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Not great, not even good

Friday, Jan 24, 2014

* Politico looks back at an attempt during the Great Depression to rank the nation’s states from best to worst

In 1931, H.L. Mencken and his fellow editor at the American Mercury, Charles Angoff, wondered the same thing. In a three-part series the magazine called “The Worst American State,” the pair compiled dozens of rankings of population data, largely from the 1930 census, determined to anoint the best and worst of the 48 states (and the District of Columbia), according to various measures of wealth, culture, health and public safety. In the end, Mencken and Angoff declared Connecticut and Massachusetts “the most fortunate American States,” and they deemed Mississippi “without a serious rival to the lamentable preëminence of the Worst American State”

At the time, Illinois ranked 9th on Mencken’s list.

* Politico has compiled its own ranking, “from reputable sources like the Census Bureau, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the FBI, and on important factors such as high school graduation rates, per capita income, life expectancy and crime rate.”

The “master list,” which is an overall average, has Illinois 30th in the nation.

* Here are the individual rankings for Illinois

* Wealthiest per capita: 16

* Lowest unemployment: 48

* Lowest poverty rates: 24

* Highest home ownership: 28

* Highest percentage of high school graduates: 30

* Longest life expectancy: 24

* Lowest infant mortality rate: 29

* Lowest obesity rate: 22

* Highest reported wellbeing (Gallup index score): 26

* Highest math scores (Grade 8): 32

* Highest reading scores (Grade 8): 27

* Least income inequality (GINI coefficient): 38

* Lowest crime rate (FBI stats): 34

* Highest percentage employed in science, technology, engineering and mathematics jobs: 20


- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Old Shepherd - Friday, Jan 24, 14 @ 10:27 am:

    It’s my home, and I’m proud to be from the great State of Illinois. I think we all need a little dose of state patriotism.

  2. - wordslinger - Friday, Jan 24, 14 @ 10:42 am:

    Mississippi remains consistent.

  3. - walker - Friday, Jan 24, 14 @ 10:43 am:


    Not sure what to make of such scorecards.

    Note: Illinois is rated better than Florida, Texas, and Indiana — which are the three most mentioned destinations by the “Everybody’s leaving Illinois” crowd.

    New England states are among the best rated, but I don’t see a great migration of people or businesses that direction.

  4. - Anonymous - Friday, Jan 24, 14 @ 10:43 am:

    It is hard to put labels on Illinois since it is truely one of the most diverse states in the union. You can measure any number of these things within various Illinois Cities and towns (or even different Chicago neighborhoods) and get widely varying results.

  5. - jake - Friday, Jan 24, 14 @ 10:48 am:

    Notice that we rank higher in wealth per capita than in anything else. Another piece of evidence that the wealthy in Illinois are not paying their fair share of taxes. Support the progressive tax amendment.

  6. - PoolGuy - Friday, Jan 24, 14 @ 10:50 am:

    hard to see how the Dakotas and Montana are better places to live or have better opportunities. sure crime is lower, the air is cleaner, and their unemployment may be lower. but when it comes to universities, higher paying jobs, airports with nonstop/direct flights, arts and culture I guess it’s a choice of city living vs the outdoors.

  7. - tubbfan - Friday, Jan 24, 14 @ 10:50 am:

    Yay! We’re average!

  8. - Formerly Known As... - Friday, Jan 24, 14 @ 10:52 am:

    Illinois has so many innate benefits, this is disappointing. At minimum, we have the advantages of a “world class city” in Chicago around which to build.

    We’ve also had a steady stream of strong political leaders, which lends itself to stability. Stability is, by and large, a good thing in the context of developing a society.

    Very few states begin with a head start like that, and yet we still finish behind them. It’s frustrating.

  9. - Grandson of Man - Friday, Jan 24, 14 @ 10:53 am:

    I’m trying to feel optimistic about our future. I saw a news blurb the other day in which for Chicago, Emanuel will make another push to get more tourism in the city. I didn’t catch the story, but our tourism has been setting records. That’s one good thing about the state.

