New Hampshire took the No. 2 spot on the most recent U.S. News ranking of best states in the union, finishing first among the 50 states in sub-categories such as opportunity and crime and corrections.
New Hampshire’s rankings in other measurements analyzed were 16th in health care, fifth in public education, 13th in economic growth, 31st in infrastructure, 10th in fiscal stability and fourth for natural environment.
But not everyone is convinced the analysis – which examined more than 70 metrics in eight broad classifications – captured the full picture of the state’s economic and social landscape.
“The U.S. News & World Report Index is tilted in favor of more economic factors rather than social ones,” J. Scott Moody, CEO of the Granite Institute in Woodsville, told The Center Square in an email. “As such, it is no surprise to see New Hampshire doing well in the index because the Granite State does very well economically.”
The state’s economic edge can be traced to New Hampshire’s lack of state and local income taxes and its lack of either a sales or estate tax, according to Moody. Indeed, the Granite Institute’s website contains what’s called the New Hampshire Advantage Index, which charts the tax differentials between New Hampshire and other New England states.
The U.S. News analysis also seems to favor bigger government in some instances, Moody said, adding that more expansive government leads to higher tax rates.
“There are some structural issues with the index that I take issue with in that they promote larger government over smaller government,” he said. “For instance, their health insurance coverage index rewards states that have large Medicaid systems and states that have expanded public schools through pre-K programs.”
Large Medicaid systems have not been shown to improve health outcomes, just as pre-kindergarten has not been proved to improve long-term success in school, according to Moody.
The Family Prosperity Index, which the Granite Institute CEO oversees, ranked the state much lower overall, at No. 16. That’s because the index takes into account socially oriented problems that the state faces, Moody said.
“New Hampshire has been hard hit by the opioid crisis and has one of the highest overdose rates in the country,” he said. “Economics alone cannot explain this crisis. Instead, the roots of the opioid crisis can be found in the breakdown of the family, through the rise in single-parenthood and the decline in religiosity.”
Not charting such social issues affected the ability of the U.S. News analysis to determine which states are best, Moody said.
Though New Hampshire received high marks in many categories, the U.S. News study did pick up some weaknesses. Job growth in the Granite State over a three-year period averaged 0.6 percent annually – a rate that’s half the national average. On the state of its transportation infrastructure, New Hampshire ranks 44th, and the state’s cost of living is 10 points above the national average.
Deidre McPhillips, senior data editor for U.S. News & World Report, said the state was a top performer in more than 10 percent of the metrics examined in the analysis.
“Looking among the six New England states, New Hampshire performs best or second best in all but one category: health care,” McPhillips told The Center Square in an email.
The state has also made some progress in improving its overall infrastructure, she said. Sixteen percent of New Hampshire roads were in poor condition in 2017, down from 25 percent in 2016, according to McPhillips.
The U.S. News analysis gave more weight to results in some categories over others. For example, health care, education and the state economy took precedence over the natural environment.
How the categories were weighted reflected a survey of tens of thousands of Americans on what they thought the top priorities of their state governments should be.
“This is the only part of the Best States analysis that is subjective,” McPhillips said.
On other key measurements in the survey, the state’s share of adults with no health insurance was 8.5 percent, well below the 13.8 percent nationwide who are uninsured. And average household income stood at $73,381, compared to $60,336 nationwide, while the state’s violent crime rate was nearly half that of the nation as a whole.