May report ranks Louisiana last, new data suggests improvements being made

The 2019 rankings use data collected over several years, primarily from 2017, which may not reflect current trends. Instead, the analysis gives a snapshot of Louisiana's relative standing over the past several years. (Source: MGN)

MONROE, La. (KNOE) - A report published in May by U.S. News & World Report lists Louisiana as the worst state in the nation. New data, though limited, suggests improvements are being made in some areas.

The "Best States 2019" report ranked health care, education, economy, infrastructure, opportunity, fiscal stability, crime & corrections, and natural environment. The report says it measures outcomes for citizens using more than 70 metrics to get its rankings.

The data was compiled from numerous surveys, reports, and statistics mostly from 2015 to 2019, with data sets primarily from 2017, so it may not always reflect current trends in statewide progress in specific categories. Rather, this report gives a snapshot of the state in recent years. For each data set, they used the most recent data available as of February 2019. Many times, the most recent data is from 2017.

In the report, Louisiana failed to rank higher than 43rd in any of the main categories. The state ranked highest in fiscal stability.

This is how Louisiana fared, compared to other states:

Health Care: 45
Education: 48
Economy: 49
Infrastructure: 48
Opportunity: 50
Fiscal Stability: 43
Crime & Corrections: 50
Natural Environment: 50

"The data driving these rankings were drawn from extensive and reliable governmental and private sources as well as proprietary data including a national survey of what matters most to citizens around the country. Among the eight main categories measured in the Best States rankings, more than five dozen subcategories of metrics are taken into account," the report states.

One of the categories Louisiana ranked dead last in was Opportunity. Opportunity takes into account the lack of access to enough food, income inequality, household income, the poverty rate, joblessness among people with disabilities, and the education/employment/income gap by race and gender.

Louisiana fared at the bottom or near the bottom in most of these areas. Louisiana fared well in joblessness among people with disabilities and labor force participation rates for females and males, but Louisiana was shown to have the largest income gap by gender. Louisiana women make about 69-70 cents for every dollar Louisiana men make.

The poverty rate in Louisiana is 19.7%, according to the report. Despite the relatively low income of Louisiana residents, the state ranked fairly well in housing affordability and cost of living: 20th for this subcategory.

Louisiana also fared terribly when it comes to public safety and the criminal justice system. Louisiana had the highest incarceration rate in the country in 2016, though reforms have been enacted since then to help change that.

While Louisiana is frequently derided for its poor roads, in reality, the state of roads in Louisiana is only marginally below average compared to other states. Louisiana ranked 33rd in this subcategory. So, Louisiana doesn't have the worst roads in the country, just far from the best. Louisianians also faced slightly worse than average commute times and public transit usage. Bridge quality remained a real problem, as of 2017.

Louisiana had poor rankings in power grid reliability and renewable energy use but was #1 when it comes to the price of electricity. According to 2018 data, Louisiana residents paid the fewest cents per kilowatt-hour in the country. Louisiana also ranked very low in broadband access, 48th overall, but fared better with access to ultra-fast internet, ranking 27th in this subcategory.

Pollution was also a big issue for Louisiana in the report. The state's low industrial toxins ranking was 47th, meaning that Louisiana has a relatively high rate of "emissions to air and water from manufacturing, mining, electric power generation and hazardous waste treatment." Louisiana was also the worst state for chronic health effects associated with pollution, according to EPA data published in March of 2019.

According to the report, access to health care in Louisiana is about average when you take children into account, compared to other states. Children are being served extremely well by Medicaid in Louisiana, as the state ranks 3rd in Child Wellness Visits, which "monitors compliance with preventative care under the child health component of Medicaid." The state ranks 19th in Adult Wellness Visits, which rates the number of adults who went without a routine checkup in the past year, according to a 2017 survey. Dental visits for adults are another matter. The state ranks 50th in that subcategory. Health insurance rates and affordability were still a problem for adults according to 2017 government surveys.

Again, due to the data available, it's important to remember that most of the rankings don't take into account the most recent changes or trends which have yet to be measured or data that was released later than February 2019.

High school graduation rate, for example, has improved in Louisiana since the latest data published in the report. Earlier this year, the Department of Education announced that Louisiana's public four-year high school graduation rate surpassed 80% for the first time in 2018. In May 2019, it was announced that a record number of 2018 graduates enrolled in college.

Recent legislation was passed to address Louisiana's infrastructure problems, including the state's poor rural bridge rankings and a major I-20 project in Ouachita Parish. $700 million in road projects are planned all over the state after legislation signed by Governor John Bel Edwards..

Meanwhile, Medicaid expansion led to hundreds of thousands of people getting health care coverage. By November 2018, An estimated 481,000 people had gained health care coverage under Louisiana's Medicaid expansion. That's an improvement from the 433,000 listed on the Louisiana Department of Health's website in 2017.

Louisiana leaders have also addressed the state's high crime and incarceration rates. Earlier this year, lawmakers passed several bills aimed at reforming the criminal justice system in Louisiana. In a news release at the time, the governor's office said, the programs would "expand prison alternatives, fund programs in parish jails and in the community that reduce re-offending and build up services that support victims of crime."

You can read the full report on Louisiana here.

Arkansas was ranked 45th and Mississippi was ranked 48th overall.

Washington was ranked the best state overall.