    I did see Cullerton on TV yesterday, talking about the Chicago pension problem and how it has to be a top priority this year. I also saw some academics on TV the other day, talking about our low education funding and the overreliance on property taxes to fund schools.

    I feel more optimistic about our future this year than I did at the beginning of last year. I think we took serious steps to address our woeful finances. What scares me is that if the pension reform is tossed out in court, it will be difficult politically to enact legal pension reform. One side will want to dump defined pensions and cut taxes and spending, and another will want to do CTBA policy and reamortize the debt, pass a progressive income tax, and other stuff from the left. I hope that if that comes to pass, we can pass legal reform quickly.

  10. - RNUG - Friday, Jan 24, 14 @ 10:53 am:

    I’d guess a number of those rankings would improve if we spent less money on the colleges and more money to improve the high school graduation rates.

  11. - PublicServant - Friday, Jan 24, 14 @ 10:53 am:

    I wish they’d have provided numbers as well as percentages. I’d also like to see other employment categories besides STEM, like finance, retail, industrial(factory/plant type jobs), Sales.

    As for the poor ranking in employment, there was this thing called the Great Recession that hit Illinois, with its Regressive tax structure very hard, and we’ve been slow to recover for the same reason. Having said that, even though Illinois’ recovery is slower than most, it definitely is on the road to recovery.

  12. - Fan - Friday, Jan 24, 14 @ 10:55 am:

    Paying their fair share. Good grief. What is their fair share?

  13. - From the 'Dale to HP - Friday, Jan 24, 14 @ 10:58 am:

    Quick take away: looks like the higher percentage of whites in the state, the better you do in the rankings. Not perfectly correlated I’m sure, but that top ten seems to support that.

    Also these things are silly since over half of Americans live in only 10 states… looks like Pennsylvania at #27 is the highest ranking of the top ten most populous states. So I guess most of America likes living in below average states… or something.

  14. - PublicServant - Friday, Jan 24, 14 @ 10:59 am:

    RNUG, I doubt the STEM ranking would improve, if we did that. Was is it an either/or for you? You do realize how hard universities in this state have been hit to the detriment of this state’s families with college age children don’t you? The state has already dramatically cut funding to universities, who have been forced to raise tuition and fees to balance their budgets. I think you’d be robbing Peter to pay Paul if the state pursued that course of action.

  15. - thechampaignlife - Friday, Jan 24, 14 @ 10:59 am:

    It would be useful to know how far from best or average we are, essentially the standard deviation. For instance, if we’re 29th in infant mortality but 1st is just 0.1% fewer, that’s not as bad as it being 10% fewer. I don’t mind being dead last in a category if first isn’t significantly better and the cost to move from last to first were great.

  16. - Almost the Weekend - Friday, Jan 24, 14 @ 11:06 am:

    =Having said that, even though Illinois’ recovery is slower than most, it definitely is on the road to recovery.=

    You consider the road to recovery with Illinois being projected last in the US for future job growth. I’m not a fan of Rauner, but maybe that is why people are flocking towards his (empty) rhetoric. Public officials (aka career politicians) are oblivious to the daily problems facing this state and its people.

  17. - Andrew Szakmary - Friday, Jan 24, 14 @ 11:16 am:

    So a state that ranks well above average in wealth per capita is so broke that it has no other possible alternative but to invoke police powers and renege on its contractual obligations. Seriously?

  18. - PublicServant - Friday, Jan 24, 14 @ 11:23 am:

    ===You consider the road to recovery with Illinois being projected last in the US for future job growth===

    We’re do you get that future job growth stat from AtW?

    Here’s were I back up my statement:

  19. - Formerly Known As... - Friday, Jan 24, 14 @ 11:32 am:

    @PublicServant - that comes from recent projections made by Moody’s and Pew. A number of media outlets covered it a few days ago.

