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  • Joe Graviss

Legislative Update - State Rankings

Hi everybody,

To get a better understanding of where we are doing well and where we may need to improve, it can help to see how we stack up to our competition.

For state policy makers, there’s a handy publication that comes out each year that gives us a good snapshot.  Known simply as “State Rankings,” it brings together hundreds of 50-state comparisons in broad subjects ranging from education and the economy to agriculture and healthcare.

            Most of the data is a year or two old, to ensure comparisons are valid nationwide, but that doesn’t diminish the trends in these statistics.

            One area where Kentucky really shines is farming.  That can be seen in the fact that, with about 75,000 of them, we have more than all but five other states.  We’re just below California and above Ohio.

            The size of those farms, however, is relatively small – at 169 acres each on average, we’re 40th in this measurement – and yet they pack a big punch when you consider that Kentucky’s farm income ranked 14th highest in 2017.

            We are among the top 20 states in several major commodities.  Our nearly 300 million chickens, for example, put us eighth, while we’re 14th in both corn and cattle, 15th in soybeans and 20th in hogs/pigs.  Although horses and tobacco aren’t listed in this publication, it’s worth noting we’re among the nation’s leaders here, too.

            One category that turns out to be a mixed bag for Kentucky is crime.  On the plus side, we have the 16th lowest crime rate, which is better than every southern state bur Virginia.  When you just look at violent crime, we drop even further to 46th, which makes us one of the safest states in the country.  It’s a different story in Tennessee, which has the third-highest violent crime rate.

            Another positive for Kentucky is that we’re not as targeted for identity theft.  In Michigan, which leads the country, there are twice as many complaints per 100,000 people than here in the commonwealth.

            The downside for Kentucky when it comes to criminal-justice matters is our high prison population, which is a reflection of the epidemic drug abuse that has unfortunately plagued us for years.  A comparison of 2015 to 2016 shows that the number of state prisoners went up dramatically here while it went down nationwide.  Only South Dakota had a faster-growing number.

The General Assembly has enacted several criminal-justice reforms over the years to try to slow this growth while maintaining public safety, but this is an area where more work is needed.

Here are some of the other broad highlights in the “State Rankings” publication:

We rank 11th among the states in the number of military personnel stationed here, which isn’t a surprise given the presence of Fort Knox and Fort Campbell.We exported more goods per-person than all but four other states in 2017 and were sixth-best last year in the percentage of employees working in manufacturing.Our fourth graders are top 25 in reading and math, while eighth graders are in the low- to mid-30s.We have 11,700 doctors, putting us in the middle among the states; but we’re among the top 20 states when measuring the rate of nurses and dentists among 100,000 people.We have high marriage and divorce rates among men and women alike, landing us in the top 10 for both genders in both categories.

Some of the rankings are beyond our control but are interesting, nonetheless.  Consider that nearly three-fourths of Kentuckians are native to the commonwealth, tying us with Texas at 14th highest; and we have 113 people living in each square mile on average.  That’s about a tenth of the population density you’ll find in New Jersey.

We’re the 17th warmest state and 36th when measuring the percentage of sunny days over the year.

While rankings alone don’t tell Kentucky’s full story, these statistics do illuminate quite a bit.  For policymakers, they’re an especially important tool as we look to make the commonwealth an even better place to live and work.

If you have any questions or comments about this, or anything else affecting Kentucky, just let me know.  My email address, and you can leave a message for me or any legislator by calling the General Assembly’s toll-free message line at 800-372-7181.  For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305.

Thanks for all you do and holler anytime.

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