Rob Christensen

If only North Carolina ranked as highly in these areas as it does in basketball

Josh Outlaw, left, uses a plasma torch to cut a piece of steel as fellow students look on during the metal working class at Scotland County High School in Laurenburg, NC on September 23, 2016. At right is Mick Davis who will grab the hot metal before it hits the floor. The high school has a vocational program second to none to help students get real life skills that can provide work as soon as they graduate.
Josh Outlaw, left, uses a plasma torch to cut a piece of steel as fellow students look on during the metal working class at Scotland County High School in Laurenburg, NC on September 23, 2016. At right is Mick Davis who will grab the hot metal before it hits the floor. The high school has a vocational program second to none to help students get real life skills that can provide work as soon as they graduate. cliddy@newsobserver.com

While North Carolina likes to think of itself as a Sunbelt success, it really isn’t doing so hot, according to a new ranking of states.

The Tar Heel State is trailing much of the country when compared on questions of the economy, poverty, education, and health.

The State of the States “power rankings” by Politico Magazine found that North Carolina ranked 39th in the country among the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

This is a just-the-facts survey comparing the states on 14 measures, based on data from the Census Bureau, and other government agencies and nonprofits.

While such surveys are imperfect, they provide a far more honest look than the usual spin we get from politicians and from ideologically inclined interest groups.

Politico ranked the five highest states as New Hampshire, Minnesota, Vermont, Utah and Colorado. The five lowest are Louisiana (51st), Mississippi, Arkansas, Alabama and West Virginia.

North Carolina’s rankings have remained fairly consistent during the four years Politico has conducted the rankings – 39th in 2014, 37th in 2015, and 38th in 2016.

As usual, the South – with its legacy of poverty – tends to trail the nation. But if you look at only Southern states, North Carolina is doing OK. It is the fourth highest state in the South trailing Virginia, which is dominated by the wealthy D.C. suburbs; Florida, with its influx of northern snowbirds; and Texas, the country’s oil patch.

The writers at Politico were inspired to rank the states by famed writer and social critic H.L. Mencken who along with Charles Angoff wrote a series of articles in 1931 in the American Mercury magazine based on data from the 1930 census about which were the best and worst states in the country.

North Carolina was ranked 43rd in the country in the 1931 study, so by that measure, the Tar Heel’s standings in the nation have improved somewhat.

North Carolina performed reasonably well in a few categories such as average math scores for 8th graders (23rd) violent crime rate (23rd lowest) and percent employed in computing, engineering and science fields (24th.)

The state performed particularly poorly in such categories as life expectancy at birth (44th) and infant death rate (44th).

In most categories, North Carolina ranked somewhere in the mid to high 30s among the states in such categories as annual per capita income, unemployment, percent below the poverty line, percentage of home ownership, percentage who are obese, percentage of high school graduates, and average reading scores for 8th graders.

North Carolina’s problems are long-term and have occurred under both political parties. North Carolina has historically spent less than most states on education and other public services.

Much of the debate in Raleigh in recent years has been on the path forward.

Democratic progressives have argued that North Carolina’s continued low standing won’t improve until we invest more in education, public health and so forth.

The Republican counterargument is that only an improving economy will move the state forward and the best way to accomplish that is through tax cuts and reduced regulations.

Regardless of where you stand on the argument, there is little evidence based on the objective state-by-state measuring stick that North Carolina is making progress.

Rob Christensen: 919-829-4532, @oldpolhack

  Comments