United Way ranks Minnesota best state for quality of life

by Mickie Barg

A United Way study ranked Minnesota the top state in the nation for overall quality of life last week.
The 1998 statistics moved the state to the number-one position from its 1997 sixth-place ranking.
The high ranking was no surprise to local United Way officials.
“There are a number of organizations that do state rankings like this, and Minnesota frequently comes out either number one or in the top five,” said Elizabeth Peterson, research services manager at the United Way of Minneapolis.
The United Way’s State of Caring Index measures 32 social and economic indicators in six key areas: economic and financial well-being; education; health; volunteerism and charity; safety; and the natural environment.
“We have a progressive and pro-active government working for folks who need help,” said Bill Rodrigues, St. Paul United Way’s vice president of marketing. “There are also layers of nonprofit social services that help keep people from falling through the cracks.”
In addition to its high performance in the overall index, Minnesota ranked in the top five in half of the indicators.
“We scored really well, which we often do, in the health area and education,” said Minneapolis United Way spokeswoman Kari Kozak. “Also, economically we have a really low unemployment rate.”
Minnesota ranks highest nationally in the health category and second for the fewest children and adults without medical insurance. The state’s percentage of births to teen mothers is about half the national average and infant mortality rates are significantly lower.
Economic factors also contributed to the high ranking. From 1988 to 1998 Minnesota had a 19.6 percent increase in median household income, moving its rank from 16th to fourth in the nation. Fewer people living below the poverty level, the nation’s lowest unemployment rate of 2.5 percent and other economic factors gave the state a growth rate five times that of the national rate.
The state’s volunteerism and charitable giving grew at nearly twice the national average.
“The state of Minnesota as a whole always rates highly in volunteerism,” Kozak said. “People feel a commitment to help make things better and not think it’s someone else’s responsibility.”
Minnesota also surpassed the national average in education.
“In education we did well with students scoring higher in standardized tests and more kids staying in school,” Kozak said.
Minnesota has been recognized for its “Success by 6” initiative, which is a partnership with business, government and nonprofits to improve the development of children under the age of six.
“We want to make sure all children under six have all their needs met so that when they get to school they are ready to learn,” Kozak said. “The program has been replicated in more than 250 cities nationwide.”
In addition, the state’s United Ways initiated a project with Allina and battered women’s shelters in the area providing online shelter information to accommodate those needing immediate help.
“In the past, a woman wanting to get out of an abusive situation might have to make more than one call to find a shelter with room available,” Kozak said. “She is already taking a risk making the first call.”
Although Minnesota ranks high in many areas that add to a high quality of life, there are still issues that need addressing in the state such as affordable housing and the widening gap between income levels.
“There are a lot of people now who use shelters and are working,” Kozak said. “Affordable housing is a tough issue for a lot of people.”

Mickie Barg welcomes comments at [email protected]