You’ve seen the clickbait lists. They’re a dime a dozen.
They rank each state by some category, and you get to see how your state measures up to all the others.
One recent example that caught my attention: “See where your state ranks for fun.”
You click, then go through a slideshow of 43 other states before you get to Alabama at 44.
Alabama’s low “fun” ranking is not an outlier. As is the case with many of the other rankings of these types, Alabama is usually down at the bottom of the list.
“Oh great, Alabama sucks at [insert random subjective quality of life indicator], too.”
Let’s take the “fun” list, created by a website called WalletHub.com, a favorite for media outlets looking for easy content, especially in Alabama.
Sure, there is room for improvement. But did it ever occur to anyone that the low state ratings on these lists have criteria set by random media companies in faraway places?
Is Idaho (ranked 32nd according to the same “fun” survey) really quantifiably more “fun” than Alabama?
No, the state of Alabama may not have as many IMAX theaters to view “Avengers: Endgame” as most other states, but it probably tops many on the number of hunting clubs, fishing holes and quality barbecue. It certainly has more coastline than Idaho.
The point is these rankings are subjective and gauge topics that are entirely relative. Alabama isn’t the 44th most “fun” state, but 44th in the eyes of a WalletHub.com scribe trapped in a cubicle in Washington, D.C.
Nonetheless, some people put a lot of stock in lists like this, as if we’re all mind-numb zombies and must self-loathe as a result of them.
Often it isn’t something trivial as “fun.” Usually, it’s education, infrastructure or healthcare.
Let’s take education since everything in state government apparently must revolve around education.
A U.S. News & World Report report ranking has Alabama at 49th for pre-K-12.
Inevitably, referencing the state’s abysmal education ranking in surveys like this and others evokes a reaction about how the state is not spending enough money on education.
A U.S. Census Bureau survey in 2016 had Alabama spending a little more than $9,000 annually, which put it at 39th overall.
What accounts for the gap – 39th in spending but 49th in results?
Perhaps there is a cultural component, and that is not something the government can correct with a policy adjustment or more funding. Still, Alabama’s in-state critics will blame policymakers for low ratings on a list generated by a media outlet that takes a one-size-fits-all approach to grade states’ educational systems.
“Why can’t Alabama be more like Massachusetts?!?!?”
States all have varying economies, and those economies have their own individual needs, including demands for certain types of labor. The education systems in each of those states will often prepare students to meet the needs in its state, and “college readiness,” which is one of the five critical variables in U.S. News & World Report’s rankings, is not always a priority.
Did it ever occur to anyone that in some parts of Alabama, they need more welders than philosophy majors? Yet, Alabama suffers in the eyes of U.S. News & World Report readers because of that.
There’s always room for improvement, but should the state beat up on itself because it does not live up to a universal standard that views the United States as a monolith?
In a recent interview, former Gov. Jim Folsom Jr. argued there is evidence things are not as bad as we are told regarding education in Alabama.
“I want to tell you this: If our school systems were so terrible, you wouldn’t be seeing Mazda come to Huntsville,” Folsom said. “You wouldn’t be seeing these international manufacturing companies coming here and locating if they thought there was some real problem there.”
The lesson here is to understand the reasons for Alabama’s standing in these various rankings.
“We’re 49th in spirituality? Why? Oh, we don’t have as many yoga studios per capita as Arizona.”
How often do you hear, “We’re last in everything! Why can’t we do any better than this?”
That is followed up with a comment like, “If our leaders in Montgomery would just do things differently.” Or maybe you hear, “This is what you get when everyone is so backward.”
When evaluating the quality of life in Alabama, have perspective and recognize that these indicators are relative to the citizens of the state.
It is not like college athletics where you play a season, perhaps a post-season and await the Associated Press to release the results of a poll of sportswriters. We’re not playing in a venue with the same field markings and the same set of rules.
Everything is different in each state, so these state-by-state comparisons are often misleading. When you go beyond just bare numbers and employ the use of formulas, there are 50 states playing different games with 50 different sets of rules that end with 50 different outcomes.
If that outcome does not meet the standard of a media outlet in New York City, then so be it. However, it is not a reason to be ashamed of your state.
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