Here’s an odd little mystery, and/or disconnect.
U.S. News & World Report’s annual ranking of states, from best to worst, released last week, puts Pennsylvania 41st in the nation.
Bad, bad, bad.
Who’s lower? Well, there’s Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, and such. But no other Northeastern state ranks as poorly as Pennsylvania.
Yet, at the same time, a major poll shows Gov. Tom Wolf’s approval rating at an all-time high.
And it says Pennsylvania voters are more than satisfied with the direction of the state, and their own pocketbooks.
What the heck? Are we so used to being down it looks like up to us?
Or is the dismal ranking due to data too old to reflect a fast-moving economy?
The ranking is more a trend thing, based on a range of metrics including fiscal stability, infrastructure, health care, education, crime/corrections, and environment.
Overall, we continue to drop: 38th last year; 30th the year before.
But then it’s hard to find any national ranking with Pennsylvania near or at the top — if you don’t count our first-place hold on tick-borne disease.
(Did you just shudder?)
Still, despite our showing, with its drop, here’s Wolf with a 54 percent approval rating, the highest since he was elected in 2014, per a new Quinnipiac University poll.
I don’t know. Good guy, bad state?
Not according to voters. The poll also found a two-thirds majority, 66 percent, approving the overall direction of the state, the highest number in 16 years.
Q-Poll analyst Mary Snow tells me strong numbers are coming from specific questions regarding personal finances, and a dropping unemployment rate.
(This week, U.S. Labor Department data show Pennsylvania’s April unemployment rate at a record-low 3.8 percent. Not as low as the 3.6 percent national rate. But lower than neighbors Ohio and West Virginia. Slightly lower than New Jersey and New York. And tied with Maryland.)
“People in Pennsylvania are feeling optimistic,” says Snow. “When we ask about their finances, 77 percent say they’re excellent or good. And when we ask about the state, 71 percent say the state economy is excellent or good.”
Seems high, no? Especially since U.S. News & World Report ranks our economy 44th among states, a 10-state drop from 2018.
So, what to make of all this?
One can argue rankings data are dated. Various data sets are created throughout the prior year. But U.S. News & World Report says findings represent the most recent data as of February 2019.
As to Democrat Wolf, he’s coming off a 17-percentage-point reelection win, consistently calls for more progressive government, and easily can shift blame for stuck-in-the-mud policies (on infrastructure, educational equity, and more) to a lackluster GOP legislature.
When I seek a response from the administration to our low ranking, Wolf press secretary J.J. Abbott notes the state’s low unemployment rate, its lowest-on-record medically uninsured rate, and increases in education spending.
He concedes “there is a lot of work still to do,” then adds the obligatory spokesperson’s posey: “But Gov. Wolf has put Pennsylvania back on track.”
Turning to the lackluster legislature, I get this from House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler’s camp: “These rankings, and others like them, prove there is still work to be done in improving the quality of life for all Pennsylvanians,” says Cutler spokesperson Mike Straub.
He stresses obstacles (read government) to “job creators” that are forcing companies to leave the state. He says we need to address “the job creation climate here.”
Sigh. At least there’s bipartisan agreement that there’s work to be done.
Which still doesn’t resolve the apparent disparity between a poorly ranked state and a voting public happy with the way things are.
Unless one considers the possibility that voters — or voters who agree to be polled — suffer from multiple personality disorder. Or, more simply, haven’t a clue.
I suppose another possibility is state rankings are arbitrary, subjective, or, given the American way, bought and paid for. New Jersey, after all, is ranked 12th.