Debunking common misconceptions about every state
In a country as huge and diverse as the United States, it’s easy to fall into the trap of over-generalizing about states and their residents or to be biased because of preconceived notions. Keeping track of the attitudes, local cultures, climate, and other aspects of each state can be overwhelming—or simply overlooked.
Popular culture and the media also can play roles in reinforcing stereotypes about parts of the country where you haven’t been. You might even find that when you visit a different state you thought you were familiar with, your previously held beliefs about it and its people are wrong.
Take California, for instance, where the first image for many is sunshine, palm trees, and drop-tops; but in reality, the third-largest state by area is home to a multitude of geographies, climates, and ecosystems, from mountain ranges and deserts to vast farmlands in the middle of the state. Perhaps thinking about Michigan, and its first capital Detroit, conjures solely post-Recession ideas of massive foreclosure and abandonment; but more recently the city has seen positive developments regarding property value. How about New Jersey, the fourth-smallest state by area and third admitted to the Union? Many non-residents who have only driven the Turnpike or flown through Newark wouldn’t believe how beautiful the Garden State’s open spaces and historic agricultural lands can be.
To gain a better understanding of common misconceptions about the 50 states and begin debunking them, Stacker surveyed our readers and used a variety of historic and cultural sources to identify misconceptions about every state in the country. While some misconceptions are based on politics (whether the states are red or blue), others have to do either with the state’s culture, landscapes, climate, or their main sources of exports or income.
Read on as Stacker debunks common misconceptions about every state.
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- Misconception: Alabama is all farmland and cotton fields.
The Southern state of Alabama is known for its cotton fields and ample farmland, but there’s more to the state's landscape. Nearly 65% of Alabama's land is covered in thick forests and the northern areas of the state are hilly and mountainous. Also, Alabama has more than 1,350 miles of navigable rivers, according to World Atlas.
- Misconception: Alaska is covered in snow.
Most people think of Alaska as a state that is so cold, that it is almost uninhabitable, but Alaska’s environment is diverse. For instance, the Inside Passage region of Alaska has a coastal rainforest. Also, some of Alaska’s cities are warmer than Midwestern cities. During the winter, coastal areas are more temperate—the temperature seldom falls below 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Snow mainly falls in the state’s south-central and interior regions.
- Misconception: Arizona is one big desert.
The first image that comes to mind when you think of Arizona may be a massive desert or the world-famous Grand Canyon—but that topography makes up only about half of Arizona. The state is also home to mountains, plateaus, and the biggest ponderosa pine forest in the United States. As the sixth-largest state by area, Arizona has been called a “land of contradictions,” thanks in part to its diverse landscapes and its miles of shoreline created by its large man-made lakes.
- Misconception: Hernando de Soto buried treasure in the Ozark mountains.
This might come as a major disappointment to many, but the Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto did not bury any gold or silver in the Ozark mountains. Nor is the geology of the region ideal for gold or silver mining. Unfortunately, the rumors have resulted in archaeological sites being destroyed, especially during mining attempts in the 19th and 20th centuries. What can be found in the Ozarks? Zinc and lead.
- Misconception: California's weather is perfect year-round.
California is one of the top tourist destinations in the United States because of its sprawling shorelines, immaculate beaches, and mild weather. But the state is also highly prone to frequent and destructive wildfires because of the infamous Santa Ana winds, aptly nicknamed “devil winds.” Not only are the Santa Ana winds strong, but they’re also dry and originate inland.
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- Misconception: The majority of Colorado residents use weed.
The majority of residents in Colorado do not report using marijuana, according to data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. SAMHSA reports that only 14.01% of Coloradans say they use weed, which is well under the majority.
- Misconception: Connecticut is all picturesque towns like in "Gilmore Girls."
The hit TV series “Gilmore Girls” made Connecticut look like it was full of quaint and quiet towns and small communities. However, the state capital, Hartford, has a high population density and many industrial areas that are far from the Instagram-perfect towns you might see watching “Gilmore Girls.”
- Misconception: Companies don't have to pay taxes if they incorporate in Delaware.
Delaware is considered a tax shelter—which is a method that reduces taxable income, resulting in lower taxes. The state also has no sales tax, but this doesn’t mean a business pays no tax at all. A business that incorporates in Delaware, but conducts its business outside of the state may only have to pay a flat-fee franchise and LLC tax ($100 and $250, respectively).
- Misconception: Florida is hot all year.
While North Florida’s climate is humid and subtropical, South Florida has a tropical climate. This means there is potential for the rare snowfall event in North Florida and in winter, the temperature can drop below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Misconception: Georgia has the lowest minimum wage.
While Georgia state law technically does set the minimum wage at $5.15 per hour, this amount is tied with Wyoming. Also, the federal Fair Labor Standards Act mandates that most employees be covered under the federal minimum wage of $7.25, according to PolitiFact’s Miriam Valverde.
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