Montgomery

Here’s a project for an agency dedicated to economic development and shared prosperity.

Rank all 50 U.S. states by measuring nine data sets: health, safety, housing, access to broadband, civic engagement, education, jobs, environment and income.

Makes sense, right? Each entry is a reliable indicator of what we might call the good life. People need a good job, an adequate salary, a comfortable home, good schools, easy and reliable online access, low crime, clean air and water and quality health care. Put all that together and chances are residents of these communities will be civically active. They will value their high standard of living and work to not let it slip away.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development recently released the results of just such an analysis.

Alabama was in its customary position — near the bottom.

Only Mississippi scored worse than Alabama, which was tied for next-to-last with Arkansas. With the exception of Virginia, the rest of the South was in the bottom half of the rankings.

The best states were in the Northeast and Midwest. New Hampshire scored highest, followed by Minnesota, Vermont and Iowa.

By now, such results are hardly a revelation to us in Alabama. In fact, the news would be if Alabama and its Southern neighbors were on the successful side of these rankings.

What strikes us is that Alabama’s shortcomings in those nine categories — health, safety, housing, access to broadband, civic engagement, education, jobs, environment and income — are mostly self-inflicted.

We are a state rich in natural resources. From the mountains in the north to the beautiful beaches in the south, Alabama offers a great variety of places to live and work. Our residents are hard-workers.

Yet, just as those quality-of-life indicators can be reinforced to the good, they can also create a downward pull that keeps a state like Alabama from rising from the bottom.

In fact, listen closely to most Alabama politicians and you’ll hear them bragging that while they wish for improvement, they won’t put any real effort into it. Nope, they’d rather play the role of proud Alabama conservative who is unwilling to embrace progress that would vastly improve the lives of Alabamians. It’s what these lousy politicians are conserving that troubles many Alabamians.

The good news is that Alabama is not eternally damned to poor quality-of-life indicators. We can reverse course. We can put a priority on quality public schools. We can tell our politicians to do more than talk about good schools; we can and should demand action, from them and ourselves.

We can put the same emphasis on our environment, our public-safety operations, our access to quality health care and so on. That’s how Alabama lifts itself from the bottom.