Measuring “Quality of Life”: Where Does Texas Rank?

In the past two blog posts, we have looked at data that have painted the state of Texas in a very good light in terms of overall rankings for top states for business and a quality workforce. One of the areas in which Texas has not fared well has been in the “Quality of Life” component of CNBC’s America’s Top States for Business study. After hovering in the 30s for most of the 14 years of this study, Texas has been ranked next-to-last (49th out of 50 states) in the last two years of the study for “Life, Health & Inclusion (LHI),” which is the renamed title for “Quality of Life” in the CNBC study

In general, the LHI construct is comprised of metrics covering areas such as crime rates, childcare, inclusiveness in state laws and voting rights, and health care quality (CNBC methodology). In the article, “These 10 states are America’s worst places to live in 2022“, Texas was awarded a grade of “F” with 72 points out of a possible 325 points for the LHI domain. Ranking Texas as the second-to-worst place to live, the article authors identified “childcare, health resources, inclusiveness, and voting rights” as weaknesses, mentioning that Texas had “no metrics in the top 50%” in the LHI domain.

In the first visualization below labeled “LHI Rankings (Best/Worst States),” we can see the top and bottom 10 states in the rankings. Vermont is the highest-ranked state with 300 out of 325 points, and Arizona is the lowest-ranked state with 67 points, just below Texas with 72 points. When seeing the rankings, one of the first thoughts that came to mind was the political “leaningness” of each state. In order to categorize states, we looked at states’ voting patterns in presidential elections since 1980. States that voted for the Democratic candidate at least 6 of the 11 election cycles are colored in blue with a circle, while states that voted for the Republican candidate more than 50% of the election cycles are colored red with a diamond shape. As you can see, 80% of the top 10 states in the Life, Health & Inclusion rankings can be classified as Democrat-leaning states, while 80% of the bottom 10 states in the LHI rankings can be seen as Republican-leaning based on presidential election data.

Taking this concept of political ideology further, we looked at each state’s delegation in the 118th United States Congress. The “US Congress (Both Chambers)” visualization above compares the percentage of representation from 100% Republican to 100% Democrat along the x-axis against the LHI score value on the y-axis for that state. As shown in the positive-sloping trend line, the higher the percentage of congressional representation that is Democrat, the higher the likelihood of a higher LHI score value, and vice versa for Republican representation. Note: The size of the circles in this visualization represent the number of congressional representatives for that state.

So What?

More so than most of our blog posts, the direct applicability of these data to higher education is not as straightforward. Without being able to examine the actual metrics that comprise the Life, Health & Inclusion scores, we used political affiliation of states as one way to explain a portion of the variance in the LHI data. What this comparison does highlight is the importance of politics and policy in terms of shaping perception. For prospective businesses and individuals looking to relocate to Texas, a ranking of 49th in “Quality of Life” might cause them to reconsider their move, regardless of how well Texas fares in broader rankings of “top states for business” or “quality of workforce.” In terms of attracting faculty to teach and conduct research at Texas public universities, the factors that contribute to Texas’ poor performance on the LHI domain may serve as a challenge to recruiting and retaining high-quality faculty, which should be a concern for leaders regardless of political affiliation. Just a little food for thought…

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