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Maryland’s Misconception: More Than Just ‘The Wire’

Photo of Baltimore, Maryland, skyline with half in color and the other half in grayscale. Type on the image that reads Maryland's Misconceptions.

Despite being the seventh state in the union and one of the original 13 colonies, Maryland is not one of the states that immediately comes to mind when considering the U.S. Even so, Maryland has a solid reputation for having the best crab cakes, a rich Revolutionary War history and some storied sports teams over the years.

“The Wire,” one of the hottest crime dramas in the early 2000s, was set in Baltimore, and people often think of the TV show when they hear Maryland.

Maryland has much more to offer than those talking points. It has natural beauty for days, with some of the most underrated beaches on the East Coast and territory stretching west into the Appalachians.

Maryland is also one of the best states in the U.S. for access to health care, per capita income, environmental friendliness and adults with higher education degrees.

We get it. It’s easy to overlook Maryland, and you shouldn’t feel too guilty if you’ve slept on it until this point. You wouldn’t be the only one, and we have the stats to prove it.

Simply put, people’s perception of Maryland is all wrong.

This infographic scorecard, titled, Maryland has a Perception Problem,” compares PlayUSA survey results with the rankings of seven states in seven categories.

Comparing Maryland to six other states

Maryland has nearly 6.2 million residents as of the 2020 census, making it the 18th-most populated state in the U.S. A recent survey asked 1,200 participants how they felt it stacked up against other states with populations nearing or exceeding 10 million.

  • California (39.5 million)
  • Florida (21.5 million)
  • New York (20.2 million)
  • Pennsylvania (13 million)
  • Michigan (10 million)
  • New Jersey (9.3 million)

Each state above has metropolitan areas with larger populations than Maryland’s largest city, Baltimore. Of course, this is another reason Maryland might fly under the radar and fail to receive the credit it deserves.

The survey asked participants to rank each state, best through worst, in various categories.

Maryland ranked near the bottom in most categories. However, we found seven categories where the statistics showed it was better than the common perception. The categories used for this comparison are:

  • Favorable economic conditions
  • Health care
  • Per capita income
  • Racial equality
  • Higher education rates
  • Crime
  • Environmental friendliness

Maryland benefits from favorable economic conditions

This infographic titled, Maryland Has a Perception Problem: Favorable Economy” compares PlayUSA survey results with the rankings of seven states regarding their economic strength.

Participants viewed Florida, New York and California as having the most-favorable economies among the seven states in the survey. These three states clearly distinguished themselves from the other four.

Average survey ratings

Every state received votes in all places, first through seventh. Their average scores are listed below.

  1. Florida: 3.6
  2. New York: 3.6
  3. California: 3.8
  4. Pennsylvania: 4.1
  5. Maryland: 4.2
  6. Michigan: 4.3
  7. New Jersey: 4.3

Actual ratings

According to the U.S. News & World Report, New Jersey is 24th in the nation in overall economics and the highest-ranked state of the seven in the survey.

All states fare better if we shift the discussion to economic opportunity. (Each state’s national ranking is in parentheses.)

  1. Maryland (3)
  2. New Jersey (10)
  3. California (24)
  4. Pennsylvania (25)
  5. Michigan (33)
  6. Florida (36)
  7. New York (39)

Maryland provides the best health care options

This infographic titled, Maryland Has a Perception Problem: Health Care” compares PlayUSA survey results with the rankings of seven states regarding their health care.

California received the most votes for best health care (248), followed by Florida (240) and New York (222). Interestingly, California also received the most votes for having the worst economic condition of the seven states in the survey (204).

Still, the Golden State had the perception of the best health care. In reality, it’s one of five states from this list that rank in the top ten. Maryland tops the list, though.

Average survey ratings

  1. California: 3.8
  2. New York: 3.8
  3. Florida: 3.9
  4. Pennsylvania: 4.0
  5. Maryland: 4.0
  6. Michigan: 4.2
  7. New Jersey: 4.3

Actual ratings

  1. Maryland (4)
  2. California (6)
  3. New Jersey (8)
  4. New York (9)
  5. Pennsylvania (10)
  6. Michigan (20)
  7. Florida (27)

Maryland surprises with the highest per capita income

This infographic titled, Maryland Has a Perception Problem: Per Capita Income” compares PlayUSA survey results with the rankings of seven states regarding their per capita income.

California and New York are the first states most people think of when money comes to mind. Unsurprisingly, they topped the survey list by a wide margin.

Average survey ratings

  1. California: 3.3
  2. New York: 3.3
  3. Florida: 3.8
  4. New Jersey: 4.2
  5. Pennsylvania: 4.3
  6. Maryland: 4.4
  7. Michigan: 4.6

Actual ratings

Would you believe Maryland leads the nation in household income? Where do you think the other six states land on the list?

  1. Maryland (1)
  2. New Jersey (3)
  3. California (5)
  4. New York (14)
  5. Pennsylvania (21)
  6. Michigan (34)
  7. Florida (36)

Maryland displays best racial equality practices

This infographic titled, Maryland Has a Perception Problem: Racial Equality” compares PlayUSA survey results with the rankings of seven states regarding their racial equality.

