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

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11. Montana
> Debt per capita: $3,936 (19th highest)
> Credit Rating (S&P/Moody’s): AA/Aa1
> 2013 unemployment rate: 5.6% (14th lowest)
> Median household income: $46,972 (15th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 16.5% (19th highest)

A typical household in Montana had an income of less than $47,000 last year, much lower than the national median household income of $52,250. However, it was also among the states with the fastest GDP growth rates, rising 3% and tying for 10th highest. Home values were also on the rise, climbing 7.8% between 2009 and last year, one of the largest growth rates in the nation. By contrast, home values declined by more than 6% across the nation. Perhaps as a result, the state’s foreclosure rate was nearly the lowest. Last year, just one in every 1,114 homes — or 0.09% of all homes — was in foreclosure. Montana also had among the nation’s lowest crime rates, at just 253 violent crimes per 100,000 people.

12. Hawaii
> Debt per capita: $5,981 (9th highest)
> Credit Rating (S&P/Moody’s): AA/Aa2
> 2013 unemployment rate: 4.8% (8th lowest)
> Median household income: $68,020 (4th highest)
> Poverty rate: 10.8% (5th lowest)

Hawaii collected more than $3,900 in tax revenue per person in fiscal 2012, among the highest amounts in the nation that year. However, Hawaii also had among the highest levels of state debt that year, at nearly $6,000 per person. Moody’s cited several challenges in assigning the state an Aa2 credit rating, including its vulnerability to tourism downswings, low pension funding levels, and high debt ratios. Of course, Hawaii’s credit rating is still firmly investment grade, and the state has more than a few positives in its favor as well. For example, just 6.7% of the state’s population did not have health insurance last year, the second best rate of any state and well below the 14.5% nationwide rate. This has likely been in no small part due to the Hawaii Prepaid Health Care Act, now 40 years old, which requires employers to provide coverage to regular employees.

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13. Delaware
> Debt per capita: $6,262 (7th highest)
> Credit Rating (S&P/Moody’s): AAA/Aaa
> 2013 unemployment rate: 6.7% (23rd lowest)
> Median household income: $57,846 (15th highest)
> Poverty rate: 12.4% (13th lowest)

Delaware is among the minority of states with perfect credit ratings from both Moody’s and S&P, with Moody’s citing the state’s exceptional management and a history of maintaining large reserves. Moody’s also identified two challenges for the state: a large debt burden relative to the population and potential exposure to declining activity in the financial sector. As of fiscal year 2012, Delaware had $6,262 in gross debt per capita, among the highest rates in the nation. Additionally, more than 42% of Delaware’s GDP came from the finance, insurance, real estate and rental industries in 2013, which also accounted for 1.2 percentage points of the state’s 1.6% GDP growth.

14. Virginia
> Debt per capita: $3,365 (25th lowest)
> Credit Rating (S&P/Moody’s): AAA/Aaa
> 2013 unemployment rate: 5.5% (13th lowest)
> Median household income: $62,666 (8th highest)
> Poverty rate: 11.7% (9th lowest)

A typical Virginia household earned $62,666 last year, considerably higher than the national median household income of $52,250 and among the highest nationwide. Virginians are also well educated. More than 36% of adults had completed at least a bachelor’s degree as of 2013, more than in all but a handful of states. This was also a substantial increase from 2009, when 34% of residents had a bachelor’s degree. In addition, Virginia is relatively safe. There were 196 violent crimes reported per 100,000 people last year, less than in all but two other states. However, residents in the state also face higher prices. As of 2012, Virginia was tied for the 10th highest cost of living in the U.S.

15. Washington
> Debt per capita: $4,173 (15th highest)
> Credit Rating (S&P/Moody’s): AA+/Aa1
> 2013 unemployment rate: 7.0% (23rd highest)
> Median household income: $58,405 (14th highest)
> Poverty rate: 14.1% (22nd lowest)

Washington has been able to attract new residents in recent years. Between April 2010 and July 2013, the state added 126,307 new residents from other states and nations, the equivalent of 1.8% of the state’s 2013 population. Washington also managed its pension funds in a prudent manner. State pension funds were more than 95% funded as of 2013, more than most states. Washington’s GDP per capita of more than $54,654 was also one of the highest in the nation in 2013. Washingtonians have been especially proactive in adopting high minimum wages. The state’s minimum wage of $9.32 an hour is the nation’s highest, and it is also indexed to inflation. Additionally, Seattle recently announced plans to slowly increase the local minimum wage to $15 per hour in the coming years. The nearby city of SeaTac already has a $15 minimum wage, instituted at the start of the year.

