January 12, 2013
The 3 E’s of economy, education and environment might be regarded as the three critical measures of a state’s well-being.
The Arizona Report, a simple scorecard capsulizing the more important reports of Thinking Arizona, sums up how the state ranks in comparison with others.
We’re doing just fine in quantity. The advent of air conditioning, which turned an inhospitable climate into an inviting one, brought on a People Rush.
We’re not keeping up though on quality. While Arizona has raced ahead in population, The Arizona Report graphically shows the state hasn’t gained similar momentum on key measures of performance. A majority of Arizonans sacrifice in:
No other state sums up worse across all three E’s.
Arizona certainly won’t be confused with Massachusetts, which ranks 2nd and 1st in economic and education performance, nor with New Jersey, which ranks 3rd and 2nd. It doesn’t compare to Minnesota, which ranks 11th and 6th. Nor even to Colorado, a fellow Four Corners state, which ranks 13th and 10th on those dimensions and 18th in environmental quality.
Rather Arizona compares more Indiana and Tennessee. Those states match Arizona in population and they lag the country nearly as much as Arizona on all three dimensions of performance.
That’s not to suggest performance is driven by population. Arizona is similar to Indiana and Tennessee in population but size-wise it’s also comparable to Massachusetts. And it bears no comparison to Massachusetts in performance.
Arizona will likely overtake Massachusetts in population in the next decade or so, something it already has done to a lot of other states. At its birth, Arizona was the 45th largest state. Fifty years later, it was 35th. Now, another 50 years later, the latest estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau put it 15th.
The growth is enough to wonder if that’s the explanation for poor performance, the notion being that it would be difficult for any state to keep up with a rapidly rising population. Yet Florida, which over the years has grown even faster than Arizona, outdoes Arizona in performance.
One factor that does bear on the results is location. It’s good to be in the Northeast, at least in these regards. The top five states in both economic and education performance are located there.
It’s not so good to be South or West. The bottom five in economic and education performance are located in one or the other.
Arizona comes out strikingly similar to the other states of the desert Southwest. However, unlike Arizona, each of the others at least somewhat redeems itself on one of the dimensions. Utah ranks 26th in education performance, Nevada comes in 34th in economic performance, and New Mexico is way up there in 8th place in environmental quality.
The specific causes of Arizona’s performance have been documented in previous editions of Thinking Arizona. In short:
We can deduce the causes of each of the parts, but how do we explain the whole of our performance? That’s a question deserving of deep reflection, maybe even a little soul searching.
The overall pattern is disturbing. Arizona has grown into too big a state to be a backwater. Yet it treats itself as one.
This isn’t to suggest that anyone is lying down on the job. The respective state agencies, as well as economic development organizations and school districts around the state, are staffed by earnest people who struggle with these performance issues every day. They are urged on by an array of advocacy groups that have not been shy to jump into the fray.
What then is the explanation?
The explanation for Arizona’s performance is just one question. The consequences are another. How best to address it is still another. There’s more to come in Thinking Arizona.
– Richard Gilman
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