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Massachusetts, Best State in the Union

Posted by Josh Rothman  May 16, 2012 12:04 PM

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The upcoming presidential election means, among other things, that you can expect a lot of (ambivalent, incoherent, possibly self-incriminating) Massachusetts-bashing. Over at Slate, Mark Vanhoenacker has the perfect antidote: a comprehensive overview of why Massachusetts is the best state in the Union. Despite "certain unfortunate regional accents, the term wicked," and the "Taxachusetts" stereotype, Massachusetts is actually "an exceptionally successful state" -- perhaps the all-around most successful.

Some of the highlights, on education:

[T]he home of the original Tea Party also has the best schools in the country. On the most basic measures of educational achievement -- fourth- and eighth-grade math and reading skills -- Massachusetts tops the nation.... [W]hile reading proficiency in Mississippi is comparable to Russia or Bulgaria, Massachusetts performs more like Singapore, Japan, or South Korea. Often better: Massachusetts students rank fifth in the world in reading, lapping Singapore and Japan, and needless to say, every state in the union. In math, Massachusetts slots in a global ninth, ahead of Japan and Germany.

In terms of health:

Massachusetts has the nation’s highest level of first-trimester prenatal care, and the third-lowest infant mortality rate (Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Missouri are about 50 percent higher).... It goes without saying that Massachusetts has the lowest percentage of uninsured residents -- 5 percent (Thanks Mitt! Mitt? You there, Mitt?), compared to 16 percent nationally, and a whopping 25 percent in Texas. On life expectancy, Massachusetts ties for sixth-highest... A few other metrics of social well-being: The Bay State has the second-lowest teen birth rate, the fourth-lowest suicide rate, and the lowest traffic fatality rate. The birthplace of Dunkin’ Donuts has the sixth-lowest obesity rate. And depending on the source, the first state to legalize gay marriage has either the lowest or one of the very lowest divorce rates in the country.

I'll restrain myself from quoting more -- you'll have to read the article yourself for the rest of the awesome statistics, including, incidentally, the fact that the Bay State is one of the most economically productive in the nation, and the startling news that it has only the 11th highest state taxes in America -- "at 10 percent," Vanhoenacker points out, "only barely above the national average of 9.8 percent." Most interestingly, Massachusetts' excellence doesn't flow entirely from the fact that the state is richer than average; instead, according to one policy analyst, it prospers because of "significant public and private investments in the ingredients of well-being" which, over time, pay off. Much, much more at Slate.

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
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Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.

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Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.

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