The Best and Worst Run States in America: A Survey of All 50

Print Email

21. Wisconsin
> Debt per capita: $4,013 (18th highest)
> Budget deficit: 11.3% (22nd largest)
> Unemployment: 6.9% (tied-19th lowest)
> Median household income: $51,059 (22nd highest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 13.2% (17th lowest)

Wisconsin led the nation in funding pension obligations, with nearly 100% of its liabilities funded as of 2012. Several mechanisms help keep the program in good shape, according to Institutional Investor. Employee contributions are required and payouts are tied to the performance of the Wisconsin Retirement System’s portfolio, instead of being fixed. The state also boasts a population that is well educated and largely insured. More than 90% of adults aged 25 and older had a high school diploma as of 2012, and just 9% of residents lacked health care coverage — less than all but six states. By a number of measures, however, Wisconsin ranked below average. The state’s real GDP growth in 2012 was only 1.5%, below the national growth rate of 2.5%. One in every 69 homes were in foreclosure in 2012, one of the highest rates in the country.

22. Hawaii
> Debt per capita: $5,780 (9th highest)
> Budget deficit: 9.6% (27th largest)
> Unemployment: 5.8% (12th lowest)
> Median household income: $66,259 (5th highest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 11.6% (8th lowest)

Median household income in Hawaii rose from $63,218 in 2011 to $66,259 last year. Hawaii’s unemployment rate was just 5.8% in 2012, versus a national rate of 8.1%. Additionally, just 6.9% of the state’s population did not have health insurance last year, among the lowest rates in the nation. This low rate is likely in part the result of the 1974 Hawaii Prepaid Health Care Act, which has required employers to provide coverage for all employees working at least 20 hours per week and earning $629 or more per month. Hawaii also had $5,780 in debt per capita as of fiscal 2011, ninth-worst in the nation. Hawaii’s government sector accounted for over 24% of state GDP last year, the most in the nation. Explaining its relatively low Aa2 rating, Moody’s notes that the state’s high debt and large government sector employment are both challenges the state faces.

ALSO READ: America’s Riches (and Poorest) States

23. West Virginia
> Debt per capita: $3,993 (19th highest)
> Budget deficit: None
> Unemployment: 7.3% (tied-22nd highest)
> Median household income: $40,196 (3rd lowest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 17.8% (13th highest)

Despite having one of the nation’s lowest median household incomes and a high school graduation rate that was lower than all but seven states, West Virginia still ranked better overall on our list than more than half of all states. Between 2007 and 2012, home values in West Virginia rose by 4.6%, despite declining nationally by 11.5%. Also, just one in 646 homes was in foreclosure last year, among the lowest rates in the nation. The state’s economy was also relatively strong, with GDP growing by 3.3% in 2012, among the highest increases in the nation. A major contributor to this growth was mining, which accounted for 13% of output last year. Although Appalachian coal mining has declined considerably in recent years and faces a bleak outlook, a recent state commerce report noted that natural gas jobs rose 20% last year.

24. Maryland
> Debt per capita: $4,348 (13th highest)
> Budget deficit: 9.5% (28th largest)
> Unemployment: 6.8% (tied-17th lowest)
> Median household income: $71,122 (the highest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 10.3% (3rd lowest)

Maryland’s population is the wealthiest in the country. The state had a median household income of $71,122 last year, nearly $20,000 higher than the U.S. median. Also, just 10.3% of the population lived below the poverty line. The state had a relatively large amount of debt, at approximately 60% of annual revenue as of fiscal 2011, compared to 50% nationwide. Still, Maryland maintains a perfect credit rating from both Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s. Moody’s credited the wealthy tax base as a factor for its rating, as well as the state’s “history of strong financial management.” One negative factor is the state’s high violent crime rate, which was one of the highest in the country last year.

25. New Hampshire
> Debt per capita: $6,414 (8th highest)
> Budget deficit: 20.0% (8th largest)
> Unemployment: 5.5% (8th lowest)
> Median household income: $63,280 (7th highest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 10.0% (the lowest)

By many measures, New Hampshire’s population has a higher quality of living than most of the country. The state had among the highest proportions of adults with a high school diploma and one of the lowest violent crime rates in the country last year. Also, just 10% of the population lived below the poverty line in 2012, lower than any other state. The state’s financial track record, however, is not as impressive. The state’s government debt was $6,414 per person as of fiscal 2011, making it one of only eight states with more than $6,000 in debt per capita. As of the end of 2012, the state had funded just 56.2% of its pension obligations, one of the lowest rates. The state had to close a 2012 budget shortfall amounting to 20% of its total budget, among the largest budget gaps in the country.

