States With the Most Big Spenders

August 20, 2014 by Thomas C. Frohlich

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Consumer spending habits reflect the financial health of the nation’s households, yet vary widely across the United States. In 2012, Americans spent $35,498 per capita, a 3.3% increase from the year before when Americans spent $34,356 on average.

According to data released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), Mississippi residents spent $27,406 per capita — the lowest in the nation — and Massachusetts reported the highest expenditure, at $47,308 per capita in 2012. These are the states spending the most and least per capita.

Click here to see the states with the most big spenders

Click here to see the states with the fewest big spenders

As might be expected, income is a major driver of spending power. With the exception of Hawaii and Utah, median household incomes in all of the lowest-spending states were well below the national median of $51,371. Households in the highest-spending states, on the other hand, all had among the highest incomes. In terms of personal income per capita, residents in every low-spending state, except for Hawaii, earned less than the average American, while residents in all of the highest-spending states earned among the most in the nation. Speaking with 24/7 Wall St., Barry Bosworth, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, confirmed that “states that have higher incomes definitely have higher levels of consumption.”

Consumers save what they do not spend. The savings rate, or consumption-to-personal-income ratio, varied widely between the states. Residents in half of the highest-spending states spent a smaller percentage of their income than the national rate of 81%. But, as Bosworth noted, “Americans never lack for incentives to spend whatever they have.” In fact, people in seven of the lowest-spending states actually spent a greater percentage of their incomes than average Americans.

The high level of consumption in America also makes it difficult to get an accurate picture of spending habits. “Nobody can remember how they spent their money,” Bosworth said. In wealthy countries like the U.S., there are simply too many ways to spend money to accurately measure.

High spending is closely tied to housing costs, which are largely made up of mortgage payments. In the states spending the most, residents paid an average of $44,824 on their mortgages in 2012. By contrast, residents in the 10 lowest-spending states paid just over $16,000 for housing. Bosworth noted that housing tends to be such a distinguishing feature because higher-income Americans purchase more valuable homes, “and hence the consumption shows up as being higher in turn.”

There is also a clear relationship between people’s spending habits and their level of education. Six of the states that spent the least also had the lowest percentage of residents with at least a bachelor’s degree. Among the states that spent the most, seven had the highest educational attainment rates in the country. “The strongest driver of people’s income is their education,” Bosworth said, highlighting the link between current levels of educational attainment and economic mobility across generations. In turn, he added, “people with high income tend to ensure their children have a lot of education.”

This may partly explain why levels of spending have been fairly steady in each of these states. All of the lowest-spending states have remained among the lowest spenders since 1997, the earliest year for which data is available. The same is true for the highest-spending states, with the exception of North Dakota, which spent less than the national rate every year until around 2008, when spending began to increase dramatically due to the oil boom in the region.

Based on personal consumption expenditure (PCE) data recently released by the BEA, 24/7 Wall St. assessed the states that spent the most and the least. In addition to out-of-pocket household expenditures, PCE data also reflect expenditures by businesses, state and local governments, government enterprises, and nonprofit institutions serving households for each year between 1997 and 2012. PCE data are not adjusted for cost of living or inflation. We also looked at unemployment rates from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Education attainment rates and median household income levels are from the U.S. Census Bureau. Also from the BEA, we looked at personal income, which includes all income received by state residents but does not include personal income taxes. The ratio between personal consumption expenditure and income refers to personal income, not household median income, and is effectively the savings rate.

These are the states with the most (and fewest) big spenders.

States with the Most Big Spenders

10. Washington
> 2012 spending per capita: $39,110
> Personal income per capita: $46,045 (13th highest)
> Pct. bachelor’s degree: 31.7% (11th highest)
> June unemployment rate: 5.4% (16th lowest)

Washington state residents spent $39,110 per capita in 2012, versus $35,498 per person nationwide. Spending in Washington increased 4.7% from the year before, more than all but six other states. Like every other state with highest expenditures, Washington residents are relatively wealthy. A typical household in 2012 earned $57,573, among the higher household median incomes in the nation. State residents earned $46,045 per capita in 2012, also among the higher figures nationwide. Washington residents were far more likely to spend their money on services — housing, health, recreation, accommodations, and so forth — than they were on durable and nondurable goods. Housing costs such as mortgage and utility payments accounted for the bulk of service spending.

