Iowa loses ‘best state’ status; drop to No. 14 rekindles state policy debate
DES MOINES — Washington has dethroned Iowa as the best state in the nation, according to the 2019 Best States rankings from U.S. News & World Report released Tuesday.
Iowa, which held the top spot in the 2018 report, slipped to No. 14 in the new comparisons. In the 2017 ranking, Iowa was rated sixth.
According to the U.S. News survey, Iowa continued to rate high in the “opportunity” category with a second-place slot that continued to climb from fourth in 2018 and sixth in 2017. And it gained some ground in “fiscal stability,” moving up to No. 17 from 21.
However, Iowa declined from its top five positions in “infrastructure,” “health care” and “education.” And it also lost ground in “economy” and “crime and corrections.”
Last year’s category of “quality of life” included physical and social environment, but this year’s category of “environment” was changed to remove the social factor. So the figures are not directly comparable.
“Iowa is and will always be the best place in America to live, work, and raise a family,” said Gov. Kim Reynolds in response to the new report, noting the state still scored high in opportunity, education, fiscal stability and has one of the nation’s lowest unemployment rates.
“As I have said all along, we’re just getting started,” Reynolds added in the statement. “That’s why this year, I proposed a bold new plan for a more coordinated health care system, greater funding for broadband internet, and historic investments in education and job training. I’m proud of the progress we’ve made, and I’m as excited as ever about where we’re heading.”
Iowa Republicans, who made the No. 1 ranking a major rallying point for the 2018 elections, downplayed the development while Democrats pointed to it as evidence GOP policies are taking the state in the wrong direction.
“I’m not surprised,” said Troy Price, chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party. “Gov. Reynolds clung to this as tight as she possibly could last year and now this same survey is finding that under her leadership we’re going in the wrong direction. My question is how much is she going to be talking about us having dropped 13 positions in the first year of her time in office?”
Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, has pointed to the magazine’s No. 1 ranking as a “nonpartisan, third-party” indicator that Iowa was “doing things right.” Monday, he pointed to other measures that he believed show Iowa is taking the correct policy course.
“The successful policies implemented by the Iowa Legislature and the governor over the last few years continue to produce results. Iowa is the No. 1 state for jobs according to an article in Market Watch. Iowa has third-lowest unemployment rate in the country at 2.4 percent. The most recent data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis show personal income of Iowans grew at 12.5 percent in 2018, the second fastest of any state in the country. According the Iowa Secretary of State, April 2019 saw more new business filings than any other month in state history,” he said in a statement.
“However, with all those positives statistics, much more work remains to provide more tax relief for working Iowans, improve the preparedness of the workforce, and control the rising cost of health care.”
U.S. News & World Report evaluated all 50 states across 77 metrics with thousands of data points in eight categories to capture how states best serve their citizens. Those categories included health care, education, economy, opportunity, infrastructure, crime & corrections, fiscal stability and environment. Health care and education are the most highly weighted factors in the methodology, followed closely by the economy.
Iowa topped the 2018 ranking due to its infrastructure, health care, education and quality of life, among other factors. But those categories and the revised “environment” category declined in the latest assessment. U.S. News officials said the “quality of life” category was streamlined this time to reflect more objective, transparent and comparable data.
“I doubt Republicans will be bragging about Iowa’s most recent rankings by U.S. News & World Report because it clearly shows their agenda has Iowa on a steep, downward slide,” Senate Democratic Leader Janet Petersen of Des Moines said in a statement. “Gov. Reynolds and statehouse Republicans have starved our public school classroom budgets, given away hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to out-of-state corporations, basically flushed Iowa’s health care system down the toilet with Medicaid privatization, caused tuition and student loan debt to go up, taken away civil rights from Iowans, politicized our courts, and put a stop to pay raises for thousands of hard working Iowans.”
Deidre McPhillips, senior data editor at U.S. News & World Report, said the report uses the most recently available data as of February, which means that the time periods assessed for various metrics range from about 2016 to 2018.
The report provides “a snapshot in time” and should be used to analyze long-term trends, she said. She also said updated methodology was used for the 2019 rankings so direct comparisons were not recommended.
“That said,” McPhillips noted, “Iowa’s rank did drop in several of the categories this year, including health care. A rise in obesity rates in the public health subcategory and an increase in the preventable hospital admissions among Medicare beneficiaries contributed to a drop in that category.”
McPhillips said Iowa has low unemployment and a high labor force participation rate, but ranks 32nd in “economy” because it struggles in the business environment subcategory, with a 44 for entrepreneurship/business birthrate and 39 for tax burden.
In the natural environment category, Iowa ranks 25th or worse in all four of the metrics.
Iowa is No. 4 in the energy subcategory under “infrastructure,” but 39 in both transportation and broadband while 21 percent of bridges are considered to be in poor condition. However, the share of roads in poor condition improved from 11 percent in 2016 to 9 percent in 2017.
Iowa’s No. 2 in “opportunity” captures a state’s affordability, equality and economic opportunity using 12 measures. It is Iowa’s strongest category, due largely in part to its top spot for affordability, which captures housing affordability and general cost of living.
For the first time, Washington state — home to Amazon, Microsoft and Boeing — is the No. 1 state in the country thanks to a “booming” economy and top-five rankings in health care, economy, infrastructure and education.