WalletHub Grabs Headlines With Miserable Methodology For Judging State Safety

On June 6, WalletHub released the results of a “study” ranking 2017’s Safest States in America.  Texas ranked 41 out of 50 states.  You may recall a pair of columns I recently wrote detailing overall USA, Dallas and specifically high-rise crime.  Both columns showed that Dallas hasn’t been as crime-free as it is today since essentially the mid-1960s.

So how’d we rank 41st in the nation?  By jumbling up a passel of unrelated statistics and slapping “safety” on the box … or what they call “five key dimensions.”

Personal and Residential Safety includes things like murders, rapes, assaults, thefts and the like.  But then it gets into the dubious weeds of police and firefighters per capita, elder abuse complaints, bullying incidence, and my favorite, suicide rate.

How exactly does the suicide rate impact personal or residential safety?  Is there a calculation on the number of miles of sidewalks bordering tall buildings balanced against the number of jumpers on those sidewalks?  Or perhaps the number of people wounded or killed from a stray bullet?  While suicide is serious and not in itself to be made light of, to include it in this study is ludicrous.

Elder abuse is another oddity.  How does a family member or caregiver smacking around grandpa impact the safety of the general population?  Are they saying if you move to Texas you’re more likely to be abused as a senior?  Or that states with higher complaints somehow breed these sick abusers?  Perhaps higher reporting means that some states are more apt to report while others still keep “the family secret” hidden.

Financial Safety is a complete category of left-field metrics like un- and under-employment rates, poverty rates, adults with savings, personal bankruptcy rates and share of population without health insurance.  I do believe all of these metrics are valid in their own right, but to contain them in a ranking of state safety is bizarre.

Road Safety measures things like vehicle and pedestrian fatalities, DUIs, road quality and a rating of a state’s Driving laws (seatbelts, helmets, etc.).  I think we all know that a poor showing under “road quality” would surprise no one in Texas.  Again, all well and good statistics.  They impact personal safety in that you may be more likely to get run over by an unbelted drunk, but I think it’s a different slant than what’s expected in a report listing “2017’s Safest States in America.”  Don’t you?

Workplace Safety reports on occupational fatalities, injuries and illnesses along with the work lost to these events.  Isn’t workplace safety really based on the type of work done versus the location it’s done in?  For example, the dangers in an oilfield are pretty much the same in Texas as they are in Pennsylvania I’d expect.  Ditto the number of paper cuts in the average accounting department.

Finally, Emergency Preparedness tracks the number of “climate disasters” causing over $1 billion in damages between 1980 and 2017 and the total monetary losses.  Essentially this is a Mother Nature ranking.

How’d Texas do?

Texas did about as well as you’d expect in these buckets of data points … low to middle of the road.   Overall we received 43.08 points versus #1 Vermont with 65.09.

  • Personal and Residential Safety: 30th
  • Financial Safety: 33rd
  • Road Safety: 21st
  • Workplace Safety: 33rd
  • Emergency Preparedness: 47th

Dead Last

Texas exceptionalism was on full display when it ranked dead last on “Highest Share of Population Lacking Health Insurance.”  Political editorializing here … Massachusetts ranked number one … the state with single-payer “Romneycare”.

What’s more telling is that at #17, North Carolina is the highest ranked southern state. In fact, the bottom 24 states all rank in the “southern” and/or “sparsely populated” buckets. While southern, Texas has over seven million more people than the bottom half’s next most populous state, Florida and exponentially more than the rest.

Conclusions

While I like data, I like cleaner interpretations.  As I’ve reported, crime statistics show, as a country and city, we’re very safe when compared with historical numbers.  But there’s always crime, right?  What reports like this lack (because it’s positive, not negative) is a lens to understand that.  Instead we see reporting without context to juice the headlines.

Each of the criteria used is valid by some measure, but to call is an accurate depiction of a state’s overall safety is slap-dash … actually it’s click-bait. Of course, it could be like how Target created an algorithm to identify and target coupons towards pregnant women in their first trimester by tracing seemingly random purchases.   So just in case, do look up when walking next to any tall buildings, you never know who could fall on you.

 

Remember:  High-rises, HOAs and renovation are my beat. But I also appreciate modern and historical architecture balanced against the YIMBY movement.  If you’re interested in hosting a Candysdirt.com Staff Meeting event, I’m your guy. In 2016, my writing was recognized with Bronze and Silver awards from the National Association of Real Estate Editors.  Have a story to tell or a marriage proposal to make?  Shoot me an email sharewithjon@candysdirt.com.