Worst place for heart disease, diabetes, hypertension.
Worst schools and worst teacher pay.
Worst in computer skills, work force preparation for high-tech jobs, basic literacy and potential for business investment.
On and on and on.
Somebody's always out there studying something and odds are whatever it is, we'll be the folks, as Kris Kristofferson famously said, other folks can look down on.
A key distinction needs to be made: While some of our 50th-place finishes result from conditions beyond immediate control, others are strictly by choice and could be reversed almost overnight.
Historically, the state's most-stressed quadrant is the Delta. The vast, flat, fertile farmland stretching from Vicksburg to Memphis is both beautiful and desolate, as are the souls and spirits of many who live there.
For generations, plans and programs have been designed and put into effect to rescue the region from the after-effects of the mechanization of agriculture. To some degree, it's been like bailing the Titanic. With jobs gone and the oppression of racism remaining, there was a great out-migration.
Before casinos, Tunica County, in the shadow of Memphis, was a fixture in the top-10 rankings of poorest counties in America. Issaquena County, at the base of the Delta, has had declining population since about 1950 and, by coincidence, the entire population is about 1,950 today.
There has been and there will be no overnight explosion of development in the Mississippi Delta. Some wonderful people live there and there's a lot more potential for eco-tourism and music heritage tourism. But for numbers-crunchers - those who believe housing starts, high wages and low unemployment are the yardsticks by which quality of life is measured - the Delta will remain an icon of misery. No snap of anyone's fingers is going to change that.
The outlook is not that different for education. As the state that has consistently led America in the number of single-parent families and single parents living in poverty, it is beyond dispute that more children here start out with the odds against them. Some will beat those odds, but numbers indicate the situation is compounding generation-to-generation despite sincere efforts by legions of people and programs.
It's not judgmental. It's factual that a two-parent household has advantages, usually starting with two incomes and followed closely by two people sharing the work and duties of being a parent instead of one person carrying the whole load. If one parent is a bum or is abusive, a child might be better off being raised solo by the one who isn't. The big picture, though, is that Mississippi's public schools won't approach national averages as long as more and more students start out with more and more disadvantages. That doesn't mean efforts to do better are futile. It means those efforts are more important. But to think any one idea or initiative will have a profound or immediate effect is foolhardy.
Now, contrast those "worst" rankings with others.
One was the subject of a recent column. From all indications, Mississippi is the absolute worst place in America when it comes to letting private phone companies exploit the families of people in jail or prisons. That's a choice "leaders" here have made. Reversing it - merely making collect calls from incarcerated folks cost no more than the national average - could be done with the stroke of a pen.
Another is the general topic of openness. Mississippi's open meetings law decrees that the "policy" of the state is be transparent in conducting the public's business. The policy is not the practice of too many individuals, boards and agencies. That could change.
Even obesity. Not to quibble with medical experts who define overeating as an illness or addiction, but even so it is an illness or addiction that can be and has been overcome. When we get our girths under control, we also resolve tons (sorry) of health issues including heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and diabetes. We wouldn't move from worst in those categories to first, but there would be a change.
Also obvious is that there are no fences on our state borders. If all our "worsts" were taken as absolutely valid, we'd all be nuts not to move. That's why rankings are called "indicators," not proof.
As we ponder them, it would seem prudent to separate out the last-place finishes that could easily be remedied from those requiring more work over a longer time. People could then fix what there was a collective will to fix. And, who knows, if we start moving up in some categories, we might find it easier to tackle others.
Charlie Mitchell is executive editor of The Vicksburg Post. Write to him at Box 821668, Vicksburg, MS 39182, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.