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

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41. Alabama
> Debt per capita: $1,804 (7th lowest)
> Credit Rating (S&P/Moody’s): AA/Aa1
> 2013 unemployment rate: 6.5% (18th lowest)
> Median household income: $42,849 (4th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 18.7% (7th highest)

Like many other states at the bottom of the list, Alabama residents are quite poor. More than 10% of households in Alabama earned less than $10,000 last year, and nearly 19% of state residents lived in poverty, both among the highest rates in the country. Poor educational attainment rates likely contribute to the state’s low incomes. Just 23.5% of adults had at least a bachelor’s degree as of last year, one of the lowest rates nationwide. Despite the potentially discouraging economic outcomes, Americans are still moving to Alabama faster than they are leaving. More than 17,000 people elected to move to the state between mid-2010 and mid-2013 from either other states or foreign countries.

42. Missouri
> Debt per capita: $3,373 (25th highest)
> Credit Rating (S&P/Moody’s): AAA/Aaa
> 2013 unemployment rate: 6.5% (18th lowest)
> Median household income: $46,931 (14th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 15.9% (23rd highest)

Missouri’s GDP grew by just 0.8% between 2012 and 2013, one of the lowest growth rates nationwide. A typical household earned less than $47,000 in 2013, one of the lower median household incomes. But while incomes in the state are relatively low, Missouri also had nearly the lowest cost of living in the nation in 2012. Missouri’s housing market is also weak. A typical home in Missouri was valued at $133,200 last year, one of the lower figures nationwide. The median home value also declined by 1.3% between 2012 and last year, a larger decline than in all but one other state. The state received perfect credit ratings from both Moody’s and S&P, despite the fact that it raises comparatively less tax revenue than most states. As of fiscal 2012, the state had revenues of just $1,787 per capita, fifth lowest in the U.S.

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43. New Jersey
> Debt per capita: $7,287 (5th highest)
> Credit Rating (S&P/Moody’s): A+/A1
> 2013 unemployment rate: 8.2% (10th highest)
> Median household income: $70,165 (3rd highest)
> Poverty rate: 11.4% (8th lowest)

New Jersey is one of only a handful of states where debt exceeded the state’s fiscal 2012 revenues. The state reported $7,287 in debt per capita in fiscal 2012, among the highest figures nationwide. Due to its difficulties in maintaining a balanced state budget, Moody’s awarded New Jersey among the lowest ratings of any state, as well as a negative outlook. On the other hand, New Jersey residents are among the nation’s wealthiest. A typical household earned more than $70,000 in 2013, higher than the median household income in all but two other states. A typical New Jersey home was also worth well over $300,000 in 2013, versus the national median home value of $173,900. However, residents may not be as well off as they seem as the cost of living in New Jersey was 14% higher than the rest of the country in 2012, the third highest cost of living nationwide.

44. Georgia
> Debt per capita: $1,341 (4th lowest)
> Credit Rating (S&P/Moody’s): AAA/Aaa
> 2013 unemployment rate: 8.2% (10th highest)
> Median household income: $47,829 (18th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 19.0% (5th highest)

Nearly 19% of Georgia residents did not have health insurance last year, one of the worst rates nationwide. Georgia also had the one of the nation’s worst unemployment rates in 2013, at 8.2%. And poverty is spreading to more parts of the state. According to a 2013 report by the Brookings Institution, the number of people living in poverty in the Atlanta suburbs rose 159% between 2000 and 2011. A high unemployment rates exacerbates the financial hardship of many residents. Georgia’s poverty rate was 19% last year, also among the worst in the country. Further, Georgia’s housing market is also relatively weak. Median Georgia home values fell 13% between 2009 and 2013, nearly the largest drop nationwide. There was a foreclosure filing for one in every 72 homes in 2013, also worse than in all but a handful of states.

45. Arizona
> Debt per capita: $2,140 (11th lowest)
> Credit Rating (S&P/Moody’s): AA-/Aa3
> 2013 unemployment rate: 8.0% (12th highest)
> Median household income: $48,510 (21st lowest)
> Poverty rate: 18.6% (9th highest)

Few states received lower credit ratings than Arizona from the two largest rating agencies, S&P and Moody’s. S&P awarded the state a rating of AA-, while Moody’s rates Arizona an Aa3 on its scale, both worse than most states. However, Moody’s recently upgraded the state’s outlook on improved fund balances, as well as low debt and net pension liabilities. Additionally, as with Florida, Arizona is in the midst of a housing market recovery after a brutal downturn during the recession. Last year, home values in the state rose 9.2% from the year before, better than all states except for Nevada. Despite this, the median home value was still down by nearly 12% between 2009 and 2013, by comparison, the U.S. median home value fell 6% in that time.

