America's Most (and Least) Livable States

Media reports regularly rank the country’s states in terms of their current economic situation, health, jobs and even water quality. But what about their future? That’s what Gallup attempted to find out. On Tuesday, the national polling agency released a report identifying the “future livability” of every state in the country, or the best and worst states to live tomorrow.

Read: America’s Most Livable States

Read: America’s Least Livable States

Based on surveys conducted over 18 months measuring current sentiment, Gallup identified 13 metrics that can be used to gauge how livable states will be in the future. Some questions, which measure each state’s economy, job prospects and personal finances, are intended to predict the future economic prospects of a state. Others measure current quality-of-life components that can have an effect on long-term health, including rates of obesity, smoking and the availability of safe, clean water.

24/7 Wall St. spoke to Dan Witters, Research Director of Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, about how Gallup chose the components that made up its future livability score. According to Witters, each metric “gives some sense of how livable that area, that state, that community is going to be down the road,”

Responses that reflect current conditions, Witters explained, can be used also to measure the future livability and prosperity of a region. “If you have high economic confidence and strong job creation and high full employment, does that guarantee that you will [have the same] 20 years from now? No, obviously not.” But what these factors do, he explained, is increase the probability that a region will have better economic vitality down the road.

The health factors Gallup considered — obesity, smoking and dentist visits — are similarly predictive of long-term health. Obesity, for example, is one of the best predictors of diabetes. According to Witters, in states with high obesity, including West Virginia, Mississippi and Kentucky, “the probability that you’re going to have high levels of high blood pressure, high levels of cholesterol, high levels of physical pain” is higher.

In addition to the 13 metrics considered by Gallup, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed additional measures of economic and social well-being. While the states that score well or poorly for future livability appear to have little in common geographically, they have other factors in common.

Unemployment rates, for example, appear to bear a strong relationship to the overall future livability rank. Eight of the 10 states with the best future livability scores have among the 15 lowest unemployment rates, as of June. This includes North Dakota and Nebraska, which have the lowest and second-lowest rates. Not surprisingly, the relationship between unemployment and economy-related measures of future livability score is stronger than questions that measure health.

The wealth of a state’s population also appears to be an indicator of the future livability of a state. Eight of the 10 states with the worst future livability scores are in the bottom third for median income. This includes Arkansas, West Virginia and Mississippi, which have the three lowest median household income figures as of 2010, the most recent available data.

24/7 Wall St. reviewed the 13 measures Gallup included in its future livability report, all of which are for the most recent 18 months. At Gallup’s direction, we referenced earlier versions of some of these surveys in order to provide figures where current data is unavailable. We also considered poverty, income, food stamp recipiency and health insurance coverage from the U.S. Census Bureau for 2010, the most recent available year. We also reviewed June 2011 and June 2012 unemployment figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, as well as home price projections from Q1 2012 from Fiserv.

These are America’s most (and least) livable states.

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