9. Vermont
> 2012 spending per capita: $39,443
> Personal income per capita: $44,545 (21st highest)
> Pct. bachelor’s degree: 35.8% (6th highest)
> June unemployment rate: 4.0% (5th lowest)

Like a few states with the highest per capita expenditures, Vermont has a relatively low unemployment rate, at just 4.0% as of June. Residents also have exceptionally strong educational attainment rates. Nearly 36% of adults over 25 had attained at least a bachelor’s degree in 2012, and 92% had at least a high school diploma, both among the best rates nationwide. A stable economy and educated residents partly explain the spending habits in the state, as reliable sources of income make higher consumption rates much more affordable.

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8. Maryland
> 2012 spending per capita: $40,980
> Personal income per capita: $53,816 (5th highest)
> Pct. bachelor’s degree: 36.9% (4th highest)
> June unemployment rate: 6.2% (22nd highest)

Maryland residents had the highest median household income in the nation in 2012, at $71,122. This likely contributed to high levels of personal expenditure. And while consumption grew at more than 5% each year between 1997 and 2006, growth has been slow to recover since the recession. Maryland residents are among the nation’s best educated, with nearly 37% of adults having at least a bachelor’s degree. High incomes also contributed to more than 67% of consumption going towards services, an indication of a wealthier economy.

7. New Hampshire
> 2012 spending per capita: $41,621
> Personal income per capita: $49,129 (9th highest)
> Pct. bachelor’s degree: 34.6% (8th highest)
> June unemployment rate: 4.3% (6th lowest)

Unlike other high-spending states, New Hampshire residents spent a relatively small share of income on services. New Hampshire has historically had one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, reaching only 6.4% at the height of the recession. Low unemployment rates may have contributed to the state’s high expenditure levels as greater shares of the population had jobs. On average, New Hampshire residents spent 84.7% of their personal income in 2012, indicating that incomes for state residents are high enough to support their expenditure, while also affording them opportunities to save.

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6. Alaska
> 2012 spending per capita: $41,711
> Personal income per capita: $49,436 (8th highest)
> Pct. bachelor’s degree: 28.0% (23rd highest)
> June unemployment rate: 6.8% (13th highest)

Alaskans are among the wealthiest Americans, with a typical household earning $67,712 in 2012, more than all but two other states. Residents also had exceptionally high rates of educational attainment, with 92% of residents having at least a high school diploma in 2012, the third-highest rate in the country. The primary explanation for Alaska’s wealth is its large oil industry. The sector’s productivity has been slowing in recent years, however, causing concerns over the state’s dependency on oil. Spending grew at an annualized rate of 5.6% between 1997 and 2012, among the larger increases in the nation. By the end of that period, however, spending growth had slowed somewhat, to 3.6%, lower than the national growth rate of 4.6% from 2011 to 2012.

5. New York
> 2012 spending per capita: $42,043
> Personal income per capita: $53,241 (6th highest)
> Pct. bachelor’s degree: 33.4% (9th highest)
> June unemployment rate: 6.5% (tied-16th highest)

Nearly 476,000 New York households earned at least $200,000 in 2012, second only to California. These wealthy residents made up 6.6% of all households, also more than the vast majority of other states. New York residents spent the fifth most per capita of any state and, in 2012, total personal consumption expenditure topped $820 billion, more than all but two other states. Durable goods accounted for less than 10% of spending, among the smallest shares of statewide consumption expenditures in 2012. Services, on the other hand, made up more than 65% of spending, among the higher proportions.

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4. New Jersey
> 2012 spending per capita: $42,654
> Personal income per capita: $54,987 (3rd highest)
> Pct. bachelor’s degree: 36.2% (5th highest)
> June unemployment rate: 6.4% (tied-19th highest)

Like the majority of high spending states, New Jersey residents’ spending habits tended towards services, rather than durable and nondurable good spending. More than two-thirds of all spending in New Jersey went to services, such as housing, health care, and recreation in 2012, a higher share than in all but two other states. Unsurprisingly, New Jersey residents are quite wealthy. More than 8.5% of households earned more than $200,000 in 2012, more than in any other state. A typical household earned nearly $70,000, the second-highest median income in the country.

3. North Dakota
> 2012 spending per capita: $44,029
> Personal income per capita: $54,871 (4th highest)
> Pct. bachelor’s degree: 27.9% (25th highest)
> June unemployment rate: 3.0% (the lowest)

North Dakota is exceptional among states spending the most because the wealth of its residents is a relatively recent development. Annual personal spending growth has led the nation for several years. Between 2011 and 2012, total personal consumption expenditure rose by 11.5%, far more than any other state. Increased spending has accompanied staggering growth rates for the state’s economy. Due to the recent oil boom, the state’s economic output has roughly doubled over a 10 year period. North Dakota’s unemployment rate was the lowest in the country as of June, at just 3.0%.