Continuing the trend, California and New York ranked the highest among participants’ perceptions of states with the best racial equality. In reality, none of the states we compare rank in the top 10, according to WalletHub. Florida earned the top spot at number 11, and Maryland came in at 18.

Average survey ratings

  1. California: 3.4
  2. New York: 3.4
  3. Florida: 4.2
  4. New Jersey: 4.2
  5. Pennsylvania: 4.2
  6. Maryland: 4.2
  7. Michigan: 4.5

Actual ratings

  1. Florida (11)
  2. Maryland (18)
  3. California (27)
  4. New Jersey (32)
  5. Pennsylvania (38)
  6. New York (40)
  7. Michigan (44)

Maryland has higher education rates

This infographic titled, Maryland Has a Perception Problem: Higher Education” compares PlayUSA survey results with the rankings of seven states regarding higher education.

U.S. News & World Report quantifies higher education rates by the percentage of people 25 and older with an associate degree or higher. Based on perception, the survey predicted New York would top that list and its neighbor across the Hudson would finish at the bottom.

Instead, New Jersey had the best marks. Maryland also ranked in the top 10 nationwide.

Average survey ratings

  1. New York: 3.5
  2. California: 3.6
  3. Pennsylvania: 3.9
  4. Maryland: 4.1
  5. Florida: 4.2
  6. Michigan: 4.3
  7. New Jersey: 4.4

Actual ratings

  1. New Jersey (5)
  2. Maryland (9)
  3. New York (11)
  4. California (22)
  5. Pennsylvania (27)
  6. Florida (28)
  7. Michigan (34)

Maryland nears the top for positive crime rates

This infographic titled, Maryland Has a Perception Problem: Crime Rates” compares PlayUSA survey results with the rankings of seven states regarding their low crime rates.

Crime doesn’t pay in any state, but which states did survey participants feel had the least crime to worry about? Florida and New York narrowly edged out the rest.

Average survey ratings

  1. Florida: 3.9
  2. New York: 3.9
  3. Pennsylvania: 4.0
  4. Michigan: 4.0
  5. Maryland: 4.0
  6. California: 4.1
  7. New Jersey: 4.1

Actual ratings

Surprisingly, New Jersey has the lowest crime rate of the seven states. New York, Maryland, and Florida are in the top 20.

  1. New Jersey (5)
  2. New York (11)
  3. Maryland (14)
  4. Florida (17)
  5. California (23)
  6. Pennsylvania (29)
  7. Michigan (35)

Maryland is environmentally friendly

This infographic titled, Maryland Has a Perception Problem: Environment” compares PlayUSA survey results with the rankings of seven states regarding their environmental friendliness.

Everybody wants to think of their state as being environmentally friendly. California topped the list again in this category, but participants’ perception of Maryland was enough to put it in the top three.

Average survey ratings

  1. California: 3.6
  2. Florida: 3.7
  3. Maryland: 3.8
  4. Pennsylvania: 3.8
  5. Michigan: 4.1
  6. New Jersey: 4.4
  7. New York: 4.6

Actual ratings

Survey results placed New York at the bottom of the list, but it’s the second-greenest state in America behind Vermont. California and Maryland also landed in the top five in this category.

  1. New York (2)
  2. California (3)
  3. Maryland (5)
  4. Michigan (14)
  5. New Jersey (21)
  6. Pennsylvania (24)
  7. Florida (35)

The verdict: The perception of Maryland doesn’t equal reality

Looking back at the survey results, New York and California routinely ranked at the top of the list for participants’ perceptions of nearly every category. Meanwhile, Maryland, New Jersey, and Michigan consistently stayed at the bottom of the results.

StateEconomic ConditionsHealth CarePer Capita IncomeRacial EqualityHigher Education RatesCrimeEnvironmental FriendlinessAverage Rank
New York11111171.9
California31112612.1
Florida13335122.6
Pennsylvania44533333.6
Maryland54634334
New Jersey67437665.6
Michigan66776355.7

Only one state outperformed or equaled the survey’s results: Maryland. Maryland was the only state in the top three in every category.

New Jersey also outperformed expectations in all but one category and had the second-highest average ranking.

Even though Maryland isn’t the first state most people think about, our survey data shows it’s worth a second look. After all, perception is not reality.

Sources used in this analysis

US News & World Report

WalletHub

Methodology

In March 2024, PlayUSA partnered with Pollfish and surveyed 1,200 US residents and asked them to rank the performance of several states in various quality-of-life areas, including healthcare, education, economy and more. Of those surveyed, 45.42% were men, 54.58% were women. The age breakdown is as follows:

  • 18-24 (8.33%)
  • 25 – 34 (21.67%)
  • 35 – 44 (29.17%)
  • 45 – 54 (20.17%)
  • > 54 (20.67%)

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Written By
Hill Kerbry
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