Why is Massachusetts better than we?

Everyone in Tennessee knows Massachusetts is an expensive, high- tax, pro-union state with a socialist health care system.  Just the opposite of the Volunteer State.  So why does Massachusetts rank so much ahead of us in every meaningful category?  From , writing in Slate.

Massachusetts is the best state in the union.
Let’s compare Massachusetts to its peers on three basic measures of success: education, social well-being, and economic strength. Some Americans believe good results on these metrics are the goals of responsible government, and others believe they’re the happy consequences of free markets. But however we get there, these are desirable outcomes for all Americans.

First up is education, the foundation of America’s meritocratic values and the key to whatever success the country will find in a globalized, knowledge-based economy. Massachusetts is renowned for its higher-education institutions. Less well known, though, is that the 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.

Education Week’s Quality Counts 2012 report expands on this success. On their overall index, Massachusetts ranks second, to Maryland. But on two of the index’s most important measures of results—a lifetime educational Chance for Success index, and a K-12 Achievement index that bundles metrics such as test results, year-on-year improvement, and the gap between poor and wealthier kids (perhaps the truest test of our fabled meritocracy)—the Bay State again leads the nation.

And most of the world. According to a 2011 Harvard study, while 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. (Some international educational studies rank Shanghai and Hong Kong as separate countries; if this wasn’t done, Massachusetts would likely rank two places higher.)

What about social well-being? Above all, we want kids to have a healthy start in life. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 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 also has the second-highest rate of child access to both medical and dental care, the nation’s lowest child mortality rate, and the lowest teen death rate.

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, about five years longer than the worst-performing states. In another political universe far, far away, you might describe a place like this as pro-life.

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.

Finally, let’s take a purely dollars-and-cents look at Massachusetts. No matter where you start on the political spectrum, this is the most important question, because many Americans believe we must choose between social investments and a competitive economy. So what economic sacrifices is Massachusetts making to achieve such extraordinary educational and social outcomes?

None, apparently. Massachusetts has the second-highest per capita personal income among the states. Unemployment in March was 6.5 percent, well below the national 8.2 percent. Its state per-capita GDP ranks sixth-highest. Its median household income (a measure of widely-distributed income) is fifth.

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