FRANKFORT – Regardless of the subject, it seems we always want to know how we stack up.
It happens on the playing field and in places like the classroom. It also takes place among the states as they try to gain any kind of competitive edge.
Each year, an annual publication known as “State Rankings” gives us a scorecard, so to speak, by compiling more than 500 lists that cover a variety of areas, from agriculture and education to health and the economy. This provides a much clearer picture of what appears to be working and where improvement may be needed.
In agriculture, for example, we can see that Kentucky’s farmers are, in many ways, truly exceptional. We rank sixth among the states when counting the number of farms – we have right at 76,000 – and in 2016, farmers saw a net income that was just shy of $1 billion. That was 20th best, but that was double what farmers in Ohio brought in and five times greater than what Tennessee’s farmers received.
Our farmers are eighth-best among the states when it comes to poultry production, as they tend a little more than 300 million chickens; and they’re 15th-best in both corn and soybean production; 14th in cattle; and 18th in the number of hogs and pigs.
Another industry where Kentucky shines is manufacturing. Only five states have a higher percentage of workers in this field – ours is 13 percent – and we’re fifth when counting the value of our exports on a per-person basis. All of that manufacturing helps explain why we consume more energy on average than 37 other states.
There are similar bright spots when it comes to education. Our fourth graders were tied at ninth in reading proficiency in 2015, while they were tied for 25th in math. Eighth graders had a little tougher time that year, with their reading score tied at 17th with seven other states and their math score coming in at 38th.
In another area linked to education, we exceed the national average when counting the number of libraries on a per-person basis, and we have more internet-connected computers in them on average than all but five other states.
A group of statistics especially important to Kentucky underscores just how big of an impact the country’s military has on the commonwealth. The U.S. Department of Defense spent $5.8 billion here in 2016, which was more than all but 14 states. Not surprisingly, given the presence of Fort Campbell and Fort Knox, we were also eleventh in the number of active-duty personnel based here that year.
When looking at criminal-justice matters, we saw 107,000 total crimes committed in 2016, which was 29thhighest among the states. Our violent-crime rate, however, was one of the lowest in the country, with only six states having a lower rate. Ours was also about two-thirds below Tennessee’s.
The “State Rankings” publication has some other interesting comparisons. We’re near the top when counting the number of smokers, for example, but near the bottom in alcohol consumption.
In things beyond our control, we’re tied at 36th in the percentage of sunny days, but were among the top 10 states when counting the number of fatalities caused by tornadoes between the years of 2008 to 2017. We lost 31 lives during that decade.
There are, as I mentioned many other statistics in this publication, and while they may not fully explain why Kentucky is the best state in which to live, they do give us a lot of information that can help us make that case.
As always, I would like to know your thoughts about this, or about any other issue affecting Kentucky. You can send me an email at Rick.Rand@lrc.ky.gov, while the toll-free message line, which is open year-round, is 800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305.