    Illinois is projected dead last for job growth in 2014:

  20. - RNUG - Friday, Jan 24, 14 @ 11:34 am:

    PublicServant - Friday, Jan 24, 14 @ 10:59 am:

    If the resources are limited, then yes, I do believe it is an either/or choice. While it’s debatable, I think the State would do more overall good by getting the entire population to some common minimum level (high school grad) than it would educating a select group to a higher level.

  21. - Almost the Weekend - Friday, Jan 24, 14 @ 11:41 am:

    It’s nice to read that article especially when it glosses over the current unemployment rate in Illinois. I care about Illinois, but the fact is Illinois is recovering much slower compared to other states.

  22. - Formerly Known As... - Friday, Jan 24, 14 @ 11:48 am:

    @thechampaignlife - that’s a great point. It would help to have some reference as to the underlying numbers themselves.

    @RNUG - you can say that again. For example, U of I’s net assets increased by $461,749,000 between 2011 to 2012. Their “cash and investments” alone jumped by $459,760,000.

    In other words, U of I made roughly $460 MILLION during that time.

    And people are upset about the level of state support during these “lean” years? Sorry if it’s not as much as you’re used to, but when the state is so short on resources in other areas like funding pensions, health, youth education, poverty services, etc. it’s hard to put them at the front of the sympathy line.

  23. - Kwark - Friday, Jan 24, 14 @ 12:01 pm:

    Among the top 15, the average top income tax rate is 5.6%. That is brought down by three states with a 0% rate: NH, WY, WA. The only other state in the top 15 with a rate lower than Illinois’ current rate is Colorado, with 4.6%.

    Don’t ever let people tell you that state income tax is Illinois’ problem in this sort of ranking. For decades, Illinois had a 3% flat income tax rate. That low rate only got us big government deficits and underpayments into state pension funds.

  24. - PublicServant - Friday, Jan 24, 14 @ 12:42 pm:

    FKA and AtW site PEW Center on the States as their source. Here’s a few facts about PEW to put their “projections” in perspective:

    The Pew foundation’s original mission reflects on “the evils of bureaucracy, the paralyzing effects of government controls on the lives and activities of people, and the values of the free market.” Pew money has funded many right-wing Christian groups and conservative think tanks, including the Heritage Foundation, the John Birch Society, and the American Enterprise Institute.

    Although I can’t find it, I believe Rich commented on PEW’s right wing bias in a recent blog post.

    RNUG, as for state support for higher education in Illinois, support for the University of Illinois has decreased from approximately 1.07 billion in inflation adjusted 2004 dollars to $663.5 million in 2014, a decrease of about 35% over the last decade. How much more do you want to reduce state support by? Also, increasing the number of high school diploma holders will help us how? The good jobs of the future require advanced degrees. If you gut higher education in Illinois to increase the number of high school graduates, you’re only increasing the number of high school grads who won’t be able to afford to go to college in this state, and won’t be prepared for anything more than menial jobs which are few and far between in this economy.

  25. - 47th Ward - Friday, Jan 24, 14 @ 12:49 pm:

    RNUG, according to IBHE, state spending on higher education was cut by $440 million over the past decade or so. How much higher should tuition at the public universities be in your opinion?

  26. - Michelle Flaherty - Friday, Jan 24, 14 @ 12:51 pm:

    Better rankings than the Illini

  27. - thechampaignlife - Friday, Jan 24, 14 @ 12:58 pm:

    @Formerly Known As - I’m not terribly knowledgeable about it but, as I understand it, the U of I has had to keep a $500M “float” in recent years because of delayed state payments that are causing cashflow issues. And that money is likely primarily coming from increased tuition. The U of I Board meeting just the other day had a mention of that $500M and how, if they didn’t have to sit on that float money and could invest it with an 8% return, they could provide free tuition for 4,400 students on the investment returns.

  28. - titan - Friday, Jan 24, 14 @ 1:21 pm:

    Illinois doesn’t look all that horrible there - with 50 states plus DC, you have 51 entities. So the 20 to 31 range is essentially the middle of the pack on each ranking. We’re above mid pack in one, below in a few, and mid pack in the rest.

