Why Colorado Didn't Do Better in U.S. News Best States Ranking

This snowy February shot of the Front Range serves as a preview for what's predicted to be a massive storm set to hit the area.
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This snowy February shot of the Front Range serves as a preview for what's predicted to be a massive storm set to hit the area.
Coloradans know they live in America's best state, and our home regularly finishes high in national surveys. So it's something of a shock that the latest survey of states by U.S. News & World Report places Colorado in sixteenth place, a full seven spots lower than in the publication's 2017 analysis, and six worse than the scores in 2018 and 2019 — the mag's last study before this one.

Granted, there's an arbitrary nature to such rankings, which are wholly dependent on the metrics chosen and the way they're weighted. In this case, U.S. News determined its scale based on the average of responses from surveys in the fall of 2017, the winter of 2018-2019 and the winter of 2020-21 across all fifty states. Overall, the approach is undeniably serious and detailed, using multiple data points in each major category. The result is a credible look at Colorado's strengths and weaknesses.

According to the study's breakdown of Colorado statistics, the state lands in the top ten nationwide for three of the most important categories — economy, education and health care — and scores decent if not outstanding marks when it comes to infrastructure and the natural environment. But its performance in the area of crime and punishment, opportunity and fiscal stability drags Colorado further down the list than many locals might have expected.

Here's an overview of each grouping:

Ranking: 2

Colorado trails only Utah when it comes to the economy, and it's easy to see why. By U.S. News's calculus, Colorado has the best employment market in the country right now, the fourth-best business environment and the fifth-most robust growth. The job growth standard of 3.1 percent is more than double the national average of 1.4 percent, and net migration — the number of people moving here as opposed to those leaving — stands at 0.8 percent, four times higher than the 0.2 percent average of states as a whole.

Ranking: 5

Locals have long taken pride in the importance that Colorado places on education, and this point of emphasis results in top-ten grades in three sub-categories: higher education (fifth place), pre-K (seventh place) and pre-K through twelfth grade (also seventh place). The state's high school graduation rate of 80.8 percent is below the national average of 85.3 percent, but its National Assessment of Educational Progress math score average of 285 is above the national standard of 282. And while the $26,562 average debt upon graduation is still hefty, it's less than the $28,996 with which students across the country are burdened.

Ranking: 10

More of a mixed bag. Colorado is in the national top ten regarding health-care quality (fifth place) and public health (seventh place), but the state drops to 29th for health-care access. Still, the percentage of residents without health insurance is estimated at 10.7 percent, better than the national average of 12.9 percent, and only 2,645 patients per 100,000 are admitted to the hospital for treatment of preventable conditions; the national average is 4,378 per 100,000. Moreover, the average Colorado obesity rate of 23.8 percent is well under the 32.1 percent national average.

Ranking: 15

The state does well in this arena, but falls well short of outstanding. U.S. News puts Colorado in thirteenth place for internet access, seventeenth place in terms of energy, and 21st place for transportation. Renewable energy usage is below the national average — 10.9 percent, compared to 11.2 percent — and while the average commute time of 26.5 minutes is better than the 27.6 minutes most people are traveling to work across America, 22.2 percent of our roads are considered to be in poor condition. Nationally, that figure is 19.9 percent.

Ranking: 23

The environment is of utmost importance to Coloradans, but the report suggests we're not doing a good enough job of preserving it. Colorado is in ninth place when it comes to pollution, owing in part to a measure of industrial toxins that's less than a third the national average. But the state ranks 41st for air and water quality because of so-called "drinking water violation points" that exceed the national average and an estimated 124 days with unhealthy air quality each year — well over the national average of 104 days.

Ranking: 41

This is where Colorado falls off the survey's cliff. The state does well in economic opportunity (tenth place), but is beyond mediocre as measured by affordability (43rd place) and equality, defined as "the ability to achieve equal pay for equal work with peers" (46th place).

Ranking: 41

The two most significant categories here are corrections and public safety; Colorado lands in 30th place and 39th place, respectively. The violent-crime rate of 381 per 100,000 residents is slightly above the national average of 379, and the rate of juvenile incarceration is worse — 110 per 100,000 juveniles, versus the national average of 85.

Ranking: 45

The worst ranking of the batch, and one of the most unexpected given Colorado's economic prowess. The state ranks 42nd in long-term fiscal stability and 46th in short-term fiscal stability, in part because the average person's liquidity is well below the national average.

Click to learn more about the U.S. News Colorado rankings and methodology.