America’s Most (and Least) Livable States

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5. Arkansas
> Future livability score: 33.9 (tied for 5th worst)
> Full-time employment: 13th worst
> Job creation index: 17th best
> Outlook on life in five years: 10th best

Even though the state’s unemployment rate of 7.2% is well below the national rate of 8.2%  for June, Arkansans have less confidence in the economy than residents of all other states except West Virginia. There may be good reasons for this pessimism as 18% of residents live below the poverty line, the fifth-highest proportion nationwide. Additionally, at $38,307 a year, more than $11,000 live below the median for the United States. Arkansas has the nation’s third-lowest household median income. The state is also one of the unhealthiest in the country, with the third-highest obesity rate, the fourth-highest smoking rate and the second-lowest proportion of people who visited a dentist in the past 12 months.

4. Nevada
> Future livability score: 34.5
> Full-time employment: 15th worst
> Job creation index: 9th worst
> Outlook on life in five years: 18th best

The housing collapse has hit Nevada harder than any other state in the country. Home prices dropped 59.7% from the first quarter of 2007 to the first quarter of 2012, more than any other state by nearly 10 percentage points. In the next five years, housing prices are expected to rise only 2% annually, the third-smallest increase among all states. The collapse of the housing market has led to a poor job market. The state has the highest unemployment rate in the country at 11.6%, although the rate dropped 2.2 percentage points from 2011, faster than any other state. Nevadans, however, are not feeling the relief. The state ranks eighth from the bottom in the proportion of people who believe their standard of living is getting better, the second-lowest rate on this list.

3. Kentucky
> Future livability score: 36.7
> Full-time employment: 16th worst
> Job creation index: 23rd best
> Outlook on life in five years: 20th worst

Kentucky’s median household income of $40,062 is the fourth lowest of all states and about $10,000 less than the median income across the United States. The state also has the fourth-highest percentage of people below the poverty line and people on food stamps/SNAP benefits. It is not surprising that the state has the eighth-lowest score on the economic confidence index. Kentuckians health is also poor. The state has the second-highest rate of smokers, with an estimated 29% reporting smoking in 2011, the seventh-highest obesity rate and the 10th lowest rate of people who say they have visited the dentist in the past year. Kentucky ranks fourth from the bottom in ease of finding a safe place to exercise.

2. Mississippi
> Future livability score: 37.8
> Full-time employment: The worst
> Job creation index: 11th best
> Outlook on life in five years: The best

While Gallup ranks Mississippi second worst for future livability, residents feel good about their own future as the state ranks first for the best outlook on life in five years’ time. But the Magnolia state has the lowest percentage of people employed full-time and the lowest median income in the country at $36,851, less than three-quarters of the national average of $50,046. Mississippi ranks worst in the country in the percentage of the population living below the poverty line and in the percentage of residents who feel like their manager treats them like a partner and not like a boss. Mississippi is also among the worst in several important areas of health. The state has the second-highest rate of obesity and the fifth-highest percentage of smokers. It is also ranks second worst in finding a safe place to exercise and has the lowest percentage of residents who have visited the dentist in the last year.

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1. West Virginia
> Future livability score: 43.3
> Full-time employment: 2nd worst
> Job creation index: 20th best
> Outlook on life in five years: 23rd best

While West Virginia has an unemployment rate of 7%, well below the 8.2% national unemployment rate, it ranks second worst in terms of people employed full-time. The state also has the second-lowest median household income of $38,218 and the eighth-highest percentage of people below the poverty line, at 17.62%. West Virginia also can lay claim to the dubious title of unhealthiest state. It has the highest rate of smokers in the nation with a quarter of residents smoking as of 2011. The state also has the highest obesity rate (35.3%), the highest rate of people with high blood pressure (38.9%) and the highest rate of people with diabetes (15.7%) as of 2011. Options for those looking to stay in shape are limited as the state ranks dead last in ease of finding a safe place to exercise.

Michael B. Sauter, Alexander E. M. Hess, Lisa Uible and Samuel Weigley

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