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2. Connecticut
> 2012 spending per capita: $45,800
> Personal income per capita: $59,687 (the highest)
> Pct. bachelor’s degree: 37.1% (3rd highest)
> June unemployment rate: 6.4% (tied-19th highest)

Connecticut residents spent an average of $45,800 in 2012, more than $10,000 above the national average. Yet, between 1997 and 2012, total expenditure grew at an annualized rate of 4.4%, one of the lower rates in the country. Low expenditure growth may be expected in states where spending was already high. Higher expenditure levels may also be tied to education. More than 37% of Connecticut adults had at least a bachelor’s degree, the third-highest rate in the country. As a share of personal income, however, residents spent 76.7% in 2012, the fifth-lowest share in the country.

1. Massachusetts
> 2012 spending per capita: $47,308
> Personal income per capita: $55,976 (2nd highest)
> Pct. bachelor’s degree: 39.3% (the highest)
> June unemployment rate: 5.6% (20th lowest)

Massachusetts residents spent $47,308 per capita in 2012, more than people in any other state. Total consumption expenditure has also been among the highest nationwide since at least 2007. Massachusetts consumers spent well over $300 billion in 2012, the 10th highest in the country. Like a majority of states on this list, Massachusetts has exceptionally high levels of educational attainment. In 2012, nearly 40% of adult residents had at least a bachelor’s degree, more than any other state. This likely contributed to higher incomes, which in turn helped people in the state to adopt more flexible and generous spending habits. Nearly 8.0% of households earned at least $200,000 in 2012, more than all but three other states. A typical household earned more than $65,339 that year, well above the national median household income of $51,371.

States with the Fewest Big Spenders

10. South Carolina
> 2012 spending per capita: $30,728
> Personal income per capita: $35,056 (3rd lowest)
> Pct. bachelor’s degree: 25.1% (12th lowest)
> June unemployment rate: 5.7% (21st lowest)

South Carolina residents spent a total of $30,728 per capita in 2012, versus a national average of $35,498. Just one in four adults aged 25 and older had a bachelor’s degree as of 2012, among the lower rates nationwide. While this may lead to lower wages in the state, the unemployment rate has improved substantially in recent years. In June, 5.7% of South Carolina’s workforce was unemployed, lower than the national rate for the first time since before 2006. Still, nearly 10% of households earned less than $10,000 in 2012, among the worst rates in the country. Low incomes likely explain the states low spending. Residents’ spending habits may still be affecting their ability to save money, as nearly 88% of income generated in the state was spent in 2012. By contrast, Americans nationwide spent just over 81% of their income on average.

9. West Virginia
> 2012 spending per capita: $30,642
> Personal income per capita: $35,082 (4th lowest)
> Pct. bachelor’s degree: 18.6% (the lowest)
> June unemployment rate: 5.9% (24th lowest)

West Virginia residents spent more than 87% of their income in 2012, the 10th-highest rate in the country. West Virginia had the smallest percentage of adults with a bachelor’s degree in the country in 2012, which may have kept wages low. Only 1.9% of state households had incomes in excess of $200,000, the lowest rate in the country. Additionally, more than one in 10 households lived on less than $10,000 in 2012, the second-lowest rate nationwide, while 18% of West Virginia residents had lived below the poverty line at some point that year. Looking at spending patterns, health care expenditure accounted for nearly a fifth of total spending, one of the lower rates in the country.

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8. Kentucky
> 2012 spending per capita: $30,621
> Personal income per capita: $35,643 (7th lowest)
> Pct. bachelor’s degree: 21.8% (4th lowest)
> June unemployment rate: 7.4% (6th highest)

Nearly a third of Kentucky’s $30,621 per capita expenditure was allocated to housing and utilities in 2012, the fourth-highest proportion in the country. Like other low-spending states, Kentucky residents have comparatively lower rates of educational attainment, likely driving down incomes. In 2012, only 21.8% of adult residents had at least a bachelor’s degree, the fourth-lowest rate in the country. Residents spent nearly 86% of their income in 2012, giving Kentucky one of the lower savings rates in the U.S.

7. Idaho
> 2012 spending per capita: $30,190
> Personal income per capita: $34,481 (2nd lowest)
> Pct. bachelor’s degree: 25.5% (14th lowest)
> June unemployment rate: 4.5% (8th lowest)

Idaho’s unemployment rate weathered the recession remarkably well, remaining at least one percentage point below the national rate over the last 10 years. Personal incomes in the state, however, have been relatively low. In 2012, Idaho residents earned less, on average than Americans in all but one other state. This may be due to Idaho’s labor force, which is concentrated in trade, transportation, and utilities, sectors that typically offer low-wage jobs. While earnings were low, residents spent nearly 88% of what they made in 2012. Idaho residents spent more on gasoline than all but four other states, likely due to the size of the state’s transportation sector.

