America’s Happiest (and Most Miserable) States

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Jackson, Mississippi
Source: Thinkstock

41. Mississippi
> Poverty rate: 22.0% (the highest)
> Unemployment rate: 6.5% (4th highest)
> Obesity rate: 35.6% (2nd highest)
> Pct. of adults w/ bachelor’s degree: 20.8% (2nd lowest)

Nationwide, 14.7% of Americans live in poverty. In Mississippi, the poverty rate is 22.0%, the highest in the country. Those state residents who are living in poverty are less likely to be able to afford the basic amenities needed to ensure well-being.

People in poverty are also more likely to suffer from a number of negative health outcomes, at least in part because they are less likely to have access to quality health care. Indeed, the state has one of the least healthy populations in the country. About 345 residents die each year due to cardiovascular issues, such as heart attack and stroke, per 100,000 people, the highest rate of any state. The state also has the highest rate of diabetes, as well as the second highest rates of both cancer deaths and obesity.

town of east greenwich, Rhode Island
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42. Rhode Island
> Poverty rate: 13.9% (25th lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 6.0% (10th highest)
> Obesity rate: 26.0% (11th lowest)
> Pct. of adults w/ bachelor’s degree: 32.7% (13th highest)

Rhode Island residents have a lower overall sense of well-being than those living in the rest of New England. A high jobless rate likely explains dissatisfaction among many state residents. The state’s 2015 annual unemployment rate of 6.0% is slightly higher than the 5.3% U.S. jobless rate in 2015.

Drug abuse can be a significant detriment to overall well-being, and it is a relatively common problem across Rhode Island. There are about 21.4 overdose fatalities for every 100,000 state residents annually, well above the national rate of 14.0 drug deaths per 100,000 Americans. Rhode Island residents are also more likely to report frequent mental or physical distress than most Americans.

Cars going through Huntsville, Alabama.
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43. Alabama
> Poverty rate: 18.5% (5th highest)
> Unemployment rate: 6.1% (8th highest)
> Obesity rate: 35.6% (2nd highest)
> Pct. of adults w/ bachelor’s degree: 24.2% (7th lowest)

Alabama residents were among the least likely in Gallup’s survey to report financial well-being, which measures whether people feel they are able to manage their resources without difficulty. The state’s high unemployment rate of 6.1% means many people are not earning regular wages. Further, Alabama’s poverty rate of 18.5% is fifth highest of all states.

Another sign of poor overall well-being, state residents are among the most likely to suffer from poor mental health. Each month, adults in the state report an average of 4.3 days of poor mental health, compared to the national average of 3.7 days per month.

Night time in Baton Rouge, Louisiana
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44. Louisiana
> Poverty rate: 19.6% (3rd highest)
> Unemployment rate: 6.3% (6th highest)
> Obesity rate: 36.2% (the highest)
> Pct. of adults w/ bachelor’s degree: 23.2% (4th lowest)

Louisiana residents are among the least likely in the country to report a strong sense of community, which is related to feeling safe and generally enjoying one’s neighborhood. Louisiana has the fifth highest violent crime rate in the country, as well as the fifth highest rate of burglaries and the highest murder rate.

Louisiana’s low overall well-being is likely related to the state’s many health issues. Louisiana has the highest obesity rate in the country at 36.2%, compared to the national rate of 29.8%. Obesity is tied to a number of common, life-threatening illnesses, including diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, and Louisiana has among the five highest rates of incidence of diabetes and cardiovascular disease, and also has one of the five highest cancer death rates.

Columbus, Ohio beyond The Ohio State University
Source: Thinkstock

45. Ohio
> Poverty rate: 14.8% (21st highest)
> Unemployment rate: 4.9% (22nd lowest)
> Obesity rate: 29.8% (25th lowest)
> Pct. of adults w/ bachelor’s degree: 26.8% (16th lowest)

A college education can affect nearly every aspect of an individual’s life and ultimately improve overall well-being. In Ohio, only 26.8% of adults have a college degree, well below the 30.6% share of American adults.

Adults in the state are also more likely to exhibit some bad habits that can detract considerably from overall well-being. The opioid epidemic is a national problem, but it has hit Ohio especially hard. There are 21.1 overdose deaths for every 100,000 residents every year in the state, well above the 14.0 drug deaths per 100,000 Americans. Ohio adults are also more likely to drink too much alcohol than the typical American. Some 19.2% of adults in Ohio drink excessively, higher than the 17.7% national excessive drinking rate.