What Europeans don’t know about Americans could fill a southbound moving truck

Is the South really the worst place to live? According to an agency based in Paris — that’s France, not Texas — the answer is yes.

That agency is the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The OECD is sometimes called the world’s club of industrialized nations, and you may have seen me refer to it from time to time. That’s because, when one looks for a group of countries at least somewhat comparable to the U.S., the OECD is about as good as it gets.

The policy recommendations from OECD staff, however, are another matter. The OECD advocates for, among other things, tax-harmonization laws — which would have the effect of making it easier for more governments to charge ever-higher taxes to support ever-larger welfare states. They are emblematic of the bien pensants in Europe and on the left side of the political spectrum here in America, those who do not even question the merits of a large, centralized government.

All of which probably explains why the aforementioned OECD rankings of our 50 states, plus D.C., drew so much attention. As the Washington Post’s Roberto A. Ferdman summarized in a piece about the recent rankings, which used a scale of zero to 90:

“The report ranked all 50 states (plus the District) according to nine different measures of well-being: health, safety, housing, access to broadband, civic engagement, education, jobs, environment, and income. …

“(T)here are a number of states — all of them in the South — you might want to avoid. Mississippi, which scored lower than any other state, barely broke 50. Arkansas and Alabama, which tied for second to last, each scored 51.3. West Virginia, which was fourth to last, scored 52.2. And Tennessee, which was fifth to last, scored 52.9.

“The South, which performed the worst of any region in the country, is home to eight of the poorest performing states. Only Virginia was in the top 25. And just barely — it placed 22nd.”

That piece portrayed the South as so bad that another Post blog published a piece by a Charlotte-based author titled, “Is the South really as bad as a report says it is?”. But there’s a very straightforward way to demonstrate that our Parisian evaluators are off-base.

The Census Bureau not only reports annual population estimates for each state. It also attempts to explain where each state’s population growth — or loss — comes from. There are natural causes (births vs. deaths) but there’s also migration, both domestic and international.

Looking at the most recent data, covering 2010 to 2013, we can see whether Americans are choosing to move to the higher-ranked states and/or away from the lower-ranked states. And the answer is:

No way, no how, no matter which way you slice it.

  • Seven of the 10 highest-ranked states lost population; seven of the 10 lowest-ranked states gained population.
  • The top one-third of states (including D.C.) gained a total of 137,430 people during those three-plus* years. The bottom one-third gained 615,884 people. (Yes, that means the middle third lost the sum of those two totals.)
  • The average OECD score for the 25 states (including D.C.) that gained population was 61. The average score for the 26 states that lost population was 64.3.
  • Depending on how one defines “the South” — I’ll use the Census Bureau’s definitions here — five of the top seven states for population gain are located in our region. Those five states alone received two-thirds of the nation’s internal migrants. Kentucky, Maryland and Mississippi were the only Southern states to lose population during those three years.

In fact, just look at each of the four census regions compare:

  • The highest-ranked region was the Northeast, with an average score of 68.4. All nine states in that region lost population, for a total net migration of minus-624,511.
  • The next highest-ranked region was the Midwest, with an average score of 65.9. Ten of its 12 states lost population, for a total net migration of minus-522,773.
  • Next was the West, at an average score of 64.6. Nine of its 13 states gained population, for a total net migration of 139,781.
  • And last, but not least in the eyes of Americans from elsewhere, was the South, with an average score of just 55.9. Yet, 14 of its 17 states gained population, for a total net migration of 1,031,967.
  • Even if you take away the two largest gainers, Texas and Florida, the South gained more than twice as many people as the runner-up West region.

Maybe, just maybe, nos amis at the OECD don’t really know what Americans are looking for when it comes to the good life.

* – The census data actually measure the change from April 1, 2010 (the date of the 2010 census) to July 1, 2013 (because the annual estimates between censuses use July 1 as a measuring point).

