Safest state rankings are ‘puzzling’ and ‘propaganda’ – Daily News

on Jun25
by | Comments Off on Safest state rankings are ‘puzzling’ and ‘propaganda’ – Daily News |

“Mailbag” gives insight into the comments I get from my readers — good, bad, or in-between — and my thoughts about their feedback.

Trying to rank the U.S. states based on any criteria is loaded with risks.

Somebody’s state ends up on the bottom and they’re usually not happy about it. And lofty grades draw critics, too, with objections about ill-informed platitudes. So I knew my “safest states” column for Californians thinking about departing the state would draw spirited feedback.

For those who missed the rankings, my trusty spreadsheet found Massachusetts was the safest state and Louisiana the most dangerous one. And California, if it had been ranked, would have been 32nd. (To see the full rankings online, go to

After publication, my rankings were called everything from “propaganda” to “puzzling” to “illuminating” to “you of all people should know how statistics can lie.”

To be honest, my “Leaving California” series explored the wonders and warts of other states and reminded me that ranking state qualities is as much art as science. Not only are the stats behind the grades imperfect, but the math that meshes the data is also highly subjective. And remember that any statewide score ignores vast variances inside those borders.

To me, the biggest value of these scorecards is as a discussion starter. And what’s “safe” is an important chat for society.

Just defining “safety” is hard. Readers second-guessed my trusty spreadsheet math. Why was only half the grade crime-related? Why was the rest tied to risks of climate, driving, work and finances – plus the cost of insurance?

Reader: “No need for word pudding. Crimes related to the security of persons, personal property and real property seem to top the list. Gang violence, robbery, grand theft. Can I take a walk at night without being assaulted, robbed, etc? Your article was poorly written. Try again the next time.”

Me: As I wrote, “Feeling safe is somewhat vague but also very personal.”

Thanks to the broad reach of online news, readers from outside of California weighed in, too. Ponder this note from a South Carolina reader whose state ranked 47th safest …

Reader: “Pure propaganda coming from California. Who contracted you to write it, Gavin Newsom? I assume you still live in Orange County? My wife and I and family, and four other families we have (met) in the last two years, moved from O.C. to South Carolina. We did real research, and it proved to be fruitful. Pretty shameful to write an article like this with absolutely no knowledge of what you are actually talking about.”

Me: Here are three other “safest state” rankings: US News had South Carolina at a lowly 46th safest vs. No. 23 for California. Consumer Affairs placed South Carolina at No. 43 vs. No. 34 California. And WalletHub scored South Carolina 42nd vs. 27th for California.

There were out-of-town comment agreeing with high rankings from Utah (15th safest) and New Hampshire (third-safest).

Utah reader: “I’m a native Californian and I left. It’s not just crime. There’s more. In Southern Utah, there’s no traffic, trash, graffiti, gangbangers or homeless tent cities. Oh, and the roads are nicer, too. I never realized how much stress all these things caused until I left. Plus my house is twice the size of my ‘shack’ in SoCal and it was about the same price. So add it all up and it’s simple: Quality of life.”

New Hampshire reader: “There’s considerable peace of mind living here given the crime statistics, but it’s quite a peaceful place to live overall. Part of that is due to the very low population density. Some is due to the bitter cold. People don’t like to commit crimes when it is 5 degrees outside.”

Some folks in my audience questioned the wisdom of the math that help build the overall rankings.

Reader from New England: “Your statement, ‘climate risks are smallest in New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Maine.’ Have you ever even visited these states? Nor’easters, blizzards, hurricanes and lots of flooding are not to be taken lightly. New England winters can be long and brutal. I’ve lived through all of these more than once.”

Me: I’ve visited New England and lived in New York and Pennsylvania. So I’m aware of winter weather’s dangers. Yet it’s scored as manageable by many climate-risk measures.

Reader from Massachusetts: “This tally says the best drivers are in Massachusetts, Minnesota and New York. Massachusetts – and, I suspect New York – have low fatality rates but not because people don’t try. A higher percentage of Massachusetts accidents don’t kill people because there is so much traffic that you can’t get to lethal speeds.”

Me: Congestion does save lives. Auto fatalities jumped during pandemic lockdowns because the lack of traffic encouraged reckless driving.

Other folks saw geographic bias …

Reader: “To place many Southern states as more ‘unsafe’ than California is pure folly. They can still park their car at the airport, they can still leave their doors unlocked and not find a squatter inside when they return, they don’t have homeless addicts overrunning their public spaces, and they can walk safely through their neighborhoods at night. We can’t.”

Me: Southern states even scored poorly on the non-crime half of my gradings. The bottom three were Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama.

And folks noted I skipped the risks of racism in my safety math …

Reader: “Much of one’s feeling of security is the ability to walk around without fear of perceived danger, harassment, discrimination or disrespect based upon race or sexual preference – much more subtle than overt criminal acts. Unless you were writing for an exclusively white audience, you might not realize that one of the first factors minorities check when considering a new city are racial conditions.”

Reader: “One aspect of safety not mentioned but weighs heavily on my mind after reading your article is racism. Chronic exposure to racism adds to significant stress and results in significantly decreased longevity and decreased quality of life.”

Me: Including some measure of cultural acceptance is an idea worth considering in any future safety rankings.

And, finally, a note from someone who twice left California – then came back …

Reader: “No one seems to explore how many return.  I was born in Ohio and moved to California in 1972. Moved to Las Vegas for a few years, then returned. Moved to Nashville, stayed two years, before returning. Our state is far from perfect, but overall, this is the best weather. There are a lot of places to go, and things to do at little or no cost. Yes, the road goes both ways.”

49 STATES: See the full rankings BY CLICKING HERE!

Jonathan Lansner is the business columnist for the Southern California News Group. He can be reached at

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