The Best and Worst States of 2021

Washington ranked highly in all eight categories, including health care, economy and infrastructure.

Washington ranked highly in all eight categories, including health care, economy and infrastructure. iStock.com/oksanaphoto

 

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U.S. News & World Report published the latest edition of its Best States Rankings.

Washington was once again named the best overall state in the country in this year’s edition of U.S. News & World Report’s annual Best States Rankings, released Tuesday.

The fourth edition of the rankings calculates states’ placement based on 70 metrics in eight categories, including health care, education, economy and infrastructure. Those categories are weighted based on an annual survey that asks nearly 70,000 respondents which issues are most important to them. 

There was no 2020 edition of the rankings due to the coronavirus pandemic, and the data used for the 2021 standings “predominantly came from a period predating the Covid-19 pandemic and were not affected by the pandemic’s impact on states,” according to a news release. But this year’s edition does include a separate Covid-19 toolkit that allows users to compare vaccine rates, virus cases and death and unemployment statistics between states, with near real-time updates.

“The Covid-19 pandemic and evolving social climate of the past year have made a host of critical issues top of mind for Americans—from access to adequate health care and quality education to economic stability and public safety,” Kim Castro, editor and chief content officer for U.S. News & World Report, said in a statement.

In the main standings, Washington checked in among the top 25 states in all eight categories and ranks among the top 10 in five—infrastructure, education, economy, fiscal stability and health care. The state also came out on top overall in the 2019 rankings.

“I am so happy for the people of Washington to take home this honor for the second time in three years,” Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said in a statement. “Washingtonians are motivated to lead and innovate in all aspects of our society.”

Minnesota ranked second, one spot up from the previous rankings and the only other state to rank in the top 25 across all eight categories. Utah, New Hampshire and Idaho round out the top five. Idaho was a big mover, jumping 11 spots, from 16th to fifth. That’s largely due to improvements in several key areas, including the economy (the state ranked third, up from sixth), fiscal stability (fourth, up from 11th) and infrastructure (10th, up from 29th). 

Alabama, West Virginia, New Mexico, Mississippi and Louisiana were the five lowest-ranking states.

Other states performed well in key areas, including Hawaii (first in health care), New Jersey (best in education) and Utah and Colorado, which took the top two spots for economy. Utah, according to the rankings, is first in growth of its young population (a 4% bump in residents between the ages of 25 and 29), while Colorado is third for growth in employment (a 3% increase from 2016 to 2019).

Regionally, Midwestern states fared best in opportunity, taking eight of the top 10 spots, including the top two (Iowa and Minnesota). Infrastructure ranked highest in northern states west of the Mississippi River, including Nevada, Oregon, and Washington, while Northeastern states, including New Hampshire and Maine, ranked highest in the crime and corrections category.

Nationwide, states continue to struggle with disparities including wealth gaps, racial inequities and disability inequality. And multiple states are having difficulties maintaining transportation infrastructure, including Rhode Island, where 50% of roads are considered to be in poor condition.

Kate Elizabeth Queram is a staff correspondent for Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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