Fatherly

WalletHub

New Map Lists the “Safest” States In the US. But Does It Really?

Let's take a hard look at the WalletHub data.

By
Jun 03 2020, 10:01 AM

Deciding where to settle down with your family is a tough decision. For most, being content with what you have is a smart move, but sometimes, it’s also a good idea to make a change if you and your family aren’t happy with where you are. But how can you choose where to live? Invariably, families turn to data and statistics, but what does that data really mean? And should you go all-in on that data?

A new study just published by WalletHub ranks all 50 states, from most-safe to least-safe. This is what it sounds like: WalletHub gathered a bunch of data on violent crime, economic hardship, and other metrics, and created a system that weighs various factors to come up with a “score,” for each state. The “safety” ranking is the most eye-catching, of course, but in fairness, WalletHub also listed financial safety right alongside physical safety. In other words, if you read between the lines a little — and you buy into their methodology — this ranking reveals that physical safety and financial safety are, seemingly, rarely on even-footing, state-by-state.

For example, the “safest” state on this list — using the “Personal and Residential Safety” metric — according to Wallet Hub’s metrics, is Maine. However, Maine ranks 20th for “Financial Safety,” and 22nd for “Workplace Safety.” (Full disclosure, I’m a former New Yorker who has lived in Maine since 2018. The idea that Maine is less-than-stable in terms of job opportunities feels correct to me; the rest, I’m not so sure.)

Source: WalletHub

So, how seriously can we take this list? If we just focus on personal safety, here’s how Wallet Hub says they arrived at their data: They analyzed really scary stuff — Presence of Terrorist Attacks, Number of Mass Shootings, Murders & Non-Negligent Manslaughters per Capita, Forcible Rapes per Capita, Sex Offenders per Capita — and assigned that data the majority of the weighted points that allowed for this data to be gathered.

This approach seems sensible at a glance, but there’s a lot of issues when you start asking questions. For example, how are “forcible” rapes defined; or to put it another way, were other “kinds” of rape not tallied? Sex Offenders per Capita is another tricky one — as many parents know, trying to find reliable data on sex offenders in or around your neighborhood is very difficult, making Wallet Hub’s silver bullet on this data a little confusing. Finally, the idea that “Presence of Terrorist Attacks” was given extra weight makes all of this data very possibly misleading. Right now, in 2020, the idea that non-American terrorists would target Vermont (second “safest” state on the list) over, say New York City, feels unlikely But why?. Prior to 2001, it’s not like anyone writing for a consumer-based publication (like Wallet Hub) considered the possibility of terrorism (domestic or otherwise) to be something that could be accurately predicted.

Furthermore, some states listed among the “safest” also have huge portions of the population who might be dealing with so-called “victimless” crimes; I.E. drug abuse. Case-in-point: If you head over to drugabuse.gov, you’ll find a startling fact: several of WalletHub’s top-ten so-called “safest states,” including Maine and Massachusetts also lead the country in opioid-related deaths by a fairly wide margin. So, you gotta ask yourself this question: How can states that are in the top-ten “safest” also be in the top-ten for opioid-related deaths? How are we really defining safety?

WalletHub’s data is interesting, to be sure. But, it should be no means be taken as concrete fact. What this report seems focused on is analyzing the kinds of data that most families  — let’s be honest, that’s the target demographic here, families — are afraid of. There’s very little nuance to the concept of “safety,” and, relevantly, all the data was gathered fairly recently. Between the growing threats of police brutality and ongoing uncertainties of COVID-19, assuming data based on the recent past as full-on gospel is probably unwise. This data doesn’t seem designed to mislead, but that doesn’t mean the way it has weighted various factors is remotely a reflection of reality.

You can read more of Wallet Hub’s study here and make up your own mind.