26. Ohio
> Debt per capita: $2,680 (18th lowest)
> Budget deficit: 10.8% (25th largest)
> Unemployment: 7.2% (25th lowest)
> Median household income: $46,829 (17th lowest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 16.3% (20th highest)

Ohio is one of the nation’s largest manufacturing states, with the industry accounting for 17% of state GDP last year, compared to 12% of national GDP. Although the industry has contracted and jobs were lost over the past 10 years, there have been signs of recovery recently. At a recent speech in Ohio, President Barack Obama touted the auto industry bailout as having saved jobs. As of last year, Ohio’s unemployment rate was 7.2%, below the nationwide rate of 8.1%. Yet the state still had a number of problems. One in every 57 housing units entered foreclosure that year, one of the highest rates in the country. The state also has been criticized for its tax code, which includes a gross receipts tax — a tax on individual business transactions that can be assessed multiple times during the production process — that the Tax Foundation calls “easily the worst part of Ohio’s tax code.”

27. Pennsylvania
> Debt per capita: $3,556 (23rd highest)
> Budget deficit: 13.5% (19th largest)
> Unemployment: 7.9% (21st highest)
> Median household income: $51,230 (21st highest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 13.7% (tied-20th lowest)

Pennsylvania is fairly average by most categories. This was the case for the state’s fiscal track record. One outlier was the state’s pension obligations, which were poorly funded at 63.9% The state also had relatively poor credit ratings from both Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s. According to Moody’s, increases in pension contributions will limit the state’s spending flexibility for the next several years. Yet the state also excels in several measures. Between 2007 and 2012, home values in Pennsylvania rose nearly 6%, versus an 11.5% drop nationwide. Further, more than 90% of residents had health care coverage as of 2012, among the highest rates in the U.S.

28. Missouri
> Debt per capita: $3,445 (24th highest)
> Budget deficit: 8.8% (30th largest)
> Unemployment: 6.9% (tied-19th lowest)
> Median household income: $45,321 (14th lowest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 16.2% (21st highest)

Missouri’s finances appear to be in decent shape. The state faced a relatively small deficit in fiscal 2012, and its pension obligations were more than three-quarters funded. The Show-Me State is also one of 13 states with a perfect credit rating from both Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s. Missouri’s GDP growth, however, has lagged that of the U.S. in each of the last four years. The state’s exports were also among the lowest in 2012, at just $2,310 per resident. Possibly as a result of the state’s stagnant economy, Missouri’s revenue per capita was just $6,423, more than $800 per resident less than the national average. The state does well by some economic measures, however. Unemployment rate last year was just 6.9%, versus 8.1% nationally. Just one in every 113 Missouri homes was in foreclosure last year, compared to one of every 72 nationwide.

ALSO READ: States with the Most Zombie Homes

29. North Carolina
> Debt per capita: $1,931 (8th lowest)
> Budget deficit: 12.2% (20th largest)
> Unemployment: 9.5% (tied-4th highest)
> Median household income: $45,150 (13th lowest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 18.0% (10th highest)

As of 2012, 18% of North Carolina residents lived below the poverty line, among the highest in the nation. Additionally, the median household income in the state that year was $6,000 lower than the national median income. North Carolina’s fiscal track record, however, is quite strong, and the state carries perfect credit ratings from both Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s. North Carolina had funded nearly 94% of its pension obligations as of 2012, trailing just two other states, and had comparatively little debt as of fiscal 2011. Recent tax reforms in the state have been met with mixed responses. Some critics claim the reforms overwhelmingly cut needed government services and disproportionately benefit the wealthy, while others argue the plan to cut income taxes will be beneficial to economic growth and employment.

30. Maine
> Debt per capita: $4,447 (12th highest)
> Budget deficit: 16.6% (14th largest)
> Unemployment: 7.3% (tied-22nd highest)
> Median household income: $46,709 (16th lowest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 14.7% (tied-24th lowest)

By some measures, Maine has a relatively weak economy. While the national economy grew by 2.5% last year, the state’s GDP grew by just 0.5%. The Pine Tree state exported $2,300 in goods per resident that year, compared to the $4,928 exported nationwide per person. On the positive side, the state’s population is well off. Maine had the lowest violent crime rate in the country last year, at just 123 incidents per 100,000 residents. Also, the state’s adult residents were among the most likely in the country to have a high school diploma. The state’s poverty rate was below the national average. Relative to the size of its population, few states spent more on public welfare in fiscal 2011 than Maine. This spending amounted to nearly a third of the state’s budget. The average state spent about a quarter of its budget on public welfare programs.