Got Freedom? Ranking Shows Nebraska Could Use Some More
Over the last couple of months, the Platte Institute has been studying how other states remove policy barriers to economic growth, and comparing Nebraska’s current policies to its key economic competitors.
Meanwhile, the libertarian Cato Institute has published their own comparisons: Freedom in the 50 States, which ranks states by how their public policies impact the personal and economic freedoms of their citizens. This is the fourth edition of the ranking, which was previously published by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.
According to the study, New Hampshire has the most overall freedom in the country, knocking Alaska to 2nd place over the last time the ranking was taken in 2012. California and New York come in last for freedom at 49th and 50th, respectively.
Nebraska ranked 25th overall, a drop of 7 places from the last index. All of Nebraska’s neighboring states and all but one of the five comparison states from the Removing Barriers in Nebraska series outrank Nebraska in this freedom index, with most of them ranking within the top 15. Texas was the sole exception, which outranked us in fiscal policy, but had lower rankings for personal freedom and regulation.
(States trending dark blue are ranked less free, light blue and orange, more free. See the whole ranking here.)
The Fiscal Freedom ranking, which includes taxes, government employment, and spending, ranked Nebraska 32nd, a drop of 3 places from 2012. This low ranking was mitigated somewhat by Nebraska’s strong 8th place ranking in overall regulation. However, when combining these factors into the index’s total Economic Freedom ranking, Nebraska still ranked 23rd. The average of the rankings of Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, South Dakota, Texas, and Wyoming is 12.
One area in which Nebraska ranked below all of our rivals and neighbors on the Cato ranking — in some cases dramatically — is Education Freedom. Nebraska ranked 45th. This ranking measures requirements and restrictions for private and homeschools, and also took into account that Nebraska doesn’t have any school choice programs. Arizona and Florida, two of our rivals in the Removing Barriers series, are national leaders in Education Freedom, ranking first and third.
Nebraska’s Health Insurance Freedom ranks 40th, which measures state-level mandates and health insurance regulations. Texas is at the bottom of the rankings for health insurance while Iowa, South Dakota, and Wyoming ranked in the top ten.
Bringing all of these figures full-circle, Freedom in the 50 States evaluates how people seek out freedom by measuring net domestic migration rates. Cato says migration is one of the best indicators of the growth of a state’s economy, and in Nebraska’s case, the growth rate is negative.
The study found that Nebraska’s net domestic migration rate was negative 2.6 percent, meaning from 2000 to 2014, more people left Nebraska than entered from other states. It should be noted that these U.S. Census Bureau figures reflect domestic migration only, and not total population. Like almost all of the country, Nebraska’s population is still growing when factoring in international immigration and people starting families.
Out-migration is considered a fact of life by many in the Plains States, and it’s true that Iowa, Kansas, and Nebraska all saw negative domestic migration since 2000. But other states in the region fared better. South Dakota posted a gain of 2.5 percent, while Wyoming gained 5.7 percent, and Colorado attracted 7.9 percent net domestic migration.
The average domestic migration rate of our neighbors (excluding Missouri, for which data was not available) was 2.06 percent. When adding the states from the Removing Barriers in Nebraska series, that figure jumps to 5.35 percent.
When debating why people choose to live in a specific place, oversimplification can run rampant. Without a doubt, policy can’t answer every question of why people do what they do. But Cato’s ranking shows the freedoms and opportunities people enjoy contribute to their ability to make those choices in their lives.