ADDED at 2:20 p.m.: Carol Guthrie, head of the OECD’s Washington Center and a Southerner herself, asked me to bring to y’all’s attention a piece she wrote (also for the Post) about what the agency’s rankings do and don’t mean. You can read that piece in its entirety, but I’ll include a relevant excerpt here about the recent “How’s Life in Your Region” report:

“One thing we don’t measure is perhaps the South’s most abundant natural resource: Southerners’ appreciation for living there.

“The data don’t cover satisfaction (although our national-level Better Life Index does) or how we feel about home. They present objective criteria that underpin economic as well as physical well-being, including things that make our regions more or less competitive and able to provide vibrant quality of life.

“The data, and the ability to compare it, are not tendered as criticism; they’re tools. What we offer is the leverage of cold, hard facts to policymakers and citizens looking to bring about change.”

I still think the disparity between the rankings and domestic migration patterns speaks for itself. But it’s entirely fair for Guthrie to point out that the South-bashing that followed the report’s release was done by others, not the OECD itself.

Reader Comments 0

62 comments
Trefusis
Trefusis

The OECD is like a fictional parody of the sort of self-appointed experts Barack Obama bought into when he either was or was not attending class during his own mysterious higher education.  The fact that OECD thinks it can find multivariate measures of performance, generalizable to diverse nations, is funnier than puppetry or The Onion.  Too bad Letterman retired, if only because now we know that his unemployed joke-writing staff resorted to setting up shop in a basement in Brussels marked OECD. 

CuriousPrime
CuriousPrime

What Social Conservatives don't know about America, let alone Europe, would fill the Universe.

RantNRave
RantNRave

"There is not enough money in the world to entice me to move up North. "


DontTread you probably wouldn't fit in up north.



Don't Tread
Don't Tread

I had a conversation with a colleague who lives in the big blue state up there who had to apply for a permit (with a fee, of course) to have the central air conditioning unit replaced in her home.  She didn't seem to think that there was anything wrong with having to ask the government for permission to do that.


There is not enough money in the world to entice me to move up North.

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

@DontTread It's called getting a building permit, which  you are suppose to do here in Georgia/Atlanta!

ernestangelie
ernestangelie

The Germans have had plenty of experience in the South with Mercedes in Alabama, VW in Tennessee and BMW in SC, so I guess they like the cheap labor and tax incentives. It's just that they wouldn't want to personally live in a place that didn't pay people well or collect enough in taxes to provide world class civic amenities. 

Starik
Starik

@countfive I wonder if German executives receive hardship pay for living here? Do their kids attend the wonderful public schools?

RantNRave
RantNRave

The problem with the southern states is that their cultural heritage and their history is like a birthmark that you can't wash off. ...

The_Real_Centrist
The_Real_Centrist

Kyle:  In my experience, what Americans don’t know about Europe and other areas of the world could fill an aircraft hanger. Just sayin'................

Mandingo
Mandingo

So Georgia ranked  in the bottom eleven . Don't worry Kyle, your boy Gov. Dirty Deal will have us taking over Mississippi's spot at the bottom before the end of his second term. 

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

It wasn't long ago that I encountered a young woman who had recently moved here from New York. She worked retail. I asked what brought her to our fair state. Her response?

The low cost of living and the fact that she could actually afford a nice house as opposed to a run-down NY flat which cost her twice as much as her house here.

RantNRave
RantNRave

"Oh highest in bigotry and arrogance"

Road Scholar I would add to that "cultural ignorance."

I guess they don't believe the South is gonna rise again.

Tiberius-Constitutionus
Tiberius-Constitutionus

I think it would be fair to say that what Americans know about Europeans could fill both northbound and southbound moving trucks.


We know what the statistics are, but the question is why are they that way?  I don't have an answer.  But I will say this: while we in America certainly know how to make money, the French certainly know how to live life. Their children are well-educated and well-behaved, their wines are cheap and good, their food rich and tasty, their waistlines trim and well-shaped, and their women bedecked in lingerie.  


