Garrison Keillor, the folksy humorist one either loves or hates, has a knack for getting under folks’ skin. That’s his thing. Last month one of those people who got annoyed at Mr. Keillor was Bill McBride, who wrote a letter to the editor which was both funny and direct, punching back at Keillor’s barbs about Texas politics. It was interesting to me, as I have lived both places and loved them both. They are different (hot and cold, even), but both are remarkable, beautiful parts of this country — a nation that is stronger for its size and diversity from one end to the other.
One part of Mr. McBride’s letter stuck with me. He ended with this: “Why do people flock to Minnesota? For handouts. Why do people come to Texas? For jobs. I rest my case.”
The problem is this isn’t really true. It turns out there are more jobs in Minnesota and more handouts in Texas, though both boast vibrant, thriving economies.
As of August 2017, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Texas had an unemployment rate of 4.2 percent, ranking it the 28th best in the nation. Minnesota was 13 spots ahead with a rate of only 3.8 percent unemployed. Those Minnesota jobs paid better, too — the median household income here is over $61,000, about $10,000 more than in Texas.
And about those handouts: Let’s look at the reality. It’s easy to compare enrollment rates for one of the most common “handouts,” which is food stamps. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program helps needy families in every state. In fiscal year 2016, only 9 percent of people in Minnesota received this aid. In contrast, 14 percent of Texans received it. There are hungry children everywhere.
Minnesotans do have fewer qualms about providing that aid perhaps. It’s an ethic that permeates the place. My area has a large population of immigrants, including people from Cambodia, plus Somalis who fled the violence in that nation. They came because people of this state welcomed them, led by the Lutheran churches. For many of us, it’s a fulfillment of the biblical calling to “welcome the stranger.” That’s not a bad thing. Those immigrant groups have brought a new energy to the state, just as many immigrants have done in Texas cities from Houston to El Paso.
Yes, we do pay higher taxes here. There is a state income tax, for one thing, and that’s something I noticed right away when I moved to Minnesota from Waco in 2010. More of my paycheck was gone and nobody likes that. But, and this is important, we also get a lot for that money. U.S. News actually ranks states by educational quality. Minnesota is No. 11. Texas is 30 places behind at No. 41.
Beyond raw rankings, though, there is an educational process here — made possible by those taxes and an unusual level of state funding for schools — that most people would associate with Republican ideology: a vigorous program of school choice. However, instead of creating private schools to create that choice, Minnesota does it with public schools. In short, if you don’t like the public school your kid is at, you can enroll him in another one in a different school district. I live in Edina, an affluent suburb next to Minneapolis. Edina public schools are top-notch, among the best in the country. However, many of the students who attend our schools live in other districts, including Minneapolis. We welcome them. The schools are still great, even with that influx. Some of us would argue our schools are better for the mix of people that open enrollment brings into the classrooms, adding perspectives that might not otherwise be heard.
Oh, and we were all-in for Obamacare. I’m sure many Central Texans disagree with that choice, and Texas took a different path. It hasn’t been a disaster here, though. Headline in the Minneapolis paper a week ago about the consequences of embracing the Affordable Care Act: “Stable, dropping insurance rates on tap for Minnesota.” It’s a good thing to see.
My point isn’t that Minnesota is “better” than Texas. That would be a silly claim, given the states are so different. And let’s be honest: the real problem for most people with Minnesota has nothing to do with jobs and handouts; it’s about cold and snow. That’s not for everyone.
And in that there is a point of connection between Texas and Minnesota, already linked by busy Interstate 35. To thrive in either place, you have to love it the way it is, with the heat or the cold. Texans and Minnesotans both love the outdoors, too, and revel in it all year.
This is a great country, from one side to the other, up and down. I’m glad there is a Texas, just as it is, and I’m glad for this place, too. In a world that is too often against us, we need each other, hot and cold alike.