Numbers don’t always tell whole story

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 27, 2010

You don’t have to be a Buckeye by birth to adore the great state of Ohio. Millions of transplants — just like me — love the region they now call home.

Americans are infamous for having strong state allegiances, a trait that likely dates back to the Revolutionary War.

It is often good-natured fun for residents to give their neighbors playful ribbing about how everything is better across state lines.

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Everyone has heard the jokes. Ohioans can’t drive. Kentuckians don’t wear shoes. West Virginians are all related.

Of course none of those stereotypes are actually true.

But a nonprofit, bipartisan group called The Taxpayers Network takes it upon itself each year to look at dozens of facets of society and government compared from state to state.

The “50 State Comparisons” book always offers some interesting statistical insight into how Ohio stacks up against the other 49 states in the union. Here are a few that jumped out at me:

 Ohio rank’s 33rd in median family income at $60,061.

 The state ranks 21 in percentage of population below the poverty line at 13.2 percent. Lawrence County is higher than that. Kentucky and West Virginia are both at 17.2 percent.

Think taxes are too high here? You may be right. Ohio ranks 7th with a 10.4 percent state and local tax burden on income.

Only 58.5 percent of Ohio households have broadband internet access, ranking 34th. Alaska ranks first with 70.6 percent.

The average income for a state employee in Ohio is $55,617, ranking 7th. Kentucky ranks 22nd at $46,537 and West Virginia 38th at $40,163.

Ohio ingenuity is still shining. The state ranked 11th in 2009 with 2,341 patents issued. Kentucky had 368 and West Virginia 92.

It has long been known that the state’s public school funding system is flawed. The numbers prove that. Ohio ranks 37th in per-pupil spending at $9,015. That is reflected in the fact that the state has a student-teacher ratio of 17-1, ranking 44th in the nation.

But it is encouraging to see the state support higher education, ranking 8th.

The state per capita spending on natural resources, parks and recreation is scary low at $42.06, ranking 49th.

However, the roads are in pretty good shape, ranking 4th in terms of condition.

There is a lot more information there to be had. What does it all mean?

Maybe nothing. Maybe a lot. The bottom line is that it is interesting to have a numerical measure to at least start the discussion of key points.

Anyone who would like to access this data online or get a copy of this 3×5-inch reference book can visit the Web site

Ohio is a great place to live, as is the Tri-State. In fact, our three states combine to form a metropolitan area that has more in common with itself than it does many of the cities in the individual states.

We should all love the area we call home. It is important to understand the similarities, the differences, the strengths, the weaknesses and the way every situation is unique.

That is something that won’t fit into a neat numerical ranking or statistical category.

Michael Caldwell is publisher of The Tribune. To reach him, call (740) 532-1445 ext. 24 or by e-mail at