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Analysis | The states that produce the most creative types, and more!


Angela Lansbury celebrates the 100th episode of “Murder She Wrote” in 1989. Her character in the popular TV series was a writer and sleuth in fictional Cabot Cove, Maine. (Douglas Pizac/AP)

D.C. poet and literary historian Kim Roberts asked which states have the most writers and visual artists, a query that summons thoughts of the romantic, turquoise-tinged, high-desert art colonies of Taos, N.M. Or, for some of us, no-less-romantic images of Angela Lansbury cozily writing murder mysteries in Midcoast Maine.

And for once, our premonitions — and our prime-time TV shows — have gotten it mostly right!

Maine ranks among the top 10 states for working writers and authors. And New Mexico ranks in the top five for visual artists such as painters, sculptors, craft artists and printmakers, according to our analysis of Census Bureau data from the past decade.

The top state on both lists is none other than Vermont, which we reckon is pretty much what you’d get if you crossed artistic Taos with the less real but much more murderous town of Cabot Cove, Maine.

Montana, New York, New Mexico and California also rank near the top for artists, mixing the coastal urban hubs with the classic Vermont model of bucolic inspiration — and by inspiration, we mean what used to be lower cost of living (before the pandemic). Authors are similar, with New York, Oregon and California filling out the top five.

However, the real winner in the creative derby isn’t a state at all. The District of Columbia doubles any state in terms of authors per worker and ranks fifth in visual artists — though, as one of the youngest and least-White places in the country, it probably couldn’t resemble Vermont any less.

But after digging deeper into the data, we hesitate to compare the District’s writers to their state-bound peers. Writers in D.C. appear to be a more career-focused set; they’re more likely than their art-colony rivals to be found in outside industries such as membership organizations or public relations. (These stats also don’t include people who write, draw or paint but also identify with another occupation, such as reporter, designer or house painter — and D.C. has plenty of those, too!)

If we focus on independent artists — writers and artists who say they’re either in publishing or outside of any defined industry — D.C. remains on top. But that little data clarification clamps shut the yawning gulf between D.C. and the rest.

Why do Vermont and D.C. stand out? Reader J. Gray of Seattle wrote in with a possible explanation: She theorizes that some places are breeding grounds for artists because of innate characteristics, such as climate. In Seattle, for example, they say it has something to do with all the rain. Is there data to support that idea?

Inspired question, J. Gray! And it turns out that D.C. does indeed give birth to more working writers than any state, adjusting for the size of the native workforce, perhaps due in part to the abundance of professional writing opportunities folks in the District grow up with.

New York produces almost as many writers as D.C. It also happens to share a long border and a long lake with the erstwhile Republic of Vermont. Many of those writers have found their way across the state line. And even without the New York imports, Vermont gives birth to more visual artists than any other state.

As J. guessed, the states where writers grow up tend to set themselves apart in a few key ways. In particular, folks in those states tend to have higher incomes and more advanced degrees. And, like many states sharing those characteristics, they cluster along the East and West coasts. Visual artists are spread more evenly, and less predictably, among the states.

For the record, the average rainfall in your birth state does not seem to dictate your future creative career, but our analysis was limited. America supports so few working writers and artists that we can’t explore their origins much beyond the state level — which, in the case of Washington, means writers from Seattle and the wet west get lumped into the same pot with those from the state’s arid east.

Weather determinism isn’t quite dead: We saw signs that states with lower average heat indexes spawned more visual artists. But that faint signal is easily drowned out by stronger associations with education and economics.

America’s most influential laws

Last year, when the Department of Data was in its infancy, we published a list of American heroes most commonly memorialized with statues. But we committed a cardinal and deeply embarrassing sin of journalism by misspelling a key word in the headline. So we appeared to be beckoning readers to a column about the “most common statutes.”

Take note of the third T. We certainly didn’t!

Longtime friend of the column Bradley Levin, who trained as a lawyer before following his dream to become a mid-level human resources manager, said he was sorely disappointed when he clicked the link and found a piece about Abraham Lincoln and Revolutionary War general Casimir Pulaski. His hopes of reading about 28 U.S. Code Section 1915 were cruelly dashed. (As you are no doubt aware, 28 U.S. Code Section 1915 governs “Proceedings in forma pauperis” — or who can file a case without paying court fees.)

Well, Bradley, your day has come! When we reached out to the legal data legends at LexisNexis, now a division of British information behemoth Relx, they very gently pointed out that the notion that one could compile a list of “most common statutes” was nonsense. However, they suggested that a search for the most commonly cited statutes in judicial opinions could produce a perfectly legitimate data set.

