> Median household income: $52,977
> Population: 626,011 (2nd lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 5.0% (4th lowest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 11.8% (10th lowest)
Vermont recently passed health care legislation, moving the state towards a universal, single-payer system. This attempt to expand health insurance coverage seems to be working. In 2008, the state ranked fifth lowest in the country, with 8.8% of residents lacking health care insurance. Last year, it moved up to second place — behind Massachusetts — with only 6.5% uninsured. Vermont had the fourth-lowest unemployment rate in the country last year, at just 5%.
> Median household income: $51,230
> Population: 12,763,536 (6th highest)
> Unemployment rate: 7.9% (21st highest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 13.7% (tied-20th lowest)
Pennsylvania’s median household income of $51,230 was inline with the national level in 2012. However, the median income in the Philadelphia metro area was much higher, at over $60,000 in 2012. This was well above the median for all metro areas of $53,607. Despite the higher incomes, poverty remains prominent within the city limits. “Poverty is also a fact of life for about 40 percent of its households headed by single mothers,” a July editorial in The Philadelphia Enquirer noted. It added, “You can easily link the child-poverty rate to the challenges facing city schools.” Philadelphia’s school district began the school year with a $304 million budget shortfall.
> Median household income: $51,059
> Population: 5,726,398 (20th highest)
> Unemployment rate: 6.9% (tied-19th lowest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 13.2% (17th lowest)
Wisconsin’s median household income was close to that of the nation as a whole in 2012. As in the rest of the country, more Wisconsin residents received food stamps in 2012 than the year before — up to 13.3% from 12.7%. During his gubernatorial campaign in 2010, Governor Scott Walker pledged to create 250,000 jobs in Wisconsin. He reiterated his pledge in August, although figures from the state’s own economic outlook suggest he will likely fall short of this goal.
> Median household income: $50,957
> Population: 3,074,186 (21st lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 5.2% (tied-5th lowest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 12.7% (14th lowest)
Iowa had among the lowest income inequality of all states in 2012, as measured by the Gini coefficient. At 5.2%, the state’s unemployment rate was roughly three percentage points better than the national rate, and tied with Oklahoma for fifth-lowest overall. Nearly 500,000 Iowa residents were employed in manufacturing as of 2012, or about 15% of the entire workforce.
> Median household income: $50,740
> Population: 26,059,203 (2nd highest)
> Unemployment rate: 6.8% (tied-17th lowest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 17.9% (tied-11th lowest)
While Texas’ median income is actually very close to the national level, the state has one of the worst poverty rates in the country. Last year, 17.9% of Texans lived below the poverty line, higher than the majority of states, and well above the U.S. rate of 15.9% for all Americans. By some measures, the state’s economy is improving. The unemployment rate of 6.8% in 2012 was lower than the year before. Additionally, a large number of the major metro areas across the country that had the strongest economic growth last year were located in Texas. Despite all the improvements, the state still has by far the worst rate of health insurance coverage in the country, with 22.5% of residents uninsured.
> Median household income: $50,723
> Population: 1,855,525 (14th lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 3.9% (2nd lowest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 13.0% (16th lowest)
While Nebraska fell roughly in the middle of all states for median household income in 2012, by many other measures of economic well-being, the state actually rated favorably. Just 3.4% of households earned less than $10,000 in 2012, among the lowest percentages of any state. And just 9.3% of residents received food stamps, also among the lowest percentages nationwide. Further, only North Dakota had an unemployment rate lower than Nebraska’s 3.9% in 2012. As of this summer, Nebraska has finally recovered the net jobs lost during the recession, according to the Omaha World-Herald.
> Median household income: $50,241
> Population: 2,885,905 (18th lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 5.7% (tied-10th lowest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 14.0% (23rd lowest)
Compared with other states, Kansans did not rely heavily on food stamps last year. Only 9.9% of households depended on them, one of the lowest rates nationally. Similarly, just 3.4% of Kansas households earned less than $10,000 in 2012, tied with Nebraska for seventh lowest in the country. The median household income in Kansas, however, was roughly $1,000 less than the national median last year. In 2008, the gap was greater than $2,000. Last year, the state’s unemployment rate of 5.7% was over two percentage points below the national rate and ranked 10th best in the country. More recently, labor officials in Kansas have raised concerns over worsening job prospects and rising unemployment in 2013.
> Median household income: $49,760
> Population: 2,758,931 (16th lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 11.1% (the highest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 16.4% (19th highest)
Nevada’s median household income cratered in recent years, falling from more than $60,000 in 2008 to just $49,760 in 2012. Over that same time, the percentage of residents receiving food stamps more than doubled, from 5.2% in 2008 to 12.6% in 2012. Another major problem is a lack of health insurance: as many as 22.2% of Nevadans were uninsured in 2012, the second most in the nation and well above the U.S. rate of 14.8%. And while the state’s unemployment rate fell by a nation-best 2.1 percentage points between 2011 and 2012, Nevada’s unemployment rate of 11.1% last year was still the worst in the country.
> Median household income: $49,161
> Population: 3,899,353 (24th lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 8.7% (11th highest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 17.2% (tied-15th highest)
More than one in five households in Oregon depended on food stamps last year, more than any other state, and nearly double the 2008 rate, when it ranked ninth. Poverty levels tended to be higher in the rural counties, and families in these regions relied the most on government programs like food stamps. In 2012, unemployment in Oregon was among the worst, at 8.7%. The decline in annual median household income as of 2012 mirrors the national decline of about $4,000 when compared to 2008.
29. South Dakota
> Median household income: $48,362
> Population: 833,354 (5th lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 4.4% (3rd lowest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 13.4% (18th lowest)
South Dakota had the third-lowest unemployment rate in the country. The state also had among the smallest gaps between the wealthy and poor. Between 2008 and 2012, the median household income in South Dakota fell by only $908, roughly $3,000 less than the national decline. More than 7% of workers in South Dakota were employed in agriculture, forestry, fishing, hunting, and mining last year. This was partly because of the state’s substantial corn and livestock industries.
> Median household income: $47,826
> Population: 6,553,255 (15th highest)
> Unemployment rate: 8.3% (16th highest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 18.7% (8th highest)
Although 20 states had an even lower median household income, Arizona still had one of the nation’s highest poverty rates at 18.7% in 2012. Further, an estimated 5.7% of households earned less than $10,000 last year, worse than the majority of states. Many residents also lacked health care. As of 2012, 17.6% of the state’s population did not have health insurance coverage, versus 14.8% across the U.S. Recently, Arizona’s governor Jan Brewer has become an outspoken supporter of a key provision of the 2010 Affordable Care Act that allows states to extend Medicaid coverage to more residents at little cost.