As a provincial in the hinterlands, the title of Thomas Frank’s What’s the Matter with Kansas? has been stuck in my craw since I first started blogging nearly a decade ago. It’s not due to a necessarily strong attachment to the state I call home, but to the presumption that being in a place like Manhattan–crowded, polluted concrete jungle surrounded by millions of status-striving lemmings who are renting spaces one-third the size of the house I own–is inherently a superior way to live. Some people thrive off being engrossed in the busy anonymity of an entirely artificial world, but not everyone does, nor is such an existence necessarily superior to a more settled, personable (and generally more materially comfortable) lifestyle.
That superciliousness is palpable in a book like Frank’s, in which the author sardonically argues that red-staters in flyover country vote against their own economic interests with both persistence and ignorance. Those pathetic retrogrades, how pitiable they are being manipulated so! Such an argument rests on the assumption that said flyover states are poor. Looking merely at nominal income statistics, there is such a case to be made. The real value of a dollar, though, is what you can get in return for it, and in flyover country that dollar goes a lot farther than it does in the boroughs.
Several years ago, Steve Sailer attempted to get a handle on monetary standard-of-livings by state using ACCRA’s cost-of-living index. That index isn’t perfect (at least not the free version) since state values are calculated by an unjustifiable equal weighting of participating cities with those not participating left entirely unaccounted for.
Census data from 2012 offer another way to approach the question, with what the august institution deems the “Supplemental Poverty Measure” (SPM–my thanks to MG for the heads up). Here are a few of the major differences in the way the official poverty measure and the SPM are computed:
The SPM adjusts for things like effective household size, housing costs (for which there is enormous geographic variation), taxes, etc.
The following table inversely ranks the 50 states plus DC by their SPMs. A visual representation of the same is subsequently presented. This fares better on the smell test than the official poverty rate does in terms of comparing and contrasting relatively poor and affluent states:
|2) North Dakota||9.2|
|7) New Hampshire||10.2|
|8) South Dakota||10.6|
|20) West Virginia||12.9|
|27) Rhode Island||13.6|
|33) North Carolina||14.2|
|36) New Jersey||15.5|
|38) South Carolina||15.8|
|39) New Mexico||16.1|
|44) New York||18.1|
|50) District of Columbia||22.7|
The darker the state, the higher the proportion of its impoverished residents:
Jack Cashill’s riposte, What’s the Matter with California?, does a better job than Frank’s book in identifying where the real economic–among others!–problems are. The Upper Midwest is the most materially comfortable part of the country, and as one moves in pretty much any direction away from it things more-or-less tend to get worse. Yes, the weather in that part of the US isn’t what most people consider optimal, especially those of the Sun variety. But that might be seen as a feature rather than a bug. The inverse correlation between the percentage of the population that is (non-Hispanic) white and its SPM rate is a staggering .81 (p = .0000000000001). Diversity is Strength! It’s also… poverty.
Additionally, SPM rates modestly inversely correlate (.37, p = .007) with Romney’s share of the 2012 presidential vote. Republican states are more egalitarian than Democratic states are, and, as a consequence, it could be cynically be argued, Democrats have a vested political interest in perpetuating inequality since they tend to do better the more economic inequality there is. Then again, one might think the GOP would have a similar interest in promoting economic equality, but alas. Don’t say the party doesn’t earn its stupid party sobriquet!
Finally, SPM rates correlate with a couple other unflattering characteristics of New York (or California, or DC, where Frank lives, for that matter) vis-a-vis Kansas: IQ (inversely at .67, p = .000000006) and population density (.39, p = .004).