State of the States and the State of the Union

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The Big Picture –
By Glynn Wilson

President Obama said in his State of the Union address on Tuesday that the state of America is “strong.”

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If you listen to conservative Republican politicians, they’ll tell you without exception that “right to work” for less laws are an essential tool in recruiting industry and providing working people with jobs.

But what are the facts?

Politico recently updated a measure of the states as a measure of the state of the union published in 1931 by H.L. Mencken and his fellow editor at the American Mercury, Charles Angoff.

In a three-part series the magazine called “The Worst American State,” the pair compiled dozens of rankings of population data, largely from the 1930 census, determined to anoint the best and worst of the 48 states (and D.C.), according to various measures of wealth, culture, health and public safety.

In the end, Mencken and Angoff declared Connecticut and Massachusetts “the most fortunate American States,” and they deemed Mississippi “without a serious rival to the lamentable preëminence of the Worst American State.” Mencken was from Maryland, No. 28 on his list.

“The results will probably surprise no one,” they wrote. “Most Americans, asked to name the most generally civilized American State, would probably name Massachusetts at once, and nine out of ten would probably nominate Mississippi as the most backward.”

Politico took a look at 14 measures of quality of life and combined them into a ranking of the best and worst states to live in. The Economic Policy Institute’s Ross Eisenbrey points out “right to work” states fared much worse than states where the rights of working families are actually protected.

Among the 14 factors Politico included were high school graduation rates, per capita income, life expectancy and crime rates. Of the top five states, only one was “right to work,” with New Hampshire taking the top spot. Of the 10 worst states, eight were “right to work,” with Mississippi coming in last. More than half of all “right to work” states landed in the 20 worst states to live in.

University of Oregon labor scholar and EPI research associate Gordon Lafer often points out how relatively poor the quality of life is in “right to work” states, on average, compared to states that don’t restrict union contract rights.

The outcome of Politico’s rankings suggests the opposite of corporate assertions that “right to work” states are doing better than others. In fact, four of the five best states to live in do not have “right to work” laws. In order, these states are New Hampshire, Minnesota, Vermont, Utah and Massachusetts.

“Right to work” states account for eight of the 10 worst states, and all five of the five worst states (in order, from 46th–50th: Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi). The majority of “right to work” states are not only in the bottom half of the country, but in the bottom 20 of the 50 states.

Lafer’s home state, Oregon, where corporate backers are trying to pass a public sector “right to work” law, is ranked 23rd, outperforming nearly two-thirds of the states that currently have “right to work” laws.

Now we find out from Gallup that Wyoming has replaced Alabama as the Most Conservative State in the U.S..

This past week, we also found out that the German auto manufacturer Mercedes is probably guilty of harassing workers who are trying to join the United Auto Workers at their plant near Tuscaloosa.

Where would you rather live and work?

In a conservative state where workers are not allowed to organize themselves to negotiate with management over working conditions and pay?

A state where the governor refuses to allow people to have health insurance because he feels like he must get conservative tea party votes to be reelected?

Or a state where workers are respected, have health insurance, and where their quality of life is respected by those who run the government?

Wouldn’t you rather wake up in a place where those in positions of power wake up every day and try to makes people’s lives better, rather than spending their time engaged in political rhetoric bashing government and trying to starve it to death so mega-corporations can rule the day?

Think about it for a change. Tell us what you think.

© 2014, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.

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