We all have to die, so which would you rather have: money, or life?  

Likewise
Likewise

I believe more people in the south are on government assistance programs.  While they vote Republican of course.

Starik
Starik

@Likewise I'd love to see state-by-state data on Federal disability payments.

MarkVV
MarkVV

The title of Kyle’s OP is almost hilariously funny – quite unintentionally, I am sure. Because if “what Europeans don’t know about Americans could fill a southbound moving truck,” then what Americans do not know about Europeans certainly could fill ten such truck, easily, as anyone who has lived in both regions should know.


The substance of Kyle’s article s also amusing to contemplate . It compares the rankings of US states according to OECD with the population changes of the states. Why? Did OECD make those recommendations for AMERICANS?

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

If your counting Florida as the South then all that really shows is what we already knew


Florida is Gods waiting room.

IReportYouWhine
IReportYouWhine

Anybody who has ever been to a liberal big city knows what hell hole is. The land of the purple haired loon. Busy Body Central. Nagging Heads Island. Tax-O-Rama. $50 an hour to park. Dodge O Taxie.


No thanks.


Peace, and quiet.

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

Southern states: lowest in in employment. lowest in education. Lowest in quality of wines produced (except for some wines in Virginia from the Charlottesville area!)


Oh highest in bigotry and arrogance.


Thank you,Kyle

Chris30338
Chris30338

@RoadScholar Although I agree with the sentiment, I've found ignorance and bigotry to be universal. Some of the worst bigotry and racism I ever came across was when I lived in Kansas.

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

Just being left alone, was obviously not high on their list of qualifiers.


We tried that...It resulted in segregation. 

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

@HeadleyLamar And we tried sensible government regulations.......it resulted in cupcakes and birthday cakes being outlawed for kindergardeners.

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

Is the South really the worst place to live?


A: Short Answer Yes


There are bastions of liberalism...Atlanta. Savannah etc..


But most of it is an uncultured hell hole...And my god the heat.


Obesity levels are the highest in the South...Education levels the lowest...Lowest percentage of College Grads etc etc...One could go on and on.


Next we will hear about all the Northers moving here..They do that because the South is like a third world country to them and a dollar goes MUCH further down here ya'll

crankyoldman
crankyoldman

Your last point, in particular I think, hits the nail on the head.  When I moved down here I was still active duty army. I was an Arabic translator working for the NSA, and was transferred to GA when part of the organization was relocated here back in '96. Most of my civilian co-workers were GS-13, GS-14, or Senior Executive Service, which means their pay was similar to field grade military officers.  In Maryland back then, their salaries would let them afford modest town houses.  But in GA they could buy custom made McMansions, and ignore the quality of the local public schools, since they could send their kids to private schools.  So, for them, it was kind of like moving to Mexico, but without the kidnappings and drug wars.  And, since they already had good jobs, they didn't need to worry about finding work that would pay them enough to live on, which is the major drawback of living in the right-to-work-for-minumum-wage South.  Heck, there wouldn't even be a minumum wage here if some of the politicians had their way.  "First you tell us we can't force people to work for free.  Okay, fine.  But now you want to tell us we have to pay them enough to live on?  You Yankees are never satisfied."

InTheMiddle2
InTheMiddle2

@HeadleyLamar  Nothing superior or inferior about liberals or conservatives. Most agree on the problems, just disagree on the solutions. The only proviso I would make is that, based on what I have observed on these blogs, is that conservatives are far more open minded and accepting of others and their ideas.

PudHead
PudHead

@HeadleyLamar 

We live in America you are free to leave, and take your liberal lemmings with you...Typical liberals, keep complaining and no action. If you need a buss ticket i will be happy to get you a one way to Mexico...

Starik
Starik

I saw a report a while back indicating that if you're going to be low-income you're better off in a region with cheap housing costs and heating bills.  If your union employment iis outsourced you can move south and find work.  You won't get paid well but you can afford to live there.

