of all 14 indicators. “For example, if you are using life expectancy why would you weight equally obesity rates?”

Ross also said homicide rates would have been a more reliable data point for crime rather than overall rates provided by the FBI, which are shaped and changed by reporting practices of different types of crime between jurisdictions.


Related Slideshow: The Best States in New England

Using 14 different state rankings, Politico Magazine recently released its list of America's Best States.  See how the New England states fared...

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Overall Rankings

6. Maine (National Rank: 41)
5. Vermont (National Rank: 32)
4. Rhode Island (National Rank: 28)
3. Connecticut (National Rank: 24)
2. Massachusetts (National Rank: 19)
1. New Hampshire (National Rank: 1)
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Wealthiest Per Capita

6. Maine: $26,464 (National Rank: 28)
5. Vermont: $28,846 (National Rank: 19)
4. Rhode Island: $30,005 (National Rank: 13)
3. New Hampshire: $32,758 (National Rank: 7)
2. Massachusetts: $35,485 (National Rank: 5)
1. Connecticut: $37,807 (National Rank: 2)

Source: U.S. Census

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Lowest Unemployment Rate

6. Rhode Island: 9.0 (National Rank: 50)
5. Connecticut: 7.6 (National Rank: 39)
4. Massachusetts: 7.1 (National Rank: 30)
3. Maine: 6.4 (National Rank: 22)
2. New Hampshire: 5.1 (National Rank: 10)
1. Vermont: 4.4 (National Rank: 5)

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Lowest Poverty Rate

6. Maine: 13.3 (National Rank: 23)
5. Rhode Island: 13.2 (National Rank: 21)
4. Vermont: 11.6 (National Rank: 12)
3. Massachusetts: 11 (National Rank: 7)
2. Connecticut: 10 (National Rank: 5)
1. New Hampshire: 8.4 (National Rank: 1)

Source: U.S. Census

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Highest Home Ownership Rate

6. Massachusetts: 41.6 (National Rank: 51)
5. Rhode Island: 61.2 (National Rank: 45)
4. Connecticut: 68.3 (National Rank: 24)
3. Vermont: 71.2 (National Rank: 8)
2. New Hampshire 72.0 (National Rank: 7)
1. Maine: 72.1 (National Rank: 6)

Source: U.S. Census

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Highest Percentage of High School Graduates

6. Rhode Island: 84.8 (National Rank: 37)
5. Connecticut: 89 (National Rank: 20)
4. Massachusetts: 89.1 (National Rank: 19)
3. Maine: 90.6 (National Rank: 8)
2. Vermont: 91.3 (National Rank: 6)
1. New Hampshire: 91.4 (National Rank: 5)

Source: U.S. Census

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Longest Life Expectancy

6. Maine: 79.2 (National Rank: 23)
5. Rhode Island: 79.9 (National Rank: 13)
4. New Hampshire: 80.3 (National Rank: 8)
2. Vermont: 80.5 Year (National Rank: 5)
2. Massachusetts: 80.5 years (National Rank: 5)
1. Connecticut: 80.8 years (National Rank: 3)

Source: Kaiser Family Foundation

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Lowest Infant Mortality Rate

6. Rhode Island: 6.5 (National Rank: 21)
5. Connecticut: 6.3 (National Rank: 19)
4. Maine 6.0 (National Rank: 14)
2. New Hampshire: 5.1 (National Rank: 4)
2. Vermont: 5.1 (National Rank: 4)
1. Massachusetts: 4.9 (National Rank: 1)

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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Lowest Obesity Rate

6. Maine: 27.5 (National Rank: 31)
5. Vermont: 25.7 (National Rank: 20)
4. New Hampshire: 25.1 (National Rank: 17)
3. Rhode Island: 24.3 (National Rank: 8)
2. Connecticut: 22.7 (National Rank: 4)
1. Massachusetts: 21.5 (National Rank: 2)

Source: Gallup “State of the States”

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Highest Reported Wellbeing

6. Rhode Island: 65.5 (National Rank: 37)
5. Maine: 67.3 (National Rank: 20)
4. Connecticut: 67.6 (National Rank: 16)
3. Massachusetts: 68.1 (National Rank: 9)
2. New Hampshire: 68.4 (National Rank: 8)
1. Vermont: 68.8 (National Rank: 5)

Source: Gallup “State of the States”

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Highest Math Scores

6. Rhode Island: 278 (National Rank: 36)
5. Maine: 286 (National Rank: 19)
4. Connecticut: 289 (National Rank: 10)
3. New Hampshire: 292 (National Rank: 7)
2. Vermont: 293 (National Rank: 4)
1. Massachusetts: 200 (National Rank: 1)

Source: National Center for Education Statistics

Note: Based on 8th grade math scores

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Highest Reading Scores

6. Rhode Island: 258 (National Rank: 39)
5. Connecticut: 267 (National Rank: 12)
4. New Hampshire: 270 (National Rank: 4)
4. Maine: 270 (National Rank: 4)
1. Vermont: 273 (National Rank: 1)
1. Massachusetts: 273 (National Rank: 1)

Source: National Center for Education Statistics

Note: Based on 8th grade math scores

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Least Income Inequality

6. Connecticut: 0.4915 (National Rank: 49)
5. Massachusetts: 0.4813 (National Rank: 44)
4. Rhode Island: 0.4647 (National Rank: 32)
3. Maine: 0.445 (National Rank: 15)
2. Vermont: 0.4392 (National Rank: 11)
1. New Hampshire: 0.4298 (National Rank: 5)

Source: U.S. Census

Note: Data is based on GINI coefficient

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Lowest Crime Rate

6. Massachusetts: 405.5 (National Rank: 31)
5. Connecticut: 283 (National Rank: 19)
4. Rhode Island: 252.4 (National Rank: 13)
3. New Hampshire: 187.9 (National Rank: 3)
2. Vermont 142.6 (National Rank: 2)
1. Maine 122.7 (National Rank: 1)

Source: FBI

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Highest Percentage Employed in STEM Jobs

6. Maine: 4.1 (National Rank: 37)
5. Rhode Island: 4.4 (National Rank: 32)
4. Vermont: 5.7 (National Rank: 15)
3. Connecticut: 6 (National Rank: 11)
2. New Hampshire: 6.9 (National Rank: 7)
1. Massachusetts: 7.4 (National Rank: 5)

Source: U.S. Census

Note: STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics)

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H.L. Mencken and Charles Angoff’s 1931 rankings

6. Vermont
5. New Hampshire
4. Maine
3. Rhode Island
2. Connecticut
1. Massachusetts


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