16. Idaho
> Debt per capita: $2,447 (17th lowest)
> Credit Rating (S&P/Moody’s): AA+/Aa1
> 2013 unemployment rate: 6.2% (15th lowest)
> Median household income: $46,783 (13th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 15.6% (25th highest)

Idaho has a robust agricultural industry. Agriculture made up 5.4% of the state’s total GDP last year, more than in all but four states. Agriculture was also the largest contributor to the state’s strong GDP growth of 4.1% between 2012 and last year. State residents also benefited from a relatively low crime rate. There were 217 violent crimes reported per 100,000 people last year, lower than in all but a handful of other states. And while the percent of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree was lower than the national rate of 29.6%, the state’s college-attainment rate grew more than in the vast majority of states between 2009 and last year.

17. Colorado
> Debt per capita: $3,100 (20th lowest)
> Credit Rating (S&P/Moody’s): AA/Aa1
> 2013 unemployment rate: 6.8% (25th highest)
> Median household income: $58,823 (12th highest)
> Poverty rate: 13.0% (16th lowest)

Colorado has been a very popular destination in recent years for people looking to relocate. More than 2.4% of the state’s 2013 population moved to Colorado between mid-2010 and mid-2013, the third highest rate nationally. Migrants may be drawn to the state’s growing economy and its well-educated and financially well-off communities. Colorado’s economy grew 3.8% last year, a larger growth than all but five other states. Nearly 38% of Colorado adults had completed at least a bachelor’s degree as of last year, more than in every state except Massachusetts. Colorado residents were also among the least reliant on food stamps, with just 8.6% receiving SNAP benefits last year, versus 13.5% nationwide.

18. Massachusetts
> Debt per capita: $11,923 (the highest)
> Credit Rating (S&P/Moody’s): AA+/Aa1
> 2013 unemployment rate: 7.1% (22nd highest)
> Median household income: $66,768 (6th highest)
> Poverty rate: 11.9% (11th lowest)

Massachusetts had more debt per capita — $11,900 — than any other state in fiscal 2012. Yet, Massachusetts also carries a credit rating of AA+ from S&P, equal to the rating for the United States. This is due, in part, to relatively good fiscal management, a wealthy population, and a strong state economy. The state’s median household income of $66,768 last year was among the highest. Massachusetts also had one of the nation’s highest shares of output from the high-skill professional and business services sector, at 16.7%. The state has a highly educated workforce. More than 40% of adults 25 and older had a college degree as of 2013, the highest rate in the nation. The state also had the lowest rate of people without health insurance, at just 3.7%.

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19. North Carolina
> Debt per capita: $1,857 (8th lowest)
> Credit Rating (S&P/Moody’s): AAA/Aaa
> 2013 unemployment rate: 8.0% (12th highest)
> Median household income: $45,906 (11th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 17.9% (11th highest)

Perfect credit ratings from both major agencies, one of the highest pension funded ratios in the nation, and very low levels of debt all helped lift North Carolina into the better-run half of all states. The state has also been among the most successful in attracting new residents, with 1.8% of the 2013 population having migrated to the state since mid-2010. However, state residents are, by some measures, not as well off as Americans elsewhere. North Carolina had a median household income of just $45,906 in 2013, considerably lower than the U.S. median of $52,250 that year. Also, almost 18% of residents lived in poverty last year, worse than the U.S. poverty rate of 15.8%, as well as that of most states.

20. Oregon
> Debt per capita: $3,507 (22nd highest)
> Credit Rating (S&P/Moody’s): AA+/Aa1
> 2013 unemployment rate: 7.7% (15th highest)
> Median household income: $50,251 (23rd lowest)
> Poverty rate: 16.7% (18th highest)

Nearly one in five Oregon residents relied on food stamps last year, the highest figure nationwide. Further, Oregon’s unemployment rate of 7.7% was above the U.S. rate of 7.4% last year. Despite these facts, Oregon scored better overall than the majority of states. Manufacturing accounted for nearly a third of the state’s output last year, well above the 12.5% national share. The sector also contributed substantially to the state’s GDP growth rate last year. Global semiconductor manufacturer Intel’s largest facility is located in Oregon, where it is the largest private sector employer. The Portland area is also home to numerous startup companies and has been dubbed Silicon Forest.