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The U.S. high school graduation rate has reached 80 percent as states have made steady progress over the past 10 years. But those gains have been uneven and more needs to be done, education leaders and analysts say.

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Rates of Obesity

Colorado has the lowest obesity rate; Louisiana the highest

Results America, dedicated to sharing useful information that states can use to promote their well being, has taken a look at the rate of obesity in 2012. Without question obesity is a national epidemic that requires our attention and understanding to reduce climbing rates.

Rates-of-Obesity_1The data contained in this white paper comes from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) through a selfreported Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. The CDC defines obesity as an individual, possessing a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30.0 or greater. As a nation, the rate of obesity is creeping towards steeper numbers.

Obesity is driven by a state’s particular culture and the nutritional value of its available food. Besides popular culture and a lack of physical education, our nation provides an environment where inexpensive processed food is more readily available. So, states have to contend with a surplus of processed food on one hand and a deficit of physical activity on the other. In addition, we are witnessing a strong correlation between poverty and obesity rates among the states. This is a reverse from previous historical norms and is linked to the nutritional value of the cheapest foods.

“The state that acknowledges its obesity rate, the connection to food insecurity, and the correlation to poverty, will have an advantage in resolving this problem.”

States leading the nation with the least amount of obese citizens are Colorado (20.5%), Massachusetts (22.9%), and Hawaii and New York (23.6%).

Rates-of-Obesity_2The three states with the highest rates of obesity are Louisiana (34.7%), Mississippi (34.6%), and Arkansas (34.5%). What is interesting to note is that two of the three, Mississippi and Arkansas, are also ranked high in food insecurity, which was highlighted by Results America white paper in March.

Although 16 out of 50 states have decreased their prevalence of obesity since 1995, it continues to be a major cause of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. According to the CDC, in 2008, roughly $147 billion was spent on obesity or obesity-related health issues. When taking a look from a different perspective, people dealing with obesity spend almost $1,429 more than people with a healthy BMI.

While Mississippi has decreased its rate of obesity since 1995, obesity rates have almost doubled since 1995 across the country. Since there is noticeable gap between the top and bottom states, ranging from 20.5% to 34.7%, there are clearly cultural and nutritional differences driving this gap

Whether a state is in the top or bottom ranking, obesity remains a key measure of public health in the states, one that points to significant costs and significant opportunities. The state that acknowledges its obesity rate, the connection to food insecurity, and the correlation to poverty, will have an advantage in resolving this problem.

Tax Burden

Wyoming has the lowest t ax burden, New York the highest

Results America considers fiscal measures aimed at efficient and effective government. The amount of taxes owed by the citizens of states is one such measure. Since the deadline for state, local, and federal taxes having just passed, many may wonder what their own tax burden may be.

“…Taxation and debt are not everything. A healthy economy is a key to a state’s fiscal health as well.”

The data we have gathered is from the Tax Foundation, an organization that has been analyzing taxes since 1937. Their data accounts for taxes in state and local government in areas of income, property, sales, etc. All data is for 2011, the most recently compiled year.

Tax-Burden_1Wyoming, Alaska, and South Dakota have the lowest tax burden. These states have often traded ranking positions back and forth over the last few decades. With the lowest 2011 burden (6.9% of average income), Wyoming’s taxes have not exceeded 8% in 40 years. Alaska boasted its lowest tax burdens in the 2000’s, when the average was as low as 4.66% in 2001. Part of the reason these states perennially hold top ranking is their fiscal political culture. This is neither a positive or negative circumstance, but rather it reflects the populace and their propensity to tolerate higher taxes.

New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut hold the lowest rankings as they have the largest tax burdens in the union. New York with 12.6% average tax burden is equal to $7,441 per capita.

There are several issues to note regarding this measure. First, it does not account for the cost of living, which could alter the ranking of some states. Second, the average tax burden doesn’t account for the level of progression in the tax structure. A state with a progressive tax system may appear lower in the ranking even though most citizens pay a smaller percentage in taxes than listed.