LexisNexis’s Shepard’s Citations Service tracks citations in more than 33 million opinions issued by courts at every level — local, state and federal — going all the way back to the late 17th century. Principal product manager Huiling Chen and her colleague Dave Collins were kind enough to total up all the times judges have cited federal statutes and constitutional amendments for us.

It turns out that counting citations gives us a pretty decent idea which U.S. laws have the most influence on our legal system. Most are not the high-minded, American-democracy-would-cease-to-exist-if-not-for-my-favorite-amendment kind of laws. Instead, many top statutes govern the functioning of the court system itself, offering a window onto the lunch-pail, nuts-and-bolts, workmanlike laws that grease the wheels of a (mostly) stable and functioning society.

But the single-most-cited statute — civil action for deprivation of rights (42 U.S.C. Section 1983, of course!) — is a legitimate headliner. The law has been cited nearly 860,000 times, including in the lawsuit filed by George Floyd’s family against the city of Minneapolis and the police officers convicted in his murder.

The statute says that if a representative of a state or local government violates rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, federal courts can hear your case against the violators. In Floyd’s case, his family sought to hold local officials to account for violating his right to be free from excessive force, which is guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment.

The Fourth is, appropriately enough, the fourth most-cited constitutional amendment. (Amendments are not technically statutes, of course. Amending the U.S. Constitution requires approval of Congress and legislatures in three-fourths of the 50 states — or a constitutional convention. Statutes are mere laws churned out regularly by Congress or just one of those state legislatures.)

Among amendments, the all-time champion is the 14th, which was ratified in the years after the Civil War. The 14th Amendment granted citizenship to all persons “born or naturalized in the United States,” including formerly enslaved people, and guaranteed all citizens “equal protection under the laws,” forcing the states to abide by the provisions of the Constitution’s Bill of Rights.

Judges have cited the 14th Amendment half a million times — more than all but two federal statutes.

Doctors, again, and where they’re from

Your doctor probably came from someplace else. In any state, typically just a quarter of doctors were born there. And local doctors do not constitute a majority in any state — though Nebraska, at 45 percent local doctors, comes the closest.

That kind of mobility is unusual, but so is everything else about the bizarre job market for U.S. doctors. And it raises an obvious question: Where do all those border-busting doctors come from?

We dove into this data in part because it appears to be Physician Phortnight here at the Department of Data, but mostly because reader Ram Rao in Portland wrote to ask where U.S. doctors come from.

If we were purveyors of short, stereotype-serving answers, we’d stop at New York. The Empire State spawns more U.S. physicians than anywhere else in the world, according to our analysis of Census Bureau data. And it’s not purely a population advantage: New York gave birth to more future doctors, pound-for-pound, than any other state. Only D.C. beats the state on a per capita basis.

Two much more populous places — California and the sovereign nation of India — just about tie for second, with the Golden State eking out a small advantage.

Most states are their own biggest source of doctors. Exceptions include Alaska and Nevada (which get a plurality of practitioners from California) and much of New England and D.C., which get their doctors from New York. We’re looking here at the doctor’s residence, not their place of practice, so all those New York doctors who moved to Connecticut may well commute back across the Byram River to work in the Big Apple (a Day).

New York-born doctors are the biggest out-of-state contingent in 18 states and D.C., while Californians predominate in 10 states. Illinois doctors rule five mostly neighboring states.

In all cases, we compare the number of employed doctors ages 30 to 65 to a state’s overall 30-to-65 population, since it doesn’t seem fair to include folks who are either retired or too young to have completed residency.

If we broaden our search to include the 29 percent of U.S. doctors born abroad, then India elbows its competitors out of a good chunk of the Rust Belt Midwest and South to become the top doctor supplier in 11 states.

Of course, India is the largest foreign source of doctors in part because it’s such a huge source of immigrants overall. Relative to the total immigrant population in the United States, Syrians, Pakistanis, Egyptians and Lebanese are all more likely than Indians to be U.S. doctors. Iranians also come close.

But those groups have such small first-generation communities in America that Indian doctors outnumber all of them combined, more than twice over.

Howdy! The Department of Data curates quantitative queries. What do you wonder about: What are the most popular sweeteners? Which federal medals and honors are most awarded, and who gets them? Where are used cars cheapest? Just ask!

If your question inspires a column, we’ll send an official Department of Data button and ID card. This week’s buttons go to Ram Rao, Bradley Levin, Kim Roberts and J. Gray. Meanwhile, we offer buttons, a hoodie and a huge apology to loyal print reader and Maryland data analyst Forrest Fisanich, who should have been included among our Anniversary Quiz winners a few weeks back.

POST AUTHOR: Andrew Van Dam

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