We hear a lot of bad news about Vermont, especially from Republicans. They seem to be hoping Vermont will fail, based on their constant bad-mouthing. (Interesting that a plank of Phil Scott’s economic platform is more resources on marketing the state as a place to do business. If Vermont sucked as bad as the VTGOP thinks, any such marketing would be, ahem, lying.)
And then once in a while we get a ray of sunshine piercing through their doom and gloom. Today comes Politico Magazine’s third annual ranking of the 50 states (plus D.C.) in “State of the Union” terms. i.e. which states are in the best (and worst) shape overall.
And where do they rank Vermont?
Third best in the country.
It should be pointed out here that Politico isn’t exactly leftist. It is, in fact, a bastion of conventional thinking. And this ranking was based on a wide variety of factors: health, education, financial security, unemployment, crime, overall well-being, prosperity. Fourteen categories in all.
Nice little state we’ve got here, eh?
FYI, New Hampshire and Minnesota finished ahead of Vermont. The bottom tier is pretty much the Old Confederacy: Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana occupy the last four spots.
How did we fare so well? Consistency. Vermont was in the top ten in seven of the 14 categories, and only failed to make the top 20 in only one. And we were 21st in that one (per capita employment in science, engineering, and computer tech).
The 14 categories and Vermont’s ranking (assume 1st is best in all categories):
Per capita income: 19th
Unemployment rate: 10th
Percent below poverty line: 14th
Home ownership: 8th
High school graduation rate: 8th
Life expectancy: 5th
Infant mortality: 8th
Obesity rate: 20th
“Wellbeing score”*: 14th
Income inequality: 11th
Violent crime: 1st
% employed in science, engineering, computer: 21st
8th grade reading score: 2nd
8th grade math score: 5th
*A broad measure including a variety of factors: financial security, physical and emotional health, strong society/communities, access to the necessities of life.
Gee, for all the carping about our school system’s cost and quality, we’re doing a much better than average job of teaching our kids, aren’t we? And maybe all that liberal meddling in the health care system is paying some dividends; we rank very highly in most measures of health. That must have something to do with making insurance available to more and more Vermonters.
Staunch conservatives may attack the design of Politico’s ranking. “What about taxation, business climate, government spending?” I can hear Rob Roper squeaking. Well, take that up with Politico.
One of my biggest differences with the conservative worldview is their tendency to evaluate quality of life and society in purely economic terms. They seem to think that economic liberty is the most important liberty of them all. Well, maybe second behind gun ownership.
To me, things like health, strong communities, personal safety and education are better indicators of real liberty. I can’t be free to pursue opportunity if I am personally or financially insecure, if I don’t have access to health care, if there isn’t a strong social safety net to catch me if I fall. Sure, I want the freedom to chase my dreams. And I am more able to do so if I have a sense of security in other areas of life.
I mean, how many would prefer to live in pro-“liberty” states like, oh, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Louisiana? Or other bottom-ranked bastions of conservatism like Georgia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and West Virginia?
The other conservative argument might center on Vermont’s natural advantages in certain categories, like violent crime, education, high per capita income and low unemployment, because we don’t have to deal with the problems of large decaying cities.
True enough. But then they shouldn’t bash Vermont for shortcomings that are out of our control. For instance, we do have relatively high electricity rates on a nationwide scale — but we’re better than or even with other states in the Northeast. Our region has built-in disadvantages when it comes to utility rates; it has nothing to do with our commitment to renewables or the closure of Vermont Yankee.
Take the good with the bad, and Vermont seems like an awfully good place to live. Not perfect, but far better than average. Maybe that’s an inconvenient message for Phil Scott’s campaign. But it’s a fact, Jack.