There are many ways to categorize Americans. Age, race, religion, political inclination, net worth, etc. For some categories, how we see ourselves in relation to our countrymen and women are indicators of relative well-being.
The Gallup polling organization has partnered with the Healthways organization since 2008 to report a “Well-Being Index” that ranks the 50 states and also shows how the nation as a whole is doing.
Gallup reports daily, weekly, and monthly results based on hundreds of interviews in each state. People surveyed are asked to rank, on a scale of 1 to 10, how life is going. For 2013, that was 178,000 interviews focusing on six areas:
• Life Evaluation: Present life situation and anticipated life situation
• Emotional Health: Daily feelings and mental state
• Work Environment: Job satisfaction and workplace interactions
• Physical Health: Physical ability to live a full life
• Healthy Behavior: Engaging in behaviors that affect physical health
• Basic Access: Feeling safe, satisfied, and optimistic within a community
Based on US Census Bureau regions, Midwestern and Western states earned nine of the 10 highest well-being scores in 2013, while Southern states had eight of the 10 lowest well-being scores.
North Dakota had the best Well-Being Index score, followed by South Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota, Montana, Vermont, Colorado, Hawaii, Washington, and Iowa.
The state with the lowest index score was West Virginia, followed by Kentucky, Mississippi, Alabama, Ohio, Arkansas, Tennessee, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Louisiana.
Within the six categories, Alaska was best in terms of “emotional health,” Vermont in “healthy behavior,” and Massachusetts (for the fourth year in a row) in “basic access” – likely because it has the highest percentage of residents with health insurance in the nation.
West Virginia had the lowest score in all six categories except “work environment,” which went to Mississippi.
As John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and the other founders learned – sometimes to their frustration – those original American colonies often had competing views about themselves and how well-off their citizens were.
This week, Gallup reported on how residents view their states as a place to live – ranked according to the percentage who view their states as “the best or one of the best possible states to live.”
Montana and Alaska topped the list at 77 percent; Rhode Island and Illinois came in last at 18 percent and 19 percent respectively.
“Residents of Western and Midwestern states are generally more positive about their states as places to live,” according to Gallup. “With the exception of the New England states of New Hampshire and Vermont, all of the top 10 rated states are west of the Mississippi River.”
On the other hand, Gallup reported, with the exception of New Mexico, all of the bottom 10 states are either east of the Mississippi River or border it.
Perceptions about “well-being” factor into this. But so do perceptions about the honesty and efficiency of state government, fairness of taxes, and relative standard of living – all of which can add to (or detract from) a sense of state pride.
“Illinois has the unfortunate distinction of being the state with the highest percentage of residents who say it is the worst possible place to live,” writes Gallup’s Justin McCarthy.
“Throughout its history, Illinois has been rocked by high-profile scandals, investigations, and resignations from Chicago to Springfield and elsewhere throughout the state,” writes Mr. McCarthy. “Such scandals may explain why Illinois residents have the least trust in their state government across all 50 states. Additionally, they are among the most resentful about the amount they pay in state taxes.”
More than any other state, Texans rank their state as the single best place to live.
Texans' pride for their state as the single best place to live is not surprising when viewed in the context of other measures. According to Gallup Daily tracking for 2013, Texans rank high on standard of living and trust in their state government, and they are less negative than others are about the state taxes they pay.