Education, crime and corrections, and healthcare metrics are behind Connecticut's top 20 ranking in a new national index of all 50 states.

Connecticut ranked 12th overall in U.S. News & World Report's "Best States" rankings, with quality of life driving the state's performance.

U.S. News & World Report Best StatesThe report measured states across seven weighted categories—healthcare, education, opportunity, economy, infrastructure, crime and corrections, and government, including 68 metrics within those categories.

Education and healthcare were weighted the heaviest, based on the online news magazine's survey of "what matters most to people about their states."

U.S. News & World Report rated Connecticut fourth for education, eighth in the crime and corrections category, 12th for healthcare, and 15th for opportunity.

Five of the six New England states ranked in the top 20 overall, with Rhode Island at number 21.

Massachusetts Ranks Top

Massachusetts ranked number one overall, rated first for education, second for healthcare, and fifth for the strength of its economy.

New Hampshire, Minnesota, North Dakota, and Washington rounded out the top five. Vermont was 10th and Maine 18th.

Louisiana ranked last, followed by Mississippi, Arkansas, Alabama, and New Mexico.

Connecticut's strong rankings in the quality of life categories were offset by the state's performances in other areas.

The report illustrates the challenge facing state lawmakers. How do we protect our quality of life?
The state's 20th rank in the government category was clouded by results in a number of key subcategories, including ability to balance budgets (50th), fiscal stability (47th), credit rating (43rd), and state employee pension liability (37th).

State lawmakers are currently wrestling with a projected $3.6 billion budget deficit for fiscal 2018 and 2019, with pension and structural spending reforms a key part of the debate.

While the report ranked Connecticut 25th for infrastructure, weak scores for road quality (50th), transportation (47th), and commuting time (37th) undermine long-term economic growth and quality of life.

Economic Concerns

Ranked 38th overall, the economy was Connecticut's weakest category, with poor scores across a range of subcategories, including job growth (45th), GDP growth (43rd), net migration (45th), and entrepreneurship (48th).

Those economic evaluations are no surprise.

The state lost 2,000 jobs in 2016 and has recovered just 70% of the 119,100 jobs lost during the 2008-2010 recession, well below the national average of 182%.

Connecticut experienced strong 3.6% growth in its GDP in the third quarter of 2016. However, the last decade is marked by sluggish growth, with a post-recession peak of 1.2% in 2014 and a modest 0.6% increase the following year.

Last year, Connecticut was one of just eight states that lost population, with a net loss of 29,880—more than twice as many as five years earlier.

And high taxes and fees and government red tape were key elements in the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council ranking Connecticut 43rd in its 2017 Small Business Policy Index.

Critical Challenge

Connecticut has an enviable quality of life. In showcasing that, the U.S. News & World Report rankings also illustrate the critical challenge now facing state lawmakers.

How do we maintain and protect our quality of life?

Connecticut has tremendous economic assets.

For our economy to grow, for businesses to invest and create jobs here, we must make different policy choices.

We must address the issues that limit our strengths and threaten our way of life.

Webster Bank regional vice president Jeff Klaus made that point in a Feb. 27 opinion piece in the Hartford Business Journal.

"For all of the wonderful assets that we enjoy—geography, intellectual capital, a proud tradition of manufacturing, a strong financial-service sector, and accessible and livable small cities—the threat of fiscal insolvency dwarfs all of them," he wrote.

"Our fiscal situation threatens to devalue every single asset that I mentioned."