46. Kentucky
> Debt per capita: $3,436 (23rd highest)
> Credit Rating (S&P/Moody’s): AA-/Aa2
> 2013 unemployment rate: 8.3% (7th highest)
> Median household income: $43,399 (5th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 18.8% (6th highest)

Kentucky had one of the lowest violent crime rates in 2013, at 210 incidents per 100,000 residents. But while Kentucky is relatively safe, its residents are worse-off financially than those in the vast majority of states. A typical household earned less than $44,000 in 2013, lower than in all but four other states. Due in part to the low incomes, more than 17% of Kentucky households used food stamps last year, nearly the highest rate nationwide. Low educational attainment rates likely explain in part the poor economic outcomes in Kentucky. As of 2013, just 84.1% of adults had completed at least high school, and less than 23% had completed at least a bachelor’s degree. Both of these were among the lowest rates nationwide.

47. Rhode Island
> Debt per capita: $8,761 (3rd highest)
> Credit Rating (S&P/Moody’s): AA/Aa2
> 2013 unemployment rate: 9.5% (2nd highest)
> Median household income: $55,902 (18th highest)
> Poverty rate: 14.3% (24th lowest)

Rhode Island is one of only two states that declined in population in recent years. The total state population dropped by more than 1,000 between April 2010 and July 2013. Driving this change was the fact that more people left than relocated to Rhode Island. A poor job market may account for part of the exodus — 9.5% of the state’s workforce was unemployed as of last year, the second highest rate nationwide. A typical home in the area was worth $232,300 in 2013, one of the highest median values in the nation. However, this was after a 13% decrease from 2009, nearly the worst drop in property values nationwide. Rhode Island’s state debt level totalled 116% of revenue in fiscal 2012, one of only a few states where debt levels exceeded a year of revenue.

48. Mississippi
> Debt per capita: $2,405 (14th lowest)
> Credit Rating (S&P/Moody’s): AA/Aa2
> 2013 unemployment rate: 8.6% (6th highest)
> Median household income: $37,963 (the lowest)
> Poverty rate: 24.0% (the highest)

Mississippi had the least productive economy in the nation with a GDP per capita of just $32,421 in 2013. By comparison, U.S. GDP per capita was $49,115 that year. Many residents also struggled to find work in the state. Mississippi’s unemployment rate was 8.6% last year, among the highest in the nation. Poor economic productivity and few jobs may explain the state’s low incomes. Last year, the median household income in Mississippi was just $37,963, and 12% of households reported incomes of $10,000 or less, both were the worst of any state. Mississippi had the lowest cost of living in the country in 2012. However, very low incomes still make life difficult for many residents. Mississippi had the nation’s highest poverty rate in 2013, when 24% of the population lived below the poverty line. It also had the second highest share of households that used food stamps last year, at 19.4%.

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49. New Mexico
> Debt per capita: $3,621 (20th highest)
> Credit Rating (S&P/Moody’s): AA+/Aaa
> 2013 unemployment rate: 6.9% (24th highest)
> Median household income: $43,872 (6th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 21.9% (2nd highest)

New Mexico struggles with poverty and low incomes. Nearly 22% of New Mexico residents lived in poverty last year, the second highest rate after Mississippi. A typical household in New Mexico earned less than $44,000 in 2013, below all but a handful of states. The state’s crime rate was also higher than in all but one other state, with 613 violent crimes reported per 100,000 residents in 2013. Like several other states at the bottom of the list, people left New Mexico faster than they moved into the state. Between the middle of 2010 and July 2013, the state lost 9,750 residents to migration alone. S&P recently revised its outlook on New Mexico’s credit rating to negative from stable. The revision was based on New Mexico’s weak economic recovery from the recession and over-reliance on government aid and the energy sector.

50. Illinois
> Debt per capita: $4,992 (11th highest)
> Credit Rating (S&P/Moody’s): A-/A3
> 2013 unemployment rate: 9.2% (3rd highest)
> Median household income: $56,210 (17th highest)
> Poverty rate: 14.7% (25th lowest)

Illinois is the worst-run state in the nation. Like many other low-ranked states, more people left Illinois than moved there. Illinois lost more than 137,000 residents due to migration between the middle of 2010 and July 2013. A poor housing market may partly explain the exodus. Median home values fell 16.2% between 2009 and 2013, the second largest drop nationwide. Illinois has extremely poor finances by many measures. Just 39.3% of Illinois’ pension liabilities were funded as of 2013, worse than any other state. Further, the state’s reserves are estimated at just 0.5% of its general fund expenditure, the second lowest reserves rate nationwide. Both Moody’s and S&P gave Illinois the worst credit ratings of any state, at A3 and A- respectively. According to Moody’s, the state’s rating reflects its low fund balances and high pension obligations, as well as its “chronic use of payment deferrals to manage operating fund cash.”