Commentary

Christensen: Politico finds NC's state of the state to be mediocre

rchristensen@newsobserver.comJanuary 28, 2014 

With President Barack Obama having given his State of the Union address, it is interesting to take a look at the state of North Carolina.

That is what Politico Magazine did last week, ranking all the states based on such factors as high school graduation rates, per capita income, life expectancy and crime rate. The Washington-based publication used data from such sources as the Census Bureau, the FBI and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Based on the Politico report, the state of the state, is, well, mediocre.

It found that North Carolina ranked 40th in the country among the 50 states and Washington, D.C. North Carolina ranked behind New Mexico but ahead of Nevada. Among Southern states, North Carolina trailed Virginia, ranked 15th; Texas, 36th; and Florida, 38th; but was ahead of the rest of the South.

North Carolina’s strongest showing came in three categories:

• Highest percentage employed in science, technology, engineering and mathematics jobs, 24th.

• Eighth-grade math scores, 25th.

• Lowest crime rate, 28th.

It scored among the worst in infant mortality rate, 45th.

Mostly mediocre

But mostly, North Carolina was mediocre. It was mediocre in:

• Wealth per capita, 37th.

• Unemployment, 35th.

• Poverty rates, 38th.

• Homeownership, 35th.

• Highest percentage of high school graduates, 38th.

• Longest life expectancy, 37th.

• Lowest obesity rate, 39th.

• Highest eighth-grade reading scores, 35th.

• Least income inequality, 36th.

The top five states, according to Politico, are New Hampshire, Minnesota, Vermont, Utah and Massachusetts. The bottom five? Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee and Alabama.

The South’s problems are historical in nature – the legacy of rural poverty, racial discrimination and, one could argue, an aversion to government help.

The picture has remained unchanged for decades.

Little changed since 1930s

Politico got the idea of looking at the state of the states from a 1931 article in the American Mercury magazine. The piece, titled “The Worst American States,” was by H.L. Mencken and Charles Angoff. Little has changed since that article, other than Alaska and Hawaii have been added to the Union.

The Southern states were the worst off by every measure in 1931 as well.

North Carolina’s position has improved a little since then. It was ranked 43rd in 1931, behind Louisiana and Kentucky.

By far, the Southern state that has made the biggest jump since the 1930s is Virginia, fueled in large part by the growth of the federal government and its impact on the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C.

Gov. Pat McCrory does not offer a State of the State address this year, because the legislature does not meet in full session. But Politico’s State of the States report points to plenty of challenges for North Carolina if it is to follow Virginia out of the bottom quadrant of states.

Christensen: 919-829-4532 or rchristensen@newsobserver.com

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