By Evan Wood
Smartest college. Best fans in baseball. Most underrated cities. These are some of the superlatives that have been attached to Missouri and Missouri institutions in recent memory. But how true are they? And what do they mean for those of us who live here?
In the age of the listicle, rankings are common and often arbitrary. In what could be described most aptly as a nice gesture, The Huffington Post call Kansas City “THE place to be” in a recent list of “Top 5 Cities To Keep On Your Radar.” But at certain point you have to ask: what does that even mean? HuffPost described the metrics they used to devise their ranking system as “much map-scouring and a sprinkle of savvy.”
But recently, there have been some more meaningful rankings that tell us more about the Show-Me State, though not all have great implications.
For example, HuffPost recently published a map highlighting the most and least unequal counties in the country (excluding counties with populations of under 65,000, i.e. most of Missouri) based on data from the US Census Bureau's 2013 American Community Survey. The rankings use what is called a Gini coefficient, which measures income inequality. Boone County had the highest ranking of any Missouri county. Based purely on its Gini coefficient St. Louis City outranks Boone County, but its status as an independent city not a part of any county left it excluded from Huffpost's map.
Additionally, Wallethub.com—the self-proclaimed "social network for your wallet”—released a ranked list of US states in order from happiest to unhappiest. The list included the District of Columbia, and ranked Missouri at number thirty-eight—number one being the happiest. According to Wallethub, the list was based on twenty-six individual metrics, which the site then broke down into three main categories: Work; Emotional and Physical Well-Being; and Community, Environment and Recreational Activities. Each metric was based on data from a Gallup-Healthways poll.
The ranks in each of these categories determined every state's overall placement. Utah was number one, making it the happiest, while West Virginia ranked lowest. Missouri's "Emotional and Physical Well-Being" ranking was forty-three, while our "Work" ranking was fifteen. Our "Community, Environment and Recreational Activities" ranking was thirty-eight.
Missouri’s work ranking—of the three, the only one that could be considered high—was based on things like commute time, job security, and long-term unemployment rates. Meanwhile we were near the bottom of the list in emotional and physical well-being. This ranking was based on suicide rates, prevalence of binge drinking, inadequate sleep, and depression, as well as the obesity index and life expectancy.
You might be inclined to take issue with one or many of those factors, or you might believe they fail to paint a broad enough picture. Both are valid arguments, because happiness is, of course, impossible to quantify.
But here’s a number that might be worth considering: $6 per person. In an interview with Slate, Northeastern University Professor Stephen E. Flynn claimed that Missouri was the worst place in the union that one could contract Ebola. Why? Because we spend the least amount of money per citizen on public health: $6 per person. Professor Flynn goes on to say that the reason Dallas fumbled its handling of Ebola cases where New York was able to contain it with ease, came down purely to public health dollars.
According to FY 2011-2012 numbers gathered by healthyamericans.org Missouri’s public health budget was the second lowest in the union, spending $6.08 per capita, and beating only Nevada, which spends $3.28 per capita. By the same figures, New York spends $75.04 per person, while Texas spends $18.36. For reference, the national median is $27.40.
Whether this concerns you or not, this study does prove something. When rankings are based on quantitative facts—like a state’s public health budget or the true value of a dollar—they are more meaningful.
The questions of best barbecue style and classiest fans are very much open for debate. In the mean time, we know for sure that there are two things that Missourians don’t spend a lot of money on: public health and cigarettes.