Moderate_line
Moderate_line

I have often heard people from up north complain about the south. When I asked them why they don't live their I get three answers.


1 - It cost to much.

2 - The weather

3 - I went where the job was 

Starik
Starik

Are Cops and Honey Boo Boo popular in Europe?  When the Boo Boo show starts declining they can reboot with a Beverly Hillbillies format.  "Honey Boo Boo moves to New York."  Honey Boo Boo in Chicago."  Hell, Honey Boo Boo moves to Atlanter."

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

"the South-bashing that followed the report’s release was done by others, not the OECD itself."


Yeah, that makes sense--I had seen some references to the report and that had been my impression as well.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

Also: If you came to this post before 2:20 or so, please refresh the page so that you see an update of the piece with a comment from the OECD.

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

Actually, interstate migration has been down for awhile.


http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/01/23/census-deaths-births-population/4793105/ 


just to have a few factoids to chew on:


• States losing the most have seen losses slow. Just before the recession, the bottom five states lost a combined 677,000 people, or 77% of interstate migrants. In 2013, they lost 297,000.

• Big gainers have seen the incoming tide slow. Last year the top five states netted 308,000 interstate movers. In 2007, they collected 492,000.

• Immigration keeps some states growing despite losing many residents to other states. California lost 49,000 people to other states but gained 123,000 immigrants.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@stands_for_decibels Immigrants do change the picture, but I thought it was better to look at domestic migration since we were pairing Georgia vs. New Hampshire, not Chihuahua.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

I'll add here that my frequent writings about different ideas for Georgia's policy makers to try ought to make clear that I don't think this state is perfect. Nor do I think the South as a whole is perfect. But I am always amused by suggestions we live in a bleak, hopeless, bottom-of-the-barrel place ... to which people from further up the barrel, so to speak, continually flock.

n8diggidy
n8diggidy

Southern by the grace of God.

LogicalDude
LogicalDude

You see, those ranked in low-ranked states can't afford to move.  Heck, they can barely afford to choose between if they have heat or water. 


Until you evaluate the poverty and support systems, trying to make a conclusion based on population movement is silly at best. 

Oh, poverty and support systems (among others) is what the Paris people looked at. 


Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@LogicalDude "You see, those ranked in low-ranked states can't afford to move.  Heck, they can barely afford to choose between if they have heat or water. "

OK, I'll bite. Why, then, were people from relatively better-off states choosing to move away from them?

Starik
Starik

@Kyle_Wingfield @LogicalDude Possibly because the jobs disappeared; if people have low skills they might want to move to a region with jobs for them - and they just want to do something to eke out a living.

Starik
Starik

@Kyle_Wingfield @Starik At one time they did; but automaking etc. have moved south.  No unions. It's better to live on a close-to-minimum wage here than in better-developed places. It's cheaper.

LogicalDude
LogicalDude

@Kyle_Wingfield @LogicalDude Housing prices.  As wonderful as California is, housing prices in the large cities is outrageous.  It went through a correction (with the rest of the nation) in 2005-2008, but still, the average housing price of 250,000 makes it difficult for many in the middle class to even have a nice place to live. 

Cheap housing at the time (evidently commonly built by underpaid undocumented immigrant labor) attracts a lot more people than other metrics. 

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

"a total net migration of 1,031,967."


or, 0.325% of the 2013 population.


That's a pretty slim metric upon which to hang this thesis that the OECD is somehow out to lunch with their findings.


Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@stands_for_decibels "or, 0.325% of the 2013 population."

Or, seen another way, 72% of the people who chose to move within the country during those years. Which is not such a slim metric.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@stands_for_decibels Still a lot of underwater mortgages for a good portion of that time period.

BTW, I originally looked the longer-term trend, which show pretty much the same pattern, but I figured y'all would say I was using old data in conjunction with a contemporary ranking by the OECD. So I looked for the nearer-term trend.