Wyoming by the numbers: A survey of online ‘rankings’

Kerry Drake, WyoFile.com
Posted 6/4/24

Wyoming is the least populated state in the nation, with an average of fewer than six people per square mile. But just because Wyoming represents a small segment of the 5 billion people who use …

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Wyoming by the numbers: A survey of online ‘rankings’


Wyoming is the least populated state in the nation, with an average of fewer than six people per square mile. But just because Wyoming represents a small segment of the 5 billion people who use social media globally, doesn’t mean researchers aren’t tracking what sites we visit, what we buy and how we spend our time.

That easily obtainable information provides governments and corporations with snapshots of who we are at any given time and how we compare to other states.

And like many journalists, I receive lots of emails from groups that rank states in a wide variety of categories. This data often confirms what we tend to believe about Wyoming, but at other times is totally contrary to our state’s self-image and how we want to be perceived.

What is Wyoming really bad at doing, according to analysts who keep track of such things? For the second consecutive year, Consumer Affairs ranks Wyoming as the “least green state” in the country. It identified Vermont — the next least populated state — as the most environmentally friendly in 2024.

Wyoming’s bottom-of-the-barrel ranking shouldn’t surprise anyone who’s watched state officials bash federal efforts to pass and enforce stricter environmental protection laws and regulations. Our state’s automatic response to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to combat climate change is “we’re gonna sue ya!”

Republican Gov. Mark Gordon’s goal to make Wyoming “carbon-negative” received a scathing rebuke from his own party’s leaders and a fossil fuels industry that demands no impediments to corporate profits.

Consumer Affairs estimated Wyoming’s carbon dioxide emissions at more than double the next highest state, West Virginia, its top coal-producing competitor. Wyoming recycles only 6.4% of its waste and landfills a whopping 83.6%, all reasons why the state is ranked the least eco-friendly in the nation.

As the “Equality State” — a motto derived from being the first state to give women the right to vote — one might expect Wyoming to be ranked at, or at least near the top, of any list of the best states for women’s rights.

But according to WalletHub, Wyoming is ranked 39th. It places us at 47th for workplace environment, 45th in education and health, and 18th in women’s political empowerment.

In the last category, I’m surprised Wyoming even ranks that high. Women make up only 21.5% of the Legislature, compared to the national average of 32.7%. We have the eighth-lowest share of female state legislators in the country.

WalletHub’s analysis tracked fairly closely with a 2022 study by U.S. News & World Report, which ranked Wyoming 45th for gender equality.

Working women here face one of the largest gender wage gaps in the country, earning about 78 cents for every dollar a man earns, and are severely underrepresented in management positions. U.S. News noted women who choose to have families face a relatively high maternal mortality rate and limited access to birth control.

Some rankings aren’t surprising, such as ones that spotlight the hazards of driving in Wyoming. MoneyGeek analyzed data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and ranked Wyoming as the seventh worst state for winter driving.

I’ve driven so many miles on Wyoming’s snow-clogged, ice-packed roads — and found myself stranded in enough ditches — I’m amazed we’re not at the top of the list. Which states could possibly be higher?

Michigan earned the top spot, followed by Alaska, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Montana and Illinois. Wyoming is at least improving — last year it was No. 2, only behind Michigan.

But the Badder/Scott injury law firm researched motor vehicle fatalities and ranked Wyoming and Mississippi as the most dangerous states to drive. They both had 27 deaths per 100,000 people. The safest state for driving? Believe it or not, New York.

We know from experience and data that Wyoming’s roads are dangerous. But I’m perplexed by this ranking: according to Cttrialfirm.com, Wyoming has the ninth lowest state safety rating for pedestrians.

We have a small fraction of the people walking the streets compared to Massachusetts, which has a population of 7 million and the No. 1 safety rating for pedestrians. The analysis suggested Wyoming needs to examine its rural road safety and the suitability of our infrastructure to protect pedestrians.

The “State of School Lunch Report” by ProCare Therapy found only two states — Louisiana and Idaho — have less healthy school lunches than Wyoming. In this trio, the participation in Farm to School programs, the National School Lunch Program meals served, and the fruit and vegetable consumption rate were relatively lower than in other states.

Who should Wyoming emulate in cafeteria cuisine? Massachusetts is the winner. As noted above, it would presumably also be the safest state for parents and children to go for a walk together after a healthy lunch before class resumes.

Some “studies” may sound silly, such as one that found Wyoming has the fifth-highest rate of computer users in the U.S. who forget their passwords. How do they know, and even if it’s accurate, what good is such information?

But the methodology makes sense — online privacy experts at EarthWeb used Google analysis software to determine the number of searches by state for keywords like “I forgot my password” and “reset my password.”

As the company noted, the average American juggles 100 passwords for different sites, so tips to prevent being hacked can be valuable. Using your dog’s name may help jog your memory, but that doesn’t make it safe. I liked this suggestion: make passwords a phrase memorable to you but as a code using numbers, letters and symbols. “My Portuguese Water Dog’s name is Bailey and she is 3 years old” becomes “MPWDniBasi3yo!”

I’m hardly a password expert, but who’s going to crack that one?

Reader’s Digest recently identified what it believes all 50 states do best and worst. Its examination of Wyoming wasn’t based on some deep-dive research, but basic numbers. Because we’re the least populated state, of course, we’re the best at avoiding crowds.

It’s important to examine the methodology behind state rankings in any category because some studies will obviously be scientifically better than others. But even for ones where you may question the findings, the lists are usually accompanied by some valid suggestions that may help improve a state’s rating if followed.

Rankings inform, amuse and spark discussions about their accuracy. In Wyoming, our low rank on issues like climate change, gender equality, safer driving and healthier school lunches provides an opportunity for welcome introspection by both policy-makers and the public about our weaknesses.

Let’s not dismiss the results because we don’t like being singled out as among the worst, but use them to do better.


Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake has covered Wyoming for more than four decades, previously as a reporter and editor for the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle and Casper Star-Tribune. He lives in Cheyenne and can be reached at kerry.drake33@yahoo.com.

WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.