Remember, we still have many reasons to live here

WestWordsWEBWhen it’s 27 below, it’s hard to remember why we all live here. However, a reader sent me one article at the same time that the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development sent out another, both revealing that our state is better than average.

Of course, then the question becomes, “How?” I don’t want to be better than average if “better” means we have “colder” winters. Regardless, Politico, an online magazine, ranked the state on various measures of wealth, culture, health and public safety and found that only New Hampshire was a better state to live in overall.

That’s because Minnesota ranks 14th in lowest income inequality, 13th in lowest obesity rate, 12th in per capita income,  11th in highest percentage employed in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) jobs, 10th in lowest percentage of population living in poverty and infant mortality rate, ninth in lowest unemployment and lowest crime rate, eighth in highest reading scores, third in highest percentage with a feeling of well-being and best math scores, and second in home ownership, high school graduation rates and life expectancy.

The average Hawaiian lives a couple of months longer than the average Minnesotan, and I daresay, if we spent less time shoveling snow, walking on ice and driving on frozen lakes, we’d outlive the average hula dancer.

However, there are a number of state rankings in existence, and they don’t all paint the same kind of picture, other than to say Minnesota is an above average place to live — most days.

CNBC did another study, and found that Minnesota is the 15th most attractive state. That’s in spite of the fact that the state is 39th best in the cost of doing business, 34th in cost of living and 32nd in the quality of its work force.

Maybe every state thinks its work force is the best. Our politicians always praise ours, although that may be because most of our work force votes. Judging by the people I oversaw in the U.S. Navy, who came from all over, I thought the Minnesotans were a cut above, but I may have been biased.

The CNBC study measured each state on 51 different criteria, but what was unique was that it boiled the criteria down into 10 groups and then measured the states on how they sold themselves in their marketing efforts. What assets did each state brag about, and which did it ignore?

To come in 15th, Minnesota did better on the other criteria. It ranked 23rd in the quality of its education, 18th for technology and innovation, 17th in access to business capital, 15th in being business friendly, 10th for its economy, eighth for its infrastructure (I guess fatal bridge collapses don’t count for much overall) and third for its quality of life.

On that last ranking, Minnesota was beaten out by Hawaii and Vermont. After spending several months staring at snow drifts, I can see how Hawaii might get the nod, but Vermont?

It turns out a third study, by the Limited Health Foundation, ranked Minnesota third for its overall health. First and second? Hawaii and Vermont. There’s a lot to be said for health rankings, because, if you’re dead, you can’t testify to how great your health care is. The fact of the matter is, we live on this frozen tundra five years longer than folks do in much warmer Alabama, West Virginia and Mississippi.

When you look at all the rankings, it’s difficult to figure out the overall measurement. Texas, for example, has the best economy, according to CNBC and spends 45 percent of its state budget on education, third highest in the nation, but ranks only 35th in the Politico rankings.

Recently, the Census Bureau looked at how states spend their budgets. This shows where priorities are because 100 percent of expenditures is all there is. Minnesota spends 36 percent of its state budget on welfare, fourth highest in the nation. We spend 38 percent on education, slightly higher than the average of 35.8 percent, but 13 states exceed 40 percent. We spend 3 percent on health and hospitals, which is about average. (Kansas and Hawaii led the way in this category with over 12 percent.) Minnesota spent 6 percent on highways. (North Dakota led with 19 percent.) We spent only 1 percent on corrections, one of the smallest  percentages in the nation, Most states spend about 1 percent on police, 2 percent on natural resources (Wyoming spends the highest share at 8 percent), 1 percent on parks and recreation and 2 to 6 percent on administration.

Bottom line: There has to be a reason that we continue to live in this sub-zero climate, and I’m glad somebody is giving me the reasons why. Lately, every time I stepped outdoors, I’ve been wondering.

Tom West is the editor and general manager of the Peach. Reach him at (320) 352-6569 or e-mail [email protected]