  29. - PublicServant - Friday, Jan 24, 14 @ 1:26 pm:

    Don’t get me wrong RNUG, I respect your viewpoint, but buying into the austerity viewpoint is what is killing not only the Illinois economy, but slowing national economies globally. We’ve cut Illinois spending to the bone already, and those on the right are always pitting one program against another. Let’s look into reforming Illinois clearly inadequete, regressive and unfair tax structure before we abandon Illinois families with college ready children any more than we already have. I know your familiar with the CTBA plan which would reduce taxes from their current rate for more than 94% of Illinois taxpayers. That would be a good place to start.

  30. - Formerly Known As... - Friday, Jan 24, 14 @ 1:26 pm:

    @thechampaignlife - thank you. Despite your “limited” knowledge on that aspect of things, you clearly know more about their perspective on this than I do. It makes sense for them to keep a $500 million cash float, doesn’t it?

    On the bright side, since they have over $1 billion in “cash and investments” and recently made a nearly $500 million “profit”, perhaps they can turn some of those earnings over to the kids in the form of stable or lower tuition rates next year.

  31. - Formerly Known As... - Friday, Jan 24, 14 @ 1:34 pm:

    @PublicServant - that comment may not have been clear:

    - Pew did not develop these numbers. Moody’s Analytics did. Pew just slapped them on a map.

    - Mark Zandi is the Chief Economist at Moody’s. Moody’s and Mr. Zandi are frequently cited by the White House for their projections and analysis. Especially during the ARRA and Obamacare debates, for example.

    - From Pew’s Wikipedia page: “Early priorities of the Pew Memorial Trust included cancer research, the American Red Cross, and a pioneering project to assist historically black colleges. Later beneficiaries included conservative organizations such as the John Birch Society, the American Liberty League, and the American Enterprise Institute, as well as environmental organizations such as the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Oceana, and mainstream think tanks like the Brookings Institution”

    Moody’s job growth projections hardly seem like a conspiracy to make Illinois look bad.

    Plus, those are still just projections. Who knows? We could blow them out of the water. Hopefully we do.

  32. - Bill White - Friday, Jan 24, 14 @ 1:48 pm:

    Scrolling through those lists, it sure looks to me that we should do whatever Massachusetts has been doing rather than trying to emulate Michigan or Wisconsin.

  33. - Nick - Friday, Jan 24, 14 @ 1:54 pm:

    Minnesota #2, Iowa #8, both completely believeable.
    This is a big part of what disappoints me about political discourse in America. People find what fits what they philosophically want to result in the best outcomes & then insist that it does. How often do you hear pundits or people in Internet comments praising Minnesota? I never hear it mentioned.
    How many people when comparing Illinois to our neighboring states use Iowa as the alternative? I always hear/see comparisons to Indiana & Wisconsin, but the only time I have ever seen Illinois/Iowa comparisons was in a Quad Cities newspaper editorial.

  34. - Cincinnatus - Friday, Jan 24, 14 @ 2:06 pm:

    Arbitrary questions and a survey of dubious value.

  35. - wordslinger - Friday, Jan 24, 14 @ 2:20 pm:

    Overall, the criteria is pretty down on the urban and industrial, plus the Deep South.

    I love traveling around the country, and have a good time visiting with the folks everywhere I go.

    But I mean, c’mon, Nebraska at 11? You got Omaha on the Iowa border, Lincoln an hour later, then about eight hours of Outback. You get in the Sandhills and you can’t even pick up radio stations.

  36. - RNUG - Friday, Jan 24, 14 @ 2:33 pm:

    PublicServant - Friday, Jan 24, 14 @ 1:26 pm:

    You know I support increased revenue. Your question and my answer were both phased that said increased revenue was not available, so it came down to who got shorted.

    Given that a fair amount of students entering college are unprepared and require remedial classes, wouldn’t it be better to spend that money / time at the high school level so they could hit the ground running when they enter college?

  37. - DuPage - Friday, Jan 24, 14 @ 3:06 pm:

    @Pool guy 10:50, Fracking boom in North Dakota, changed everything there.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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