The Capital Region: Not so hard?

nyt upshot hardest places to liveA few people sent this along: The New York Times recently published a ranking of counties based on the "hardest" places to live (there's an interactive map there). It was connected to an article about a county in Kentucky, "which by several measures is the hardest place in America to live."

The Capital Region core fares relatively well, which is to say the were ranked closer to the "doing better" end of the spectrum as opposed to the "doing worse" end. All four counties were ranked in roughly the top quarter of all counties nationwide. Saratoga County did especially well, landing within the top 5 percent.

How the rankings were calculated:

The Upshot came to this conclusion by looking at six data points for each county in the United States: education (percentage of residents with at least a bachelor's degree), median household income, unemployment rate, disability rate, life expectancy and obesity. We then averaged each county's relative rank in these categories to create an overall ranking.

Of course any ranking like this is based on assumptions and point of view. The NYT ranking doesn't take housing prices into account, for example. Or traffic. Or tolerance for a variety of people. Or other aspects people might regard as being related to a place being "hard" to live in. And there's the issue of "hard" or "easy" for whom? A person who grew up in that place and social connections? Does it also apply to someone who moves in and has no pre-existing network of support?

If you take a look at the national map over at the NYT site, many rural areas in the midwest and south did not fare well in the ranking, and the NYT article highlights that angle (along with the question of why people don't move). Chad Orzel -- a physicist/author at Union College who grew up near Binghamton -- picked up on that aspect of the story last week, touching on the urban/rural split in this country and even how the dynamic can affect perceptions of an issue like fracking in the Southern Tier. A clip:

So, while I agree that the Times piece correctly identifies one of the issues at the heart of this, I don't think they've really grasped the full dimensions of the issue. Particularly in small communities, people aren't just isolated units, but are bound into a whole web of interactions that go beyond the readily measurable economic factors (which is not to say that they couldn't be measured, just that it's not as straightforward as comparing salaries). And given the background you need to have to end up writing for a major national media outlet, or working on government poverty policy, there's a systematic bias that prevents this from being fully grasped and incorporated into the discussion.

(Thanks, John and Karen!)

Earlier on AOA: Where people moved to/from when moving from/to the Capital Region

map clip: The Upshot NYT


The blog Daily Yonder had a post about that eastern Kentucky piece, taking the New York Times to task for having a bias against rural America.

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