If you get excited about lists comparing states to one another -- as Daily RFT does -- then now is time to rejoice. David C. Valentine, director of the Missouri Legislative Academy at the Truman School of Public Affairs at the University of Missouri has concocted the mother of all lists, Snapshot Missouri, which ranks the 50 states in 37 different categories, always highlighting Missouri's place in the heirarchy.
Compared to the rankings compiled by the Daily Beast, which tries to quantify ephemeral qualities such as attractiveness, intelligence and sense of humor (hey, which state would you rather date, Missouri or California?), Valentine's report is based on actual numerical data, gleaned from government agencies. That makes it a bit more reliable though, unfortunately, some of it is badly out of date. (The statistics on the high-school dropout rate, for instance, come from 2007.)
Anyway, all this number-crunching has led Valentine to this conclusion: Missourians are a very, very average bunch.
In his introduction to the report, Valentine noted that Missouri ranks in the top quarter of states in only two categories (percentage of the population that are adult smokers and fatalities in alcohol related crashes) and in the bottom quarter in five (cigarette tax, job growth rate, percentage of population using seatbelts, gas tax and state tax burden as a percentage of personal income).
He believes there's a connection between the low cigarette tax and the number of smokers -- which may be borne out, anecdotally at least, by this account in the Belleville News-Democrat of the sorrow among Belleville smokers after the Illinois cigarette tax rose by a dollar on Sunday, from $0.98 to $1.98. Many vowed to quit or, at the very least, cut back, though a few incorrigibles said they were going to start doing their cigarette shopping across the river where the tax is a mere 17 cents per pack. (That's nearly half the rate of the next-lowest state, Virginia, where the cigarette tax is 30 cents.)
But if you discount the cheap gas and cigarettes, Missourians are pretty average.
"The report casts Missouri as an average state and I believe that most Missourians are perfectly content with that," Valentine said in a statement. "The last few years have shown less than sterling economic conditions for the state, but the same can be said for the country as a whole." So even if our economy does improve in the next few years, our ranking may not, because other states will be improving as well.
The average Missourian, if you go by Valentine's report, earns $46,184 a year. 8.79 percent of us are unemployed. 21.1 percent of us are adult smokers. 65.8 percent of us are overweight or obese. (A staggering 70 percent of Alabamans are at an unhealthy weight.) Only 76 percent of us use our seat belts (as opposed to the 97.6 percent in law-abiding Hawaii and Washington). Our average ACT score is 21.6. But as of 2009, only 25.2 percent of us had a bachelor's degree or higher.
Our gas tax is 17.30 cents per gallon, the eighth-lowest. (Those bastards in Alaska pay only 8 cents!) This may be why our gasoline consumption in 2009 was 4,152,906.65 gallons, fourteenth overall. On average, it takes us 23 minutes to get to work.
Our violent crime rate is 455 incidents per 100,000 people, which is not great, but it pales in comparison to Washington, DC, where the rate is 1330.2. Our property crime rate is 3346.4 per 100,000, which should come as no surprise to those of you who live in St. Louis city.
Valentine doesn't expect Missouri to become any less average in years to come. "In order to not be average in any of these categories, Missouri would have to make some significant adjustments," he said. "Whether the changes are in education or health, we would have to make substantial investments in certain areas and, since Missouri is a low-tax state that doesn't seem likely in the short term."
That's us, neither big nor small, east nor west, north nor south, rich nor poor, the twenty-fourth state of fifty to join the Union and always, always (except for 2008) a bellwether.