New Ranking a Family Plot?

Nearly a month after Pittsburgh was named "America’s Most Livable City" by Forbes magazine it has been named the 7th "Best Place to Raise a Family" by the same publication. Not top honors, but enough to warrant a quote or two from local leaders including the Mayor, though both rankings cover the seven county metro area.

This year’s methodology for ranking family-friendly places used the largest 100 metro areas and drew upon cost of living, home ownership, median household income, commute times, crime rate, and graduation rates. Given a similar sample and a lot of the same indicators it is easy to see why there was considerable overlap on the two recent Forbes’ tabulations. Only one place named in the top five most livable did not make it in the top ten best places to raise a family (Ann Arbor, MI).

But a quick look at the previous best family ranking in 2008 shows an entirely different picture: instead of metros, the magazine used counties over 65k in population. They also tried to construct a method of seeing how well public schools were funded by using only those counties where more than half of funding came from property taxes. They paid more attention to SAT scores as well as home prices and air quality in addition to the more conventional indicators of crime rate, commute, and per capita income.

The result: a completely different picture of the best places to raise a family in a two year time span. Only one state-Pennsylvania-had a place make it on to the top ten list in both years. Two years ago, two southeastern PA counties (Chester and Montgomery) made it, while this year the Pittsburgh and Harrisburg metros were on the list. There is no overlap beyond that. The best places from two years ago come from states that did not even have a metro area make it onto this year’s list.

Any Lessons From Latest List?

Forbes magazine has a new ranking on the "Best States for Business" ranking things like business costs, labor, regulatory environment, etc. Pennsylvania came in 33rd on the list (it was 41st in 2006’s ranking). The only indicators on which PA broke the upper third were on regulatory environment (15th, which is surprising given the state’s tort system, but the ranking also measures "incentives, transportation, and bond ratings") and 7th on quality of life (schools, health, crime, etc.).

The five year change in PA’s gross state product was 1.5%, a rate of change that bested only 7 states (IN, MI, MO, NJ, OH, RI, and SC) and was well below that of many states. It is interesting to note the impact of the very important indicator of whether the state was Right-to-Work or not (the list did not contain this data, but we noted RTW states and where they ranked). Of the 25 best performing states on the Forbes listing, 16-almost 3 out of every 4-were Right to Work states. Two gulf coast RTW states (LA and MS) ranked in the bottom ten. Seven of the top ten states were RTW with three western states (CO, OR and WA) rounding out the group.

Only one state-Michigan-had a negative five year change in GSP. Now, which state or group of states is Pennsylvania closer to in its policy prescriptions and outlook?