As many balances of power shift from Washington, D.C., to the states, it's essential to understand which states are doing best at what matters most to Americans.
The central American contract is a constitutional pact the states made with the federal government — starting with the original colonies and continuing with each admission to the union through Hawaii: "Powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution... are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."
Now, in the first objective, authoritative measure taken of all the states across a comprehensive range of critical issues, U.S. News and World Report is telling a revealing new story about which ones are performing best for their citizens.
The headline may be the ranking of the top 10: Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Minnesota, North Dakota, Washington, Iowa, Utah, Maryland, Colorado and Vermont. Yet the story goes much further, including an exhaustive 50 state-by-state roster of metrics supporting rankings across dozens of subcategories. It explains in detail how they're scored, and offers readers a unique and simple interactive tool that enables anyone to compare any one state with any others.
In a union such as this, each state has something to learn from the others. Some have better health care, some better education, some more economic opportunity for their citizenry. Drawing any comparisons should be more than a matter of bragging rights. It requires clear-eyed measures to make real judgments.
That's what Best States is all about. It's a platform for not only rankings, but also ongoing fresh reporting about news, trends and developments state by state.
"We pay too much attention to Washington, and not enough to the states," says Brian Kelly, editor and chief content officer at U.S. News. "And yet, you look at the states and all of the issues we talk about in broad strokes are playing out there — education and health care and crime, the economy and jobs."
Best States also arrives at a time of renewed focus on power devolving to the states from Washington, D.C., enabling policymakers to understand how some states are best performing with the responsibilities they're assuming.
"It is the direction of the country," Kelly says. "We're sort of rediscovering federalism. The place was invented to be a federal system, and we've gotten away from that. I think a lot of the political pushback you're seeing from voters in a lot of places is a reflection of that. Washington has become too powerful. It has too much influence over people's lives."
U.S. News, with deep experience in rankings and analysis, has assembled thousands of data points about the states and produced an online portal that enables anyone to easily see what makes some states stronger and draw comparisons with others. The project is powered by the research of and a Leading States Index developed by McKinsey & Company, which has extensive experience in consulting focused on the improvement of state governance.
The benchmarks reach across seven broad categories — health care, education, opportunity, economy, infrastructure, crime & corrections and government — and include 68 metrics within the larger categories, with literally thousands of data points behind the measures. The data come from reliable governmental and private sources, and the weight assigned to each category is based on a survey that McKinsey conducted about what matters most to people about their states.
"In each of the seven categories, we identified multiple metrics, all of which are well known and the best metrics in each of the categories that we're talking about,'' says Andre Dua, a senior partner at McKinsey. "We feel very confident about both the granularity of the metrics and the quality of the metrics. And the thing that gives us more confidence is, we are completely transparent about what are the metrics and where the metrics come from."
"Because the indices are made up of so many metrics, the good news about that is there is no one source or metric which is overly weighted and therefore changes our view about what sort of insights we can draw from the work," Dua says. "It is a broad and nuanced and textured view of what it means to be high-performing."
In addition, McKinsey surveyed thousands of people across the country to ascertain what matters most to citizens about the performances of their state governments and how well they believe they're being served.
"We think it's incredibly important in thinking about state performance, state policy making, agenda setting, to start by grounding yourself in the view of citizens," Dua says, speaking to the value of the ultimate comparisons that are made state by state. "Without data on performance and without data on citizen satisfaction, any other judgment you make on priorities and where to focus is simply guesswork."