Governors, economic development offices and tourism agencies will seize on anything -- any statistic -- to set them apart from their competitors. And every time the government publishes statistics, someone has to be first. So let's hand out some 2013 bragging rights for states.
An important caveat: Of the hundreds of statistics out there, we chose eight that paint a good picture of various aspects of life. This list isn't meant to be comprehensive, and it's not meant to be a statement on policy. But it gives a good glance at which states are on winning streaks.
Based on statistics published by various government agencies and compiled by several outside groups, these nine states, and one District, take the prize for the best of 2013:
Fastest job growth
If any state thrived during the great recession, it was North Dakota. The continued development in the western third of the state, fueled by growth in the Bakken oil field, meant North Dakota's unemployment rate was sinking even as the rest of the country's was growing.
That growth continued this year. As of November 2012, there were 437,000 jobs in North Dakota. As of November 2013, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the state had 455,000 jobs -- a 4 percent increase over the past year.
Seven other states -- Texas, Florida, Idaho, Georgia, Oregon, Utah and Indiana -- saw the number of jobs in their states increase by more than 2 percentage points over the past year. Texas and California each added more than 200,000 jobs during the year.
Alaska was the only state that lost jobs this year: about 4,000. Puerto Rico had it roughest: the number of jobs available there tanked by more than 4 percentage points.
Fastest-sinking unemployment rate
In November 2012, North Carolina's unemployment rate stood at 9.4 percent. Now, the Bureau of Labor Statistics says the Tar Heel State's unemployment rate is at 7.4 percent. That two-point drop was the steepest decline of any state year over year.
New Jersey, Florida and South Carolina all saw their unemployment rates drop by more than 1.5 percentage points. California, West Virginia, Colorado, Indiana, Oregon, Georgia, Nevada, Rhode Island and Utah's unemployment rates all fell by more than a point.
Bad news for Arkansas, Louisiana and the District of Columbia: The unemployment rate in November 2013 was actually higher -- though only slightly -- than it was in November 2012.
Workers in the District of Columbia saw their hourly wages rise faster than any of the 50 states over the past year. The Bureau of Economic Analysis reported average hourly earnings jumped by 5.53 percent between the third quarter of 2012 and the third quarter of 2013. Colorado workers did best among the states, notching a 5.25 percent increase in hourly wages.
North Dakota workers saw their average weekly paychecks rise the most (Again, credit goes to the oil and gas industry). Average weekly earnings in North Dakota grew by 7.03 percent last year, edging weekly wages in the District of Columbia, which rose by 6.12 percent.
Weekly wages grew by more than 5 percentage points in West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts.
Hourly wages fell in North Carolina, Alabama, Maine, Delaware and Connecticut. Weekly wages stayed even in Hawaii and fell in Tennessee, Alabama, Oklahoma, Wyoming, Nevada, Maine, Delaware and Connecticut.
Fastest-rebounding tax collections
State income, sales and corporate tax revenues can indicate a rebounding economy -- the more money coming in, the higher the tax collections. New Mexico economists project a 6.86 percent increase in tax revenue collections between fiscal years 2013 and 2014, the highest in the nation.
New Jersey and Alaska also expect revenue growth of more than 6 percent (Alaska changed its oil extraction tax structure this year, meaning the state will rely more on corporate taxes than it has in previous years).
Fourteen states expect their personal income, sales and corporate tax revenues to fall over the next fiscal year, in some cases because of tax cuts passed by legislatures earlier this year. North Dakota, which is transferring its tax burden to oil and gas industries (sensing a theme on North Dakota yet?), expects its revenue from income, sales and corporate taxes to drop by nearly 11 percent next year; personal income tax revenue in North Dakota is expected to drop by more than half, from $1.3 billion to $616 million, according to the National Association of State Budget Officials.
Most frugal states
During the recession, most states had to rely on their rainy day funds to get them through difficult times. Now, as tax revenue rebounds, states are rebuilding those savings -- and in many cases building bigger cushions than they had before.
Texas was most aggressive in rebuilding its rainy day fund this year. The state set aside more than $3.4 billion between fiscal year 2012 and 2013. California, which spent most of the great recession slashing government services to the core, set aside $2.4 billion for the next rainy day. And Florida and Ohio saved almost $1 billion.
Extraction taxes give resource-heavy states a little more breathing room. Alaska and North Dakota both saw their rainy day funds decline sharply, by $2 billion and $1.1 billion respectively. But they're still in good shape: The Pew Charitable Trusts' project on State Fiscal Health estimates Alaska's reserve funds are sufficient to keep the state operating for 775 days, while the $524 million North Dakota still has on hand means the state could function for 89 days on its own.
Fastest-rebounding housing market
It's good to be a homebuilder in New Jersey and West Virginia. The Census Bureau and the National Association of Homebuilders report both states have seen a 42 percent jump in building permits for single-family dwellings between 2012 and 2013.
Georgia, California and Florida, three states hit hard by the bursting housing bubble, will see big new housing booms; building permits in all three states have jumped by more than 35 percent.
Vermont and New Mexico are still seeing the number of single-family housing permits decreasing year over year. But every other state is seeing renewed growth in the market.
States getting safer
What if the crime-fighting main characters in "Hawaii 5-0" went out of business? Hawaii's crime rate has plunged by 25 percent since 2007, according to FBI data compiled by the Pew Charitable Trusts. And Sin City is getting a lot less sinful: Nevada's crime rate is down by the same margin.
Since 2007, the FBI reported crime rates declining by more than 20 percentage points in Florida, Maryland, Arizona and Wyoming. In fact, the crime rate has dropped by more than 10 percentage points in 35 states.
The crime rate has increased in only five states since 2007, the FBI said. The situation is getting worse in New Hampshire, where the rate is up 17 points in the last five years, and South Dakota, where crime is up 20 points over the same period.
So, congratulations to top officials in Colorado, North Dakota, North Carolina, New Mexico, New Jersey, West Virginia, Texas, Hawaii, Nevada and the District of Columbia: You won 2013, in some form or another.
By Reid Wilson
The Washington Post