Tax-Burden_2Important to note in this analysis is the U.S. national average, which in 2011 was 9.8% for citizen’s state and local tax burden across the nation. This number remained almost unchanged since 1977. This indicates that the relative burden on citizens remains constant at the state and local level. States that ranked higher in this measure also hold top ranking in other areas. Wyoming is #1 in state debt and has one of the strongest credit ratings. New York and New Jersey have some of the nation’s highest debt figures. Yet, while New Jersey has a low credit rating, New York’s credit is stable. Internal economic factors as well as stability in the state contribute to this. This indicates that taxation and debt are not everything. A healthy economy is a key to a state’s fiscal health as well.

One factor to study in future white papers is the level of federal grants-inaid to the states. While New York has the highest tax burden, they remain relatively independent of federal aid. Wyoming however, is very dependent on federal grants. This measure is a significant factor in the amount of needed state taxes and will be explored in future research.

Smoking

Kentucky has the most s mokers, Utah the least

Results America examines many measures in several of the most important policy fields, including public health. Besides measures regarding nutrition and the cost of healthcare, the rate of smokers in a state tends to be one of the most common measures. Despite the fact that smoking generates hundreds of billions of dollars in profit, it is also the culprit for a drove of medical issues.

Percent-of-adult-smokers-1The CDC defines smoking as adults who are currently smoking and have smoked, at a minimum, 100 cigarettes during their life. Utilizing the self-reported data provided by the CDC’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, Results America has compiled data from 2012.

As a nation, the lowest percentage of smokers occurred in 2011 with an average of 17.9% of people who classified themselves as smokers. Since then, the percentage has increased by 3.4% to a national average of 21.3% in 2012. Utah tops the list of states with the fewest smokers at 11.8%. California comes in second at 13.7%, followed by 16.8% for Hawaii and New Jersey. Other states including Connecticut, Idaho, Washington, New York, Massachusetts, and Colorado have ranges from 17.1% to 18.3%. The Northeast and the West of the nation are considered to have the lowest percentage of self-reported smokers in the year 2012.

“…when considering the number of smoking-related deaths of 480,000 per year, which is approximately one in every five deaths, smoking remains a major health issue…”

Turning to the highest percentage of smokers for the same year, the states that appear in the bottom 10 are generally located in the South and Midwest. Noteworthy, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Arkansas ranks in the top 10 states, which may be due to the absence of a statewide ban on smoking in designated areas, which has a noticeable effect on how states are ranked. States such as Oklahoma, Louisiana, Indiana, Ohio, and Alabama have a percentage of smokers ranging from 24.3% to 26.1%.

Percent-of-adult-smokers-2A possible explanation for Utah having the least amount of smokers is largely attributed to the religious beliefs of their population – roughly 6 out of 10 identify themselves as Mormons, in which only 5% of Mormons reported smoking. With an overwhelming amount of tobacco being sold – 293 billion cigarettes, 124.6 million pounds of smokeless tobacco, and 13.7 billion cigars – the tobacco industry is generating revenue near to $500 billion a year. But, when considering the number of smoking-related deaths of 480,000 per year, which is approximately one in every five deaths, smoking remains a major health issue that the states must contend with.

It is clear that tobacco smoking has many adverse health effects on smokers and nonsmokers. Tobacco smokers should expect to lose an average of 13 to 14 years of life due to their use of tobacco. This measure also directly affects a state’s healthcare and economic stability. It should be noted that on an annual basis, Americans spend $96 billion on direct medical expenses, while another $97 billion are associated in loss of productivity. With that in mind, states with high percentages of smokers, such as Kentucky, West Virginia, and Arkansas are likely to have greater health risks, poor healthcare, and economic instability, than states with the least amount of smokers, which includes Utah, California, and Hawaii.

Median Household Income

Virginia has the Highest I ncome, New York has the Lowest

Results America is dedicated to being a place to share best practices and common measures between states. One of the most popular best practice measures of an innovative and prosperous state economy is the median household income. This measure gives the average level of prosperity in a state when controlled for extreme wealth and extreme poverty. However, large proportions of wealth or destitution can often skew this measure.

Top-10-Median-Income-StatesAll data for this measure comes from the 2012 analysis of household income from the U.S. Census Bureau. Household is defined as a group of individuals sharing a home and includes, but is not limited to a family. Cost of living measures come from the Council for Community and Economic Research. The median income of the states was adjusted to take into account the cost of living in these states. As a result, the incomes listed are not the actual median incomes, but the income relative to the average living expenses.

