Things are pretty dismal all over the country, but some places are worse than others.
Usually, published rankings of American states are compiled by liberals who value such things as high-school and college graduation rates, personal income, internet speed, and the availability of abortion clinics. That’s why Massachusetts and Minnesota commonly come out on top. Some lists, including those by conservatives, reflect only economic matters, such as the ALEC-Laffer Rich States, Poor States annual rankings.
But Chronicles readers look deeper. They know that, if you’re in a foxhole and the mortar rounds are incoming, it doesn’t help to be told you’re at a pool party. (Conservatives who crave Pollyannaism can read National Review.) Hence, this assessment grades each state, plus the District of Columbia, on 11 key factors (which I describe in detail below) that mean something to authentic conservatives. Their average will give us the Worst State.
Here’s a rundown of each of the 11 categories, noting the worst states for each.
Abortion rate: Sane people prefer not to live near folks who routinely shred their infants. The U.S. average is 19.6 per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44. Worst States: Delaware, 40; New York, 37.6; New Jersey, 31.3; District of Columbia, 29.9; Maryland, 29.9; and California, 27.6.
Married couples: Marriage will always be the foundation of society, and its frequency reflects a state’s law and mores. This factor is not easy to judge because the available numbers include people who have been married numerous times to ex-spouses who are still living. For our purposes, I chose “percentage of households that are married-couple families” from 2004, before the “same-sex” nonsense began and distorted the numbers.
Not surprisingly, Mormon Utah ranked best at 63 percent, followed by Idaho, New Hampshire, Minnesota, and Iowa. Worst was a nonstate, the District of Columbia, which sets national marriage policy via U.S. Supreme Court edicts, at an appalling 21.8 percent, followed by New York (45.9 percent), New Mexico (46), Rhode Island (46.7), and Louisiana (46.9).
Fertility rate: “Children are our future,” our governments tell us, even though governments at all levels do what they can to suppress fertility. Although the abortion rate is also included in these rankings, making babies, and not simply refusing to murder them, is important. Worst States: New Hampshire and Maine at 9.8 per 1,000 women, followed by Vermont at 9.9, and Connecticut and Rhode Island at 10.6.
Illegitimacy rate: In just 50 years, the illegitimacy rate in the United States has gone from 5 to 41 percent. A general decline in morals and religious observance, the rise of the Welfare State, and the deprecation of marriage have encouraged births outside wedlock. These trends, as well as high taxes sapping family incomes, also discourage married people from having kids, thus increasing the ratio of illegitimate to legitimate births—something few are willing to address. Uncle Sam is not only the world’s biggest deadbeat dad, but, when he does pay for his kids, he gets the cash by pilfering the bank accounts of traditional families. The rise in statistically measured illegitimacy reflects the decline of another venerable American tradition: the shotgun wedding. In better days, if a girl found herself “in a family way,” her male kin made sure the young man did the right thing and took her to the chapel.
The illegitimacy rate is highest in the District of Columbia, at 50.8 percent. Among states, the worst is Louisiana (48.7 percent), followed by Mississippi (48.1), New Mexico (47.6), and Rhode Island (44.3).
Church attendance: “Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy” is a fairly unambiguous commandment, but more Americans today are going golfing or watching the NFL. I think church attendance (here from Gallup’s 2009 poll) is a better statistic than Gallup’s surveys of “religiousness.” All things being equal, I’d rather live next to a neighbor who hears a weekly sermon. The numbers reflect attendance at any religious service of any kind at least once per week. The Worst State is New Hampshire, at 26 percent, followed by Maine (27) and Massachusetts (29). Incidentally, these numbers suggest a close connection between church attendance and the birthrate listed above.
Out-migration: If people are streaming out of a state, there’s something wrong. The ranking is for the percentage of Americans who have entered or left a state from 2003 to 2012. It does not reflect the improvement in some states, such as my home state of Michigan, in recent years. The District of Columbia again was worst, with ten percent skedaddling out of the central metropolis of the nation’s misery. Worst State: New York, with 7.9 percent leaving, followed by Rhode Island (6.1), Michigan (5.8), and Louisiana (5.6).
Immigration rate: A little immigration is like salt on steak. Too much is like dumping a can of Morton’s on it. And we’ve had way too much for 50 years, causing massive economic and cultural dislocations. Moreover, given that immigrants vote 70 percent for Democrats, a high immigrant population means California-style one-party rule by the Donkeys. Although Republicans at the national level are mostly contemptible, at the state and local levels they still generally favor less government and oppose faddish leftist repressions.
