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Lansner’s mailbag: Is California 3rd worst state, 6th best or tied with Texas?

“Mailbag” gives insight into the comments I get from my readers — good, bad, or in-between — and my thoughts about their feedback.

Readers occasionally want to make sure I did not miss a newsy item they found online, so they’ll send me a link to the story or column.

It’s a good bet the information the reader highlighted comes to a different conclusion than I did on the same topic.

Agreement these days is rare on most topics. And I know many folks don’t see the world as I do.

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But that’s part of my job description. I want the audience to think about an issue, not simply agree with me.

The never-ending debate over the value of California life is a prime example.

Reader: “Maybe you can work this into a piece,” they wrote while sending a link to a “best state to live” ranking by Top Agency, a marketing group. This scorecard ranked California as the third-worst state.

Me: Your wish is my command. I found six similar “best places” scorecards to see if my trusty spreadsheet could locate bigger trends inside these popular-to-debate listings.

For starters, I’ll note such “best state” rankings build a lot of artistic license into the research. You know, beauty is in the eyes of the ranking’s creator and all that.

And probably to nobody’s surprise, my research found judgments varied as wildly on California on these seven scorecards as they do in my readers’ minds.

I’ll note the state also was ranked third-worst on a scorecard by

Conversely, California was the sixth-best state according to ShareCare’s Wellbeing Index and the livability slice of CNBC‘s “best state for business” rankings.

In the middle, California received two No. 24 rankings — from World Population Review and USNews and World Report — and a No. 27 from WalletHub.

Next, I tossed the seven scorecards for the 50 states into my trusty spreadsheet and averaged these rankings. California ranked No. 27, by this consensus — tying Texas.

Yes, the Golden State and the Lone Star State ranked equally in the middle of the pack, according to aggregated wisdom of these “best state” scorecards. (FYI: Florida was 11th best, by my math!)

No. 1 on this ranking of rankings was Massachusetts, followed by Washington state, Virginia, Minnesota and New Hampshire.

And the worst state, by my scorecard average? Mississippi, then Louisiana, West Virginia, Arkansas and New Mexico.

Opinion gap

This math won’t settle the many arguments over California, good or bad — or whatever. Even the authors of these seven scorecards had a love-hate relationship with the state.

My spreadsheet found California was tied for the second-widest gap in opinions. There were 42 ranks between the state’s best No. 6 ranking and its worst at No. 48. New York (ranking No. 14 overall) also had an equally wide gap.

Hawaii (No. 26 overall) had the biggest chasm — a 48-rank gap. No. 4 was South Dakota (No. 22 overall) with a 39-rank gap.

So, where was opinion fairly united on these “best states” scorecards? It was at both the top and bottom of my consensus rankings.

Virginia’s No. 3 overall ranking had the most agreement, with just a 7-rank gap between its highest and lowest rankings.

Next, with 9-rank gaps, were South Carolina (No. 43), Louisiana (No. 48), and West Virginia (No. 49).

By the way, Texas — which tied California on my consensus ranking — had 29 ranks between its best (No. 5) and worst (No. 34) score. Only 16 states had more disagreement. Florida? 27 ranks between (No. 7) and worst (No. 34) — 22nd-most disagreement.

Bottom line

Despite these scorecards being powered by piles of data, I hope you see these rankings as I do: Mostly they’re food for thought rather than statistical certainties.

Look, no place is right for everybody. And the vast differences between the states — physical, demographic or economic — gives Americans plenty of choices for where to live.

Statistically speaking, the gaps between the rankings can be largely tied to which data is emphasized within each scorecard’s math.

For example, when lifestyle issues matter most, sunny California will score well. But when the cost of living is a big factor, pricey California ranks poorly.

And within these entertaining report cards, the divided opinions create a serious takeaway for California policymakers: Can they keep California worth its lofty price tag?


One of the more curious state rankings I didn’t use in my consensus placed California last based on the “happiness” of certain social media posts.

HouseFresh used facial recognition software that analyzed the emotion within Instagram selfies and averaged the results from each state. Just ahead of California, in terms of photographic grumpiness, were New Jersey, Indiana, Pennsylvania and Louisiana. Texas was 17th grumpiest and Florida, No. 15.

The happiest state, by this unusual score? Utah then Vermont, Colorado, Iowa and Wisconsin.

Jonathan Lansner is the business columnist for the Southern California News Group. He can be reached at [email protected]

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