No matter the subject, it seems we are always wanting to know how we compare with others.
It happens on the playing field, in the boardroom and in the classroom. It also takes place among the states as they try to gain any kind of competitive edge.
Each year, an annual publication known as “State Rankings” gives us a scorecard, so to speak, by compiling more than 500 lists that cover a variety of areas, from agriculture and education to health and housing. This provides a much clearer picture of what appears to be working and where improvement may be needed.
In agriculture, for example, we can see that Kentucky’s farmers are, in many ways, truly exceptional. We have more farms than all but four states, and these farms cover 14 million of the state’s 25 million acres, a figure that puts us ahead of such larger states as North Carolina and Pennsylvania. Each acre of our farms is valued at little more than $3,000, which is well above the national average of $2,650.
Our farm income in 2011 was $1.5 billion – nearly double Tennessee’s $800 million – and in 2012, we were eighth among the states in the production of chickens; 14th in cattle and corn; 16th in soybeans; 17th in wheat; and 19th in hogs. Although the listings didn’t include it, we’re among the nation’s leaders as well in tobacco and horses.
We can also boast high numbers when it comes to manufacturing. While we’re 22nd in the number of people working in this industry – more than 216,000 employees overall – we’re 10th when you measure the percentage of these jobs as part of all non-farm employment.
There are similar bright spots when it comes to education. Our fourth and eighth graders were tied at 15th in reading in 2011, while those grades were ranked 27th and 34th, respectively, in math.
We have more institutions of higher learning – 76 altogether – than nearly 30 other states, and we’re 15th in the average number of libraries. Additionally, only a few states have a higher rate of internet-connected computers than Kentucky does in their libraries.
A group of statistics especially important to Kentucky underscores just how big of an impact the country’s military has on the commonwealth. The U.S. Department of Defense spent $12.28 billion here in 2009, which was more than all but 15 states. Since many of those are larger, a more accurate picture is how much the department spent per person, which in our case was about $3,000 that year, putting us seventh among the states.
Not surprisingly, given the presence of Fort Campbell and Fort Knox, we were also seventh in the number of active-duty personnel that year, and their combined pay was $4.34 billion. Civilian defense employees and military retirees brought home nearly $1 billion more.
Our best ranking was in the percentage of roads considered mediocre or in poor condition, with no state beating our 2.3 percent. That’s nearly seven times smaller than the national average. Another piece of good news is that only a handful of states have a lower percentage of highway traffic deaths involving alcohol, although one is still too many.
On the flip side, we have many bridges that need to be repaired or replaced, and we drive to work alone in much higher numbers than most states. Our commute time – about 23 minutes – is better than many, however.
In other areas, we have a high rate of home ownership and families who no longer have a mortgage. Only one state, Delaware, has a lower average cost for new homes, with Kentucky’s at $124,494.
In health matters, there is both good and bad news. We unfortunately have some of the highest death rates when it comes to cancer and accidents, but we’re third-best in immunizing our young children and have the 13th-highest percentage of registered nurses.
From a public safety standpoint, our violent crime rate remains low. In 2011, it ranked 41st.
The “State Rankings” publication has some other interesting comparisons.
We have a relatively high marriage and divorce rate, with both among the top 12 states. We’re tops in smoking among adults but almost at the bottom in alcohol consumption.
In things beyond our control, our average daily temperature of 55.8 degrees makes us the 17th warmest state in the country, but we’re 36th in the percentage of sunny days. In 2012, only four states experienced more tornadoes than we did; in fact, we had 24 more that year than Oklahoma.
All of these statistics are just a small sample of all that the book has to offer. While it may not fully explain why Kentucky is such a great place to live and work, it nonetheless gives us a lot of information that can help us make that case.