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Dana James: State rankings lists are out once again. Here’s where Iowa (actually) stands.


Des Moines Register reporter Andrea Sahouri tells the story of her arrest while on the stand, March 10, 2021. — Jordan Sellergren/Little Village

Here we go again. Yet another news company propped Iowa up on a pedestal. Iowa fell a bit this year on the 2022 annual rankings by CNBC, but still ranked No. 12 on a list of America’s best states for business and No. 10 on a list of America’s best states to live.

You’ll find rankings like these prominently displayed on the websites of the Greater Des Moines Partnership, Iowa Economic Development and Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds.

CNBC recently published its latest rankings, scoring all 50 states on 88 metrics in 10 categories, including workforce, life, health and inclusion and eight others. According to its methodology, most states prioritized the word “workforce” in their economic development literature, so the workforce category carried the most weight in the rankings. States received a letter grade on each category. The rankings, in its 15th year, also used federal data to measure state performance.

“Our Top States study considers life, health and inclusion, as the nation struggles to move past the pandemic and states and companies grapple with culture wars,” CNBC explained.

CNBC’s rankings seem to say: Move here, have a family, start a new business—Iowa is great.

People like rankings, even if they are somewhat meaningless and, to me, irksome. Reynolds used to cite rankings like these during her 2018 campaign, when she endlessly cited U.S. News and World Report ranking Iowa No. 1 on its Best States list.

Vermont earned the top spot to live this year for ease of voting, among other indicators, according to CNBC. And North Carolina garnered the top spot for business, because of its economy and innovation, according to the rankings.

“For one thing, state leaders kept managing to put aside their very deep political divisions to boost business and the economy,” CNBC noted.

Iowa’s political divisions appear to be deepening, not receding, with some Black Iowa Democratic legislators having publicly lamented not being able to get their priorities passed in a state where the Republican party controls the governorship and both chambers of the legislature.

The Hawkeye state has its appeal, but it’s lacking for many Black, Indigenous people of color (BIPOC) and others who belong to marginalized groups. The needs of these Iowans often come last or go unmet.

When I see rankings like CNBC’s heralding Iowa’s greatness, it’s difficult to equate it with the Iowa I know that appears to be increasingly polarized and segregated. Iowa is hardly a bastion of inclusivity. It’s a place where 25 percent of the prison population is comprised of Black people. It’s a state where activists have worked for years to ban racial profiling by police, but for a second year, nothing was passed by legislators.

Iowa is a state where a handful of legislators still work to gain passage of the CROWN Act, so the hairstyles worn by Blacks won’t make them targets of discrimination at school, work and in their daily lives.

Iowa is also a place where some Black legislators jointly led a push to strengthen Iowa’s hate crime laws this year, after “shameful acts of bias,” like when a Michael Williams, a Black man in Grinnell, was murdered in 2020 by a white man (a heinous act many Blacks, including Williams’ family, consider a “lynching,” which is not legally recognized as a hate crime in Iowa).

Iowa City Community School District students and supporters hold a walk-out protest at the Pentacrest and march through the streets of downtown on Friday, Nov. 19, 2021, in Iowa City, Iowa. Students protested racism within the district and what they consider the failure of schools and district administration to address it. — Adria Carpenter/Little Village.

Iowa is a place where Black reporters have faced increased hostility online and while out covering stories in Iowa communities (which led, in part, to the creation of the Iowa Association of Black Journalists, of which I am vice president).

The Iowa Secretary of State’s office saw the highest number of new businesses created in state history during 2022, but will Iowa’s quality-of-life issues make it difficult to sustain those businesses? Issues like parents embroiled in fights this year over face masks and school curriculum. Fights over books are important. If parents don’t want their children to learn from books written by Black and LGBTQ authors, they probably don’t want them to live next door, either. Nor work with them. Or advocate for or vote for laws that benefit marginalized people.

CNBC gave Iowa a “B” for “Life, Health and Inclusion.” You probably don’t have to be a BIPOC or have mental or physical disabilities to see why that doesn’t quite add up.

Dana James is founder of Black Iowa News, which publishes on Meta’s Bulletin platform and is distributed as an email newsletter. The lifelong Iowan is vice president of the Iowa Association of Black Journalists. Black Iowa News is a partner in the Inclusivi-Tea podcast about sustainability, inclusion and equity. This article was originally published in Little Village Central Iowa issue 005.


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