Our opinion: The list of shame


Americans often like to brag about what a great country we live in, but it doesn't hurt to sometimes take an honest look at our faults, too. It gives us a healthy dose of humility, and maybe the motivation to fix what's wrong.

In some cases, like PolicyMic.com’s recent list of some of the statistically worst things about each state, we also can get a little chuckle out of our shortcomings. The list covers everything from health to crime to travel to drug use, and while it's supposed to be a bit tongue-in-cheek -- with some of the metrics taken from purely qualitative rankings -- we found some of the statistics a little surprising.

Take, for example, Utah (a.k.a. the Mormon state), which has the highest rate of online porn subscriptions. Then there's New Hampshire, which prides itself on having no income tax and limited sales tax, but what it does have is the highest rate of corporate taxes. And who would have thought that Minnesota had the highest number of reported tornadoes (123 in 2010).

Some of the rankings didn't surprise us at all: California has the most air pollution; New York has the longest average daily commute (30.6 minutes); and Michigan (where one of its biggest cities recently declared bankruptcy) has the highest unemployment rate.

Some states don't have it so bad. Ohio's claim to shame (this is the tongue-in-cheek part) is being the nerdiest, based on the highest number of library visits per capita. North Dakota, on the other hand, has the ugliest residents as chosen by The Daily Beast.

Massachusetts was listed as having the worst drivers, based on highest rate of auto accidents. The rest of us New Englanders might be inclined to laughingly agree with that assessment, but one Massachusetts poster insisted that ranking is skewed.

"We have a lot of rotaries that out-of-staters don't know how to use and most of the accidents happen in Boston, so it doesn't count," he wrote.

Some Mainers took offense to their ranking as the dumbest state, based on the lowest average SAT score of 1,389. They were quick to point out that Maine also has the highest rate of participation in the SATs with 93 percent, while the first place state, Illinois, has only a 5 percent participation rate.

"At least read all the numbers before jumping to a conclusion," one poster wrote. "If anything, tell the world what we actually screw up on we are the state that invented Bath Salts."

Speaking of drug use, we've been seeing a lot of reports recently about the growing drug problem in Vermont, but so far Rhode Island has the highest rate of illicit drug use at 12.5 percent of the population. Colorado, one of two states that recently legalized marijuana, has the highest rate of cocaine use per capita (3.9 percent), while Arizona has the highest rate of alcoholism.

Here are some other sobering statistics from the list: Kansas has the poorest health based on highest average number of limited activity days per month, but Kentucky has the most cancer deaths (it also has the highest rate of tobacco smokers -- 25.6 percent). Connecticut has the highest rate of breast cancer, Maryland the highest rate of AIDS diagnosis, Georgia the highest rate of influenza, and Alabama the highest rate of stroke.

Mississippi seems to have it the worst overall, however. Not only does it have the highest rate of obesity at 35.3 percent, but it ranks last in the most number of categories. These include highest rate of child poverty at 31.9 percent, highest rate of infant mortality at 10.3 percent, lowest median household income at $35,078, highest teen birth rate at 71.9 per 1,000 women aged 15 to 19 and highest overall rate of STDs.

Geez, compared to those grim statistics Vermont (which on other lists is touted as one of the healthiest states in the nation) looks pretty good. According to PolicyMic.com, "the most screwed up thing" about the Green Mountain State is infertility, based on the lowest birth rate of any state (10.6 births per 1,000).

Of course, we also have one of the oldest populations of any state in the union.

Some of the Vermonters who commented on the list seemed offended that this vital link to our fertility rate was left out. They have a point; within each state's ranking there are important explanations and causes that need to be researched further. There's no denying, however, that the cause of our low birth rate (an older population) is a real problem, one that affects our economic vitality. Numerous economic development reports in recent years have noted that we need to attract more young people to our state to help generate long-term growth and prosperity.

So tongue-in-cheek or not, the PolicyMic.com list was spot on for Vermont.


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