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6. Utah
> 2012 spending per capita: $30,181
> Personal income per capita: $35,430 (5th lowest)
> Pct. bachelor’s degree: 30.7% (15th highest)
> June unemployment rate: 3.9% (4th lowest)

Utah residents were among the lowest earners in 2012, with a personal income per capita of just $35,430. This didn’t prevent them from spending more than 85% of their income in 2012, among the highest figures in the country. Income per capita is likely dragged down by Utah’s relatively young population, and larger families. In fact, households in the state were actually relatively well-off. A typical household brought in $57,049 in income as of 2012, among the higher median household incomes in the nation.

5. Hawaii
> 2012 spending per capita: $30,160
> Personal income per capita: $44,767 (20th highest)
> Pct. bachelor’s degree: 30.1% (17th highest)
> June unemployment rate: 4.9% (13th lowest)

Hawaii is the only state among the lowest spenders where the average personal income was above the national rate of $43,735. However, Hawaii residents spent less than 68% of their incomes in 2012, the lowest share in the country. This may change in the future as consumption expenditure has risen rapidly in recent years, growing at an annualized rate of 6.8% between 1997 and 2012. However, between 2011 and 2012, per capita expenditure grew by just 1.8%, among the lowest rates in the nation.

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4. Alabama
> 2012 spending per capita: $29,537
> Personal income per capita: $35,926 (9th lowest)
> Pct. bachelor’s degree: 23.3% (7th lowest)
> June unemployment rate: 7.1% (10th highest)

More than one in 10 Alabama residents earn less than $10,000 a year, which likely contributes to low consumption expenditure. Low earnings may also be tied to low education rates in the state. As of 2012, only 84% of adult residents had at least a high school diploma and only 23.3% had at least a bachelor’s degree, both among the lowest rates in the country. And while total consumption grew between 1997 and 2012, annualized growth was only 4.2%, suggesting that poverty and poor education may stifle income and consumption growth. In 2012, residents allotted nearly 15% of their total expenditure to health care, the fourth-lowest rate in the country.

3. Nevada
> 2012 spending per capita: $29,514
> Personal income per capita: $38,221 (14th lowest)
> Pct. bachelor’s degree: 22.4% (6th lowest)
> June unemployment rate: 7.8% (4th highest)

In June, 7.8% of Nevada’s workforce was unemployed, a substantial improvement from recent years, but still higher than all but two other states. Like a majority of states spending the least, educational attainment rates were relatively low in 2012. Less than 85% of adults had received at least a high school diploma, and 22.4% had completed at least a bachelor’s degree, both among the lowest rates nationwide. While personal incomes in Nevada were also relatively low, Nevadans spent just 77.2% of their income in 2012, among the lower ratios in the country. This may mean Nevadans are better able to save money.

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2. Arkansas
> 2012 spending per capita: $28,366
> Personal income per capita: $35,437 (6th lowest)
> Pct. bachelor’s degree: 21.0% (3rd lowest)
> June unemployment rate: 6.5% (tied-16th highest)

A typical household in Arkansas earned just over $40,000 in 2012, less than every state except for Mississippi. And nearly one in five residents lived beneath the poverty line that year, nearly the highest rate in the country. Low income and poverty mean Arkansas residents will spend considerably less than wealthier residents in other states. A less-educated population also generally reports lower earnings. Just 21% of Arkansas’ adult residents had attained at least a bachelor’s degree in 2012, less than all but two other states.

1. Mississippi
> 2012 spending per capita: $27,406
> Personal income per capita: $33,657 (the lowest)
> Pct. bachelor’s degree: 20.7% (2nd lowest)
> June unemployment rate: 8.7% (the highest)

Mississippi residents spent $27,406 in 2012, $20,000 less than the average person in Massachusetts. The state had among the highest unemployment rates in the country, peaking at nearly 12% in 2011. Poverty likely explains residents’ low consumption levels. Nearly one in four Mississippi residents lived below the poverty line at some point during 2012, the highest rate in the country. Additionally, only 20% of adult residents had at least a bachelor’s degree, the second lowest rate in the country. Nearly 30% of the income that residents spent in 2012 went towards non-durable goods. Of this, a third was spent on food and beverages in grocery and convenience stores, one of the higher rates in the country.