States With the Most (and Least) Government Benefits

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States Doling Out The Least Benefits

10. Louisiana
> Average pension benefits: $21,666 (25th highest)
> Total per pupil spending: $10,723 (22nd highest)
> Medicaid payments per enrollee: $5,196 (15th lowest)
> Tax collections per capita: $1,944 (12th lowest)

Out-of-work Louisiana residents received just $206 per week on average in unemployment insurance benefits as of the third quarter of 2013, second-lowest in the U.S. The benefits amounted to just one-quarter of the unemployed workers’ previous weekly wages, versus close to one-third nationwide. Additionally, a single-parent family of three in Louisiana received $240 per week in TANF benefits, less than all but a few states. Louisiana is one of the poorest states, with nearly 20% of the population living below the poverty line as of 2012. Recently, Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack added Louisiana to the government’s StrikeForce Initiative. The initiative targets poverty in rural areas by improving access to microloans and expanding the use of SNAP benefits to buy food at local farmers’ markets.

9. North Carolina
> Average pension benefits: $18,751 (13th lowest)
> Total per pupil spending: $8,312 (7th lowest)
> Medicaid payments per enrollee: $5,803 (22nd lowest)
> Tax collections per capita: $2,332 (24th lowest)

Unemployment insurance in North Carolina amounted to more than 36% of the typical weekly wage through the third quarter of 2013, higher than the national rate of 32.9%. At the beginning of last year, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory approved substantial cuts to unemployment benefits. The legislation, which took effect in July, reduced the maximum weekly payment available to recipients as well as the duration of eligibility. McCrory has been criticized for making cuts to a variety of benefit programs, including cuts to the already underfunded public school system. In fiscal 2011, the state spent $8,312 per public school student, more than $2,000 less than the expenditure on a typical American pupil.

ALSO READ: States Where the Most People Work Two Jobs

8. Arizona
> Average pension benefits: $21,494 (24th lowest)
> Total per pupil spending: $7,666 (4th lowest)
> Medicaid payments per enrollee: $5,986 (23rd highest)
> Tax collections per capita: $1,682 (3rd lowest)

Few school systems are less well-funded than Arizona’s. In fiscal 2011, the state system spent just $7,666 per pupil in the K-12 system, the fourth-lowest in the country. This included just $1,152 per student on employee benefits, lower than all but one state, and $1,100 less than the U.S. average. While the state’s jobless situation has improved, it still has one of the higher unemployment rates in the country. For those Arizonans who are still not gainfully employed, the state has one of the least generous unemployment insurance programs. The average unemployment insurance program accounted for barely one quarter of average lost wages, lower than all but two states. One reason Arizona may be spending as little as it does on its population is its low revenue. The state collected just $1,682 per person in taxes in fiscal 2011, compared to a state average of $2,441.

7. South Carolina
> Average pension benefits: $19,423 (17th lowest)
> Total per pupil spending: $8,986 (14th lowest)
> Medicaid payments per enrollee: $5,119 (12th lowest)
> Tax collections per capita: $1,650 (2nd lowest)

South Carolina paid a single-parent family of three just $216 per week in TANF benefits as of 2013, less than all but a handful of states. This amounted to just roughly 13.3% of the federal poverty level as of 2013. In all, more than 18% of South Carolinians lived below the poverty level as of 2012. Governor Nikki Haley was criticized by some in 2011 for advocating drug tests for potential jobless benefit recipients. Recently, Haley publicly disclosed plans to increase education spending by $160 million. As of fiscal 2011, the state ranked in the bottom-third nationwide in per-pupil spending.

ALSO READ: States With the Best (and Worst) Schools

6. Indiana
> Average pension benefits: $16,679 (10th lowest)
> Total per pupil spending: $9,370 (20th lowest)
> Medicaid payments per enrollee: $4,790 (7th lowest)
> Tax collections per capita: $2,292 (22nd lowest)

Indiana pension recipients received just $16,679 in fiscal 2011, much lower than the national average pension of $25,135 that year. And the state’s pension program has suffered cuts since. In July last year, the Indiana Public Retirement System privatized the annuity system so that payments normally calculated with a fixed 7.5% interest rate would be adjusted to a market rate of around 4%. If Indiana lawmakers do not intervene this year, the change could cost beneficiaries a great deal. Indiana’s Medicaid system was also one of the least generous in the country. Children, in particular, received relatively low Medicaid benefits. The average annual Medicaid payment per child in the state was just $1,575 in fiscal 2010, the second lowest among all states that year.