US News Ranks the Best States: Is Yours in the Top 10?

published Mar 3, 2017
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In a study released this week, U.S. News & World Report ranked all 50 U.S. states across seven different categories to find out which ones are performing best for the citizens who live there. How does your state measure up?

Mmmm… subjective rankings. If U.S. News & World Report is best known for one thing, it’s not news or world reports — it’s ranking stuff. It started with colleges but expanded to grad schools, cars, hospitals… you name it, they’ll rank it, and we’ll obsess over the yearly fluctuations of our alma mater because of some perverse, self-destructive desire to be sorted among our peers.

U.S. News’ famed college rankings are both widely read and roundly criticized; The Atlantic notes that, “Because the rankings have a popular audience, they encourage colleges and universities to game the system—i.e., to do what they can to raise their place in the rankings by, for example, spending lots of money on things the U.S. News formula deems important.” (This is absolutely true: I worked in a college communications department for a while, and attempts to boost the school’s U.S. News ranking took up a disturbing amount of our time and resources.)

But only about two thirds of American high school graduates go off to college, which means those rankings have a somewhat limited readership. So now U.S. News is out trying to rank something every last one of us can hold an informed argument about: The states we live in.

In a sweeping, comprehensive data study released this week, U.S. News ranked all 50 U.S. states in an attempt to find out which ones are performing best for the citizens who live there. And I’ll tell you what: I know it might be a wildly arbitrary mish-mash of cherry-picked data points that may or may not matter, but I’m pretty sure their “Best States” rankings are 100% accurate — mostly because Massachusetts, where I live, claimed the No. 1 spot. (It is pretty great here.)

Neighboring New Hampshire took the No. 2 spot, while Minnesota, North Dakota, and Washington State round out the top five.

The rankings are based on seven major categories: education, health care, crime and corrections, infrastructure, opportunity, economy, and government. However, the methodology within each category was more rigorous than similar rankings I’ve seen in the past. For example, the crime and corrections category included not just public safety data, which is the usual go-to statistic for your average clickbait “Best Places” slideshow, but also the fairness of the justice system, including factors like racial bias and incarceration rates.

Certain categories, such as education and healthcare, were weighted more heavily based on a survey of what people said they care about most. And that helped Massachusetts: With a public school system ranked best in the nation three years running by Education Week, and elite colleges like Harvard and MIT, the Bay State snagged the No. 1 ranking for education.

Each ranking table on the U.S. News website is sortable, and it’s fairly fascinating to explore the strengths and weaknesses of each state. New Jersey, for example, ranks really well in a number of categories – No. 2 in education, No. 8 in health care — but dead last when it comes to the state government’s transparency, integrity, and fiscal stability.

Below are the overall rankings for all 50 states—check how your state stacks up in each category over at U.S. News.

U.S. News & World Report’s Best States Overall:
  1. Massachusetts
  2. New Hampshire
  3. Minnesota
  4. North Dakota
  5. Washington
  6. Iowa
  7. Utah
  8. Maryland
  9. Colorado
  10. Vermont
  11. Virginia
  12. Connecticut
  13. Nebraska
  14. New Jersey
  15. South Dakota
  16. Wisconsin
  17. New York
  18. Maine
  19. Oregon
  20. Delaware
  21. Rhode Island
  22. Indiana
  23. California
  24. Florida
  25. North Carolina
  26. Wyoming
  27. Hawaii
  28. Kansas
  29. Illinois
  30. Pennsylvania
  31. Montana
  32. Idaho
  33. Michigan
  34. Arizona
  35. Ohio
  36. Georgia
  37. Missouri
  38. Texas
  39. Tennessee
  40. Nevada
  41. West Virginia
  42. Kentucky
  43. Alaska
  44. Oklahoma
  45. South Carolina
  46. New Mexico
  47. Alabama
  48. Arkansas
  49. Mississippi
  50. Louisiana