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Op-Ed: Quality of Life: Kentucky Edition

by Tanner Willis, Graduate Student at United Nations Institute for Training and Research

Kentucky is used to being highly ranked, whether it comes to basketball, fast horses, or quality bourbon. None of this is new to anyone who understands the spirit and culture of Kentucky. However, some rankings either seem to be overlooked or ignored.

Each year US News ranks states on measures such as healthcare, education, infrastructure, opportunity, fiscal stability, crime and correction, natural environment, and economy. Since 2017, excluding a ranking from 2020, Kentucky has averaged 41 out of 50. This is a ranking most Kentuckians either completely can relate to or do not understand how.

Kentucky ranked poorly in either these categories as a whole or sub-categories, which I believe is “writing on the wall” per se to focus on in the years to come. I will begin with healthcare; Kentucky is ranked 44th overall, but our access to healthcare is in the top 20 in the nation. However, quality and public health are both 46th, making you wonder, is it time to reevaluate our medical quality procedures as a state? Should private hospitals do the same? The quality of anyone’s life begins with their health.

Education is the foundation of our future, which should be second on our priority only behind healthcare. Kentucky ranks 33rd in pre-k to 12th grade and 38th in higher education. According to ZipRecruiter, the average entry-level teacher in Kentucky makes around $15.16 per hour or $31,541. Sofi has the average cost to live in Kentucky at $36,574 a year; hence this might be one of the reasons our education levels are so low. You must pay educators a liveable wage, or they will go elsewhere – and who can blame them?

Though Kentucky is one of the most affordable places to live in the country, ninth overall and third overall in the ability for people to have equal opportunity in giving the opportunity for employment, Kentucky lacks in giving the opportunity to give people the chance to afford to live in this great state. At 45th for economic opportunity, this is a key factor to poverty, lack of education, and healthcare. People who have opportunities to have purpose and meaning will always be better educated and healthier.

Another correlation of this lack of opportunity is the financial stability of the average Kentuckian. For short-term and long-term, Kentucky ranks 47th and 48th, respectively. These rankings are directly related to employment which Kentucky ranks 45th as well, which involves job growth, labor force participation, and low employment rate. If someone does not have the opportunity to support themselves for any period will ultimately find other means, whatever that may be, to provide a better quality of life for themselves and their family.

Though Kentucky does have room to improve, as we all do in life, I don’t want to focus just on the negatives but on the positives as well. Kentucky’s infrastructure was ranked 18th overall, with access to the internet being in the top 20 in the nation. With the recent events of the Covid-19 pandemic, having a strong internet availability was crucial to keeping all our loved ones connected as well as keeping our students and educators able to continue their studies. Transportation was also ranked top 20 coming in at 14th. I believe this is a solid foundation to create the employment and economic opportunities Kentuckians need to improve our quality of life.

The last category I will discuss is what I believe is one that does not get said or appreciated enough: the safety of all our citizens. Our police and correctional officers throughout the state have done a phenomenal job, ranking higher than any other category at 13th overall in crime and corrections. Tensions nationally have been high between law enforcement and civilians, but what they do is tough and takes a special person to do, so from your average Kentuckian, I want to thank you.

In closing, Kentucky has been my home all my life, and all I could ever dream of is to see it further succeed and improve. There will always be improvements, but I believe the state leaders have indications of where their focus should be. This is not a party issue or economic issue but a people issue. Kentuckians deserve the best opportunity, and it begins with the foundation of a good quality of life: healthcare, education, and opportunity.

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