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Updated: May 9, 2024

Maine loses ground to neighbors in US News annual 'best states' ranking

File photo / PETER VAN ALLEN Maine has so-so numbers in the 2024 U.S. News & World Report Best States rankings.

Maine is middling — and falling behind most of its neighbors — in the newest U.S. News & World Report ranking of the "best" U.S. states.

Vacationland placed No. 28 on the publisher's 2024 annual roster, released Tuesday. That puts Maine just below Tennessee, No. 27, and just above Texas, No. 29.

U.S. News said it based this year's comparison on tens of thousands of data points across 71 criteria. The findings were grouped and indexed in eight categories related to quality of life, including each state's economy, education and health care.

In the overall comparison, Maine comes in exactly where it did in 2023. But this year, the 28th-place showing is the poorest among the six New England states and the second-worst in the Northeast, outranking only Pennsylvania, No. 40.

What's more, all but one of the other New England states scored gains on the U.S. News list this year.

Three are among the country's top 10. New Hampshire ranks No. 2, rising from No. 6 in 2023; Vermont is No. 7, after placing No. 9; Massachusetts is No. 10, inching up from No. 11.

Rhode Island jumped higher on the list than most states, going from No. 32 in 2023 to No. 26 this year. Connecticut, however, fell from No. 16 to No. 20.

Since U.S. News launched its Best States list in 2017, Maine's rank has fluctuated between No. 18 and No. 32.

This year, the No. 1 state in the country is Utah, as it was in 2023. Louisiana repeated as the state with the lowest rank, No. 50.

Unpacking the numbers

The U.S. News results provide bragging rights and useful information for employers, real estate agents and people looking to relocate. The rankings in each category also flag specific strengths and weaknesses of each state.

As in 2023, Maine ranks No. 2 this year in the category of crime and corrections, owing mostly to the state's historically low incidence of crime. And the state fares reasonably well in health care, with a rank of No. 19 after placing No. 25 last year.

Ranks for Maine's economy, fiscal stability, infrastructure and natural environment are almost unchanged since then.

But Maine took a nosedive in the category of education, plummeting from No. 34 last year to No. 43. Within the category, the state ranked No. 39 for pre-K-12 schooling and No. 46 for higher education. The U.S. News data doesn't suggest a reason for the fall.

A bright spot in the Maine results is the category of opportunity, defined by U.S. News as comprising economic opportunity, the affordability of daily living, and equality in pay and employment across demographics. Maine ranks No. 2 in the category, below only Vermont, after placing No. 6 in 2023.

U.S. News noted that the income gap between white and non-white residents was smallest in Maine, with an average of 82 cents in per capita earnings for people of color compared to every dollar for white Mainers.

The publisher also pointed out that the 10 best states are equally divided in political preference. Ahead of November's hotly contested election, five red states and five blue states make up the top 10 in the overall rankings.

About those rankings

U.S. News & World Report calls itself "the global leader in quality rankings" and the publisher is well known for producing annual comparisons of hospitals, colleges, cars and more. The first ranking, of U.S. colleges, appeared in 1983.

Since then, Portland has ranked high in numerous city rankings by U.S. News. Bates, Bowdoin and Colby often show up near the top of the best colleges list.

U.S. News, which began as a newspaper and magazine publisher in 1933, at times has had to correct or defend its lists in response to criticism of their methodologies.

But good or bad, no ranking presents a complete picture, cautions Nate Wildes, executive director of Live + Work in Maine.

"The only ranking Maine needs is the one based in reality," he told Mainebiz recently. "People from around the world want to live here, and Maine employers continue to see positive growth in their ability to attract and retain talent."

For the complete 2024 U.S. News & World Report Best State rankings, click here.

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John Weyrens
May 9, 2024

I've lived all over the US, I would put Maine near the bottom; terrible business environment, low economic opportunity, crappy climate, generally unfriendly and majority obese population. There is a lot not to like.

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