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

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16. Idaho
> Debt per capita:
$2,232 (13th lowest)
> Credit rating (S&P/Moody’s): AA+/Aa1
> Unemployment rate: 4.0% (11th lowest)
> Median household income: $47,861 (14th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 14.8% (25th highest)

According to an annual report on corruption from The Center for Public Integrity, Idaho earns the second highest marks in the country for its budgetary process. With responsible budgetary practices, Idaho has assets on hand to cover 85% of all state pensions. The average pension funded ratio among all states is 72%, by contrast. Idaho is able to effectively manage workers’ pensions despite having a much lower than average annual tax revenue per capita. While the national average per capita tax revenue is $2,657, Idaho collects on average only $2,190 annually per state resident.

17. Virginia
> Debt per capita:
$3,366 (25th lowest)
> Credit rating (S&P/Moody’s): AAA/Aaa
> Unemployment rate: 4.2% (15th lowest)
> Median household income: $64,902 (8th highest)
> Poverty rate: 11.8% (12th lowest)

Virginia ranked as the seventh best-run state in the country in 2010. It remained in the top 10 through 2012, but then steadily declined to this year’s mediocre rank of 17th. The drop is partially due to subpar economic growth. The state’s GDP growth remained stagnant in 2014, while nearly every other state in the country had at least some economic growth. Yet, Virginia receives top marks from credit rating agencies Moody’s and S&P, which may reflect strong leadership and good investment potential.

Incomes are quite high, likely due in part to the proximity of the Washington D.C. area, where some of the nation’s highest-paying jobs are based. The typical Virginia household earns $64,902 annually, significantly more than the median household income across the U.S. of $53,657. Virginia does not benefit from high tax revenue, however. While the average annual per capita tax revenue among all states is $2,657 — Virginia’s is $2,304.


18. Alaska
> Debt per capita:
$8,440 (4th highest)
> Credit rating (S&P/Moody’s): AAA/Aaa
> Unemployment rate: 6.4% (4th highest)
> Median household income: $71,583 (3rd highest)
> Poverty rate: 11.2% (5th lowest)

Previously positioned in the top 10, Alaska has slipped considerably in the rankings of the best-run states. Though the state maintains a perfect rating from both Moody’s and S&P, both credit rating agencies have a negative outlook for the state. Like only a few other states, more people left Alaska than arrived from April 2010 to July 2014. With a 6.4% unemployment rate, Alaska’s job market is also struggling. Only three states have higher unemployment rates than Alaska.

In 2013, the average annual per capita tax revenue across all states was $2,657. In the same year, Alaska collected about $6,967 per state resident, the second highest tax revenue in the country after North Dakota. However, with such weak population growth and higher than average unemployment, Alaska’s tax revenue may not remain so large.

19. Montana
> Debt per capita:
$3,476 (21st highest)
> Credit rating (S&P/Moody’s): AA/Aa1
> Unemployment rate: 4.1% (13th lowest)
> Median household income: $46,328 (10th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 15.4% (22nd highest)

Montana’s annual tax revenue is not particularly high — at $2,584 per capita, it is just below the nationwide average of $2,657 per capita. Similarly, the state’s median annual household income of $46,328 is lower than the national median income of $53,657. Highway maintenance and construction, as well as government administration, account for relatively large shares of the state’s spending, at 11.3% and 6.3% of total expenditure respectively. These allocations are also among the largest compared with other state budgets.

Montana residents are among the most likely Americans to have a high school diploma. Nearly 93% of adults in the state have at least a high school diploma, the second highest percentage in the country.

20. Maryland
> Debt per capita:
$4,362 (12th highest)
> Credit rating (S&P/Moody’s): AAA/Aaa
> Unemployment rate: 5.1% (24th highest)
> Median household income: $73,971 (the highest)
> Poverty rate: 10.1% (2nd lowest)

Maryland managed to record a 0.8% economic growth in 2014, despite the government sector dragging the state economy down by 0.11 percentage points. With a typical household earning $73,971 annually, incomes in the state are higher in Maryland than anywhere else in the country. High incomes mean a larger tax base, which in turn is a likely reason Maryland has a perfect credit rating from both Moody’s and S&P. Maryland’s poverty rate of 10.1% is also the second lowest poverty rate in the country after New Hampshire.

Maryland’s labor market and its unemployment insurance system, however, are not exceptional. The state’s unemployment rate of 5.1% is roughly in line with the national rate of 5.0%. Similarly, while 38.7% of Americans exhaust their unemployment benefits before finding a job, 38.8% of Maryland residents are unable to find a job before their unemployment benefits expire.