America’s Best States to Live In

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50. Mississippi
> 10-yr. population change: +2.7% (9th smallest increase)
> Annual unemployment: 5.8% (7th highest)
> Poverty rate: 20.8% (the highest)
> Life expectancy at birth: 74.8 years (the shortest)

The U.S. poverty line is set at an annual income of $12,060 for individuals and $24,600 for a family of four. By that standard, more than 1 in every 5 Mississippi residents live in poverty. The prevalence of financial hardship in the state is partially the product of a stagnant job market. An average of 5.8% of the state’s labor force was out of a job in 2016 — a larger share than in all but six other states and nearly a full percentage point above the U.S. annual unemployment rate of 4.9%.

Poor economic conditions in the state likely undermine social stability and personal well-being. Mississippi has both the highest teen birth rate and the largest share of children raised in single parent homes of any state in the country. Additionally, Mississippi is the only state in the country in which life expectancy is below 75 years.

49. Louisiana
> 10-yr. population change: +9.2% (25th smallest increase)
> Annual unemployment: 6.1% (3rd highest)
> Poverty rate: 20.2% (2nd highest)
> Life expectancy at birth: 75.8 years (4th shortest)

Louisiana struggles with a range of social and economic problems to a far greater degree than most states. The state is one of only two nationwide in which more than 1 in every 5 residents live in poverty. Also, no state has greater income inequality than Louisiana. Crime is also relatively common across Louisiana. There were 566 violent crimes and 3,298 property crimes in the state for every 100,000 residents — each among the five worst crime rates of all states in 2016.

Louisiana residents are also more likely than most Americans to struggle with poor health. About 35% of adults in the state are obese, third highest. Additionally, life expectancy at birth is only 75.8 years, about three years less than the average life expectancy nationwide.

48. West Virginia
> 10-yr. population change: +0.7% (2nd smallest increase)
> Annual unemployment: 6.0% (tied — 4th highest)
> Poverty rate: 17.9% (5th highest)
> Life expectancy at birth: 75.4 years (3rd shortest)

Compared to people with lower educational attainment, college-educated individuals tend to have a greater sense of control over their lives and are often better equipped to obtain high-paying jobs, which in turn support longer, healthier lives. In West Virginia, only 20.8% of the adult population has a bachelor’s degree, the smallest share of any state. Among West Virginia’s adult population, 25.7% are smokers and 34.6% are obese, each the second largest share among states. Unhealthy lifestyles lead to poor health outcomes, and adults in West Virginia report they feel physically unhealthy 5.1 days a month and mentally unhealthy 4.8 days, more than in any other state.

With some of the nation’s lowest incomes, financial hardship is relatively common in West Virginia. The typical household in the state earns $43,385 a year, less than in every state except for Mississippi and about $14,200 less than the median income nationwide.

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47. Kentucky
> 10-yr. population change: +5.5% (16th smallest increase)
> Annual unemployment: 5.0% (tied — 18th highest)
> Poverty rate: 18.5% (4th highest)
> Life expectancy at birth: 75.8 years (6th shortest)

A strong economy is often the foundation of other positive socioeconomic outcomes. However, in a break from the national trend, Kentucky’s economy appears to be worsening rather than improving. The state is one of only a handful where unemployment worsened this year. Currently, 5.2% of Kentucky’s labor force is out of a job, the third highest unemployment rate of all states in September, compared to the 2016 annual average of 5.0%.

The state’s sluggish economy and poor jobs figures may partially explain the relatively large share of state residents living in poverty. Some 18.5% of Kentucky residents live below the poverty line, a larger share than in all but three other states.

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46. Arkansas
> 10-yr. population change: +6.3% (19th smallest increase)
> Annual unemployment: 4.0% (tied — 14th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 17.2% (6th highest)
> Life expectancy at birth: 75.8 years (7th shortest)

The typical household in Arkansas earns $44,334 a year, less than in all but two other states and about $13,300 less than the typical American household. As is often the case in low-income areas, cost of living is also lower in Arkansas. Goods and services in the state are 12.6% less expensive on average than they are nationwide. While the low cost of living can help somewhat offset the low incomes, for many it is not nearly enough. As many as 17.2% of state residents live below the poverty line, well above the 14.0% U.S. poverty rate.

Healthy lifestyles, and medical bills both for preventative as well as unexpected care, can be prohibitively expensive for low-income individuals, and the relatively widespread financial hardship in Arkansas may partially explain the poor health outcomes in the state. An estimated 23% of adults report being in fair or poor health, the largest share of any state with the exception of West Virginia.