The number I used represents foreign-born residents. The Worst State for that (easily) is California, with 27.1 percent born outside of the United States. Next are New York (22.2 percent), New Jersey (21), Florida (19.4), and Nevada (18.8).
Gun rights: In 2014, Guns & Ammo ranked “which states are culturally accepted as the most firearm-friendly territories.” Factors included right-to-carry laws, state law’s application of the Castle Doctrine (legal protection for you when you are protecting your home), and gun ranges.
The District came in worst again. Worst States: New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Hawaii. Vermont, although liberal, has a long tradition of flinty individualism and allowing concealed carry; it ranks 17th best. Colorado ranks way down at 40th. That’s what happens when your state is invaded by hordes of Californians fleeing their own leftist follies.
Murder rate: Crime statistics vary in accuracy; the most accurate is the murder rate. Unless you happen to be Breaking Bad’s Walter White, it’s hard to get rid of a corpse. Worst, once again, is the District, whose federal Department of Justice and Supreme Court dictate crime policies to everyone else, at 13.9 murders per 100,000 residents. Admittedly, that rate has dropped sharply since the Supreme Court threw out the city’s near total ban on gun ownership in Heller (2008). Worst States: Louisiana, 10.8; Mississippi, 7.4; Alabama, 7.1; and Michigan, 7.
Tax Freedom Day: Federal taxes are confiscatory enough. But states gouge their citizens as well, sometimes at shocking levels. In California, for example, the 9.6 percent tax rate begins at a marginal income of just $55,000—a lower-middle-class income in a state with a high cost of living.
I used the Tax Foundation’s Tax Freedom Day 2014 calculation to determine the date when, if one started paying all one’s income toward federal, state, and local taxes on January 1, one would be “free” to keep one’s own money. The U.S. average is April 21. Worst States: New Jersey, despite some modest cuts by Gov. Chris Christie, frees its taxpayers on May 6, as does Connecticut. They are followed by New York on May 4, California on April 30, and Minnesota and Massachusetts on April 29.
Poverty rate: In recent years, the U.S. Census Bureau has come out with an improved measure of poverty that includes the cost of living. On average, 16 percent of Americans live in poverty. California, despite an average income roughly 15 percent above the national average, actually had the worst poverty rate, at 23 percent. That’s what happens when severe state restrictions on housing construction can’t keep up with a vast influx of immigrants. Next in line was the District of Columbia at 22.8 percent, even though four trillion dollars in federal spending course through there annually, followed by Nevada (19.8), Florida (19.5), and Arizona (18.8).
I’ll avoid the Hollywood suspense and start off with the biggest loser.
The Worst State is New York, with a combined and averaged score of 41.5 out of 51. The Empire State ranked 50th on abortion rate, married-couple families, out-migration, foreign immigration, and gun rights. And it came up 49th on Tax Freedom Day and 44th on poverty rate.
Tied in average but not a state per se is the District of Columbia, the center of misery for all 50 states, with a score of 41.5. The Swamp scored absolute worst (51st) in four categories: married-couple families, illegitimacy, out-migration, and gun rights. Despite an allowance for some “home rule,” the Constitution gives Congress complete authority over the District, so in this instance the federal government itself is entirely to blame.
The Third Worst State is Rhode Island, at 40.1. The Ocean State never scored dead last on any factor, but it ranked 40th to 49th on the abortion rate, married-couple families, fertility rate, church attendance, illegitimacy, out-migration, gun rights, and Tax Freedom Day.
The Fourth Worst State, by a nose, is California, at 38.5. Despite its manifold natural and human riches, it scored 51st, rock bottom, on the poverty rate because of its high cost of living; and the same on foreign immigration, with 27.1 percent of its residents foreign born. The Golden State also was pyrite, 44th to 49th worst, on the abortion rate, out-migration, gun rights, and Tax Freedom Day.
And the Fifth Worst State was Maryland—which, by now, has largely been absorbed into the D.C. Blob of centralized bureaus—with a score of 38.4. The supposedly Free State scored 43rd to 47th worst on abortion rate, married-family couples, gun rights, murder rate, and Tax Freedom Day.
Russell Kirk used to tell the story of when he was a young man in Central Michigan’s Stump Country, named for the forests that had been denuded by loggers. During the Great Depression, Kirk asked a local resident about surviving the economic calamity. “What depression?” the man answered. “Got my land. Got my chaw. Don’t need anything else.”
Alas, it’s impossible to live that simply nowadays. But in some areas one can do so better than in others.