Virginia, Utah, and Minnesota hold the top positions for the highest adjusted household income. While other states, such as Maryland and New Jersey have higher median incomes as well as higher percentages of wealthy residence; costs in the areas of food, housing, transportation, and health eliminate much of this advantage. However, Virginia still ranks high in the number of wealthy individuals as well as in nominal median income. Many of the states in the top 10 (including Virginia and Minnesota) also hold top 10 positions for the lowest levels of poverty. (We will discuss poverty more in future papers.

“The states that populate the lowest ranks in this paper are either the poorest states, or the most expensive.”

Bottom-10-Median-IncomeNew York, Hawaii, and Mississippi are the bottom states for adjusted median household income. High cost of living explains New York and Hawaii’s positions, having fallen into the Cost of Living Index bottom 10 for several years. Mississippi holds the #47 position largely due to low income within the state, despite having the cheapest cost of living of any state in the union.

Median Income in this research is heavily influenced by cost of living. This calculation is made by analyzing prices of goods in the fields of groceries, housing, healthcare, utilities and transportation. A state such as Hawaii, where much of the groceries and other household supplies have to be imported, is going to have additional costs associated with basic living expenses. States with high land values or high property taxes are going to have higher costs associated with housing. A state with higher prices on gasoline and other transportation costs would also see an increase in cost of living.

The states that populate the lowest ranks in this paper are either the poorest states, or the most expensive. In either case, the average citizen can often be negatively affected by the consequences of the state’s economic policies. It is no coincidence that those states with the highest adjusted median incomes have some of the highest levels of income equality. And those with the greatest inequality have the lowest adjusted household incomes. More on income inequality in later white papers.

What Football Can Teach Us About Great Government

The weekend before last I attended the University of Oregon vs. Tennessee football game in Eugene. My friend Mark Cleveland, a U of O graduate and now a Tennessee resident, brought out some friends from Tennessee and everyone had a great time. I had never attended a college or professional football game in my life and I found it to be quite an exciting experience.

When Oregon would score a touchdown—and it did that a lot on this day at Autzen Stadium—Oregonians went wild and there were smiles on every face and lots of high fives. This experience made me wonder how often these same people had the opportunity to feel the joy of success at work. As humans we love success.

Like both football teams and governmental organizations, human systems are enormously complex. Driven by the desires and passions of people, most of whom have a genuine desire to make the world better, these systems can be rich with emotion.

Human systems are organized around some definition of success. In the case of football, the system organizes everything around touchdowns. The team recruits and practices in order to score more touchdowns. The referees make sure the rules aren’t broken in pursuit of more touchdowns. And, of course, the fans love those touchdowns. Touchdowns—the definition of success in football–attracts talent, fans, and money.

If you read my blog you know I am writing a book about results-driven government. And while I was sitting at that game I wondered what it would feel like if we as a nation, or even as a state, were scoring more meaningful “touchdowns” in our society.

The more I learn about our governmental systems, the more I believe we have to better focus them on results. In today’s political system the “touchdown” appears to be getting elected or re-elected.

But there’s a real problem with that as the victory. Getting elected or re-elected only creates an opportunity for a politician to make a difference. The purpose of the political system ought to be to make improvements, to improve our cities, counties, states and our nation’s problems – not to have the opportunity to do so.

We need to redefine the “touchdown of government”, and thus redefine the purpose of politics.

The touchdown needs to be societal results – measurable, fact-based results. The measures of success have to include things like reducing the number of kids who go to school hungry, increasing family wage jobs, reducing crime, improving our infrastructure, and cleaning up our environment. Measures like these — and others – must be the focus of government. They must be tracked routinely, communicated, and referenced again and again. We have to focus our resources on these challenges and drive improvement.

Imagine if we as citizens actually held our political system accountable for solving our problems. We can’t solve all of our problems through government, but we can solve many of them by creating a real focus on accountability for results.

I loved watching the smiles and sheer joy on Oregon fans’ faces as the Ducks scored one touchdown after another sending Tennessee packing with a 59-14 loss. I’ve enjoyed working with many state agencies in Oregon and Washington in the past couple of years, and like these energetic and talented football players, they are demonstrating the power and joy of being results focused.

As a nation we need to start winning more. To do that, we need to move results to the top of the heap. A governmental system that serves results, I believe, is foundational to a healthy society.