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.

America’s Most Livable States

10. Maryland
> Future livability score: 18.5
> Full-time employment: 3rd best
> Job creation index: 24th best
> Outlook on life in five years: 16th best

Maryland is the state with the 10th-best outlook in the country, according to Gallup’s Future Livability survey. The state has the wealthiest population in the nation based on median household income, according to recent Census data. Also, just 8.4% of Maryland households live below the poverty line, compared to the nearly 12% of households nationwide. In Gallup’s Economic Confidence Index survey, the state ranks the second-most optimistic about the economy in the country. It also has the third-highest percentage of residents reporting being employed full-time by an employer.

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9. South Dakota
> Future livability score: 18.1
> Full-time employment: 13th best
> Job creation index: 6th best
> Outlook on life in five years: 10th worst

South Dakota has a strong job market, scoring sixth best in Gallup’s Job Creation Index. And the state’s unemployment rate of 4.3% as of June is nearly 50% of the national figure for the month. It is not surprising then that South Dakota has the third-largest proportion of respondents feeling positive about the current economy and the seventh-largest proportion of respondents who felt their standard of living was getting better. But despite the rosy projections, South Dakotans are surprisingly pessimistic about their own future lives. When asked to evaluate their lives in five years, they scored 10th worst of all states.

8. Hawaii
> Future livability score: 17.5
> Full-time employment: 4th worst
> Job creation index: 20th worst
> Outlook on life in five years: 7th best

While most of the states on this list are near the top in terms of employees working full-time, Hawaii is the only state in the top 10 for future livability that is among the worst in this category. Nevertheless, Hawaii fares well economically otherwise. Its median household income of $63,030 is the fifth highest in the country and well higher than the U.S. average of $50,046. Hawaiians are healthier than the average American, too. As of 2011, the state has the third-lowest rate of smokers at 16% and the 10th-lowest rate of obese residents at 23.3%, besting the national rate of 21% and 26.1%, respectively.

7. Iowa
> Future livability score: 17.5
> Full-time employment: 6th best
> Job creation index: 3rd best
> Outlook on life in five years: 5th worst

A large part of why Iowa is a great place to live is the state’s relatively strong economy. The unemployment rate is the seventh lowest in the country at 5.2%, while the national rate is 8.2%. Iowa ranks third for job creation in the nation. Manufacturing added the most jobs of any nonfarm sector in Iowa in 2011. Meanwhile, the housing sector also seems to be rebounding in the state. While home prices declined almost 2% nationwide between the first quarter of 2011 and the first quarter of 2012, they increased by 5.7% in the Hawkeye state during that period — the most of any state in the country.

Also Read: American Cities Where Homes Sell Fastest

6. Virginia
> Future livability score: 16.8
> Full-time employment: 9th best
> Job creation index: 16th best
> Outlook on life in five years: 20th best

Virginia has one of the lowest poverty rates in the country, as well as one of the highest median incomes. The housing market is improving, as evidenced by the 4.8% increase in home prices between the first quarter of 2011 and the first quarter of 2012. While the state is not exceptional in any of the 13 metrics Gallup uses to create its Future Livability score, it is in the top 25 in every category but one — obesity, in which it ranks 26th. The state’s unemployment rate in June was just 5.7%, the 10th lowest in the country. The state also has the ninth-highest percentage of residents employed full-time.

5. North Dakota
> Future livability score: 14.5
> Full-time employment: The best
> Job creation index:  The best
> Outlook on life in five years: 14th worst

Like its southern neighbor, North Dakota has an extremely strong job outlook, with the nation’s best job creation score and a June unemployment rate of 2.9% — the nation’s lowest. In 2011, the proportion of employees who stated their employer was hiring was 34 percentage points higher than the proportion claiming their employer was shedding jobs — the largest disparity in the nation. Additionally, North Dakota residents have the fourth-highest economic confidence score, and few states have residents who are more optimistic about their future quality of life. But despite all these positive projections about the state, respondents are less enthusiastic about their own lives in five years, giving the 14th-worst projections for their futures lives.

4. Nebraska
> Future livability score: 13.7
> Full-time employment: 2nd best
> Job creation index: 4th best
> Outlook on life in five years: 9th worst

Nebraska’s housing market did not collapse nearly as hard as other parts of America. Housing prices in the state only fell 2.8% from the first quarter of 2007 to the first quarter of 2012, much better than the U.S. average of a 33.3% drop. In turn, the June 2012 unemployment rate of 3.8% is second lowest after North Dakota, and is less than half the national rate of 8.2%. Those employees feel valued, too; the state ranks fifth overall in terms of managers treating employees as partners and not as bosses. Despite this, Nebraska is one of four states on this list ranked in the bottom 10 in terms of life outlook five years from now.

3. Colorado
> Future livability score: 12.8
> Full-time employment: 10th best
> Job creation index: 18th worst
> Outlook on life in five years: 18th worst

Colorado residents are among the healthiest in the United States. With an obesity rate of 18.5%, it is the only state to have an obesity rate below 20% as of 2011. The state also ranks third in terms of finding a safe place to exercise. Colorado’s 20% smoking rate, while not as impressive as its low obesity rate, is below the national average of 21%. The state’s unemployment rate is the same as the national average at 8.2%. But of all states, Colorado has the fifth-lowest decline in unemployment from 2011 to 2012, dropping only 0.2 percentage points compared to 0.9 percentage points in the U.S. as a whole. However, for those who have work, the state ranks third in managers who treat their employees like partners.

2. Minnesota
> Future livability score: 10.5
> Full-time employment: 8th best
> Job creation index: 10th best
> Outlook on life in five years: 3rd worst

The Gopher state ranks first in economic confidence and the ease of finding a safe place to exercise. The Land of 10,000 Lakes also comes in second for the ease in finding clean, safe drinking water. With the seventh-lowest rate of smoking, the fifth-highest rate of regular visits to the dentist and the proportion of the population insured, Minnesotans are a healthy bunch compared to their fellow Americans. Despite all of this, the state is projected to have the fourth-worst change in home prices between the first quarter of 2012 and the first quarter of 2013, with an almost 5% drop compared to a national average projected decrease of 1%.

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1. Utah
> Future livability score: 7.5
> Full-time employment: 21st best
> Job creation index: 5th best
> Outlook on life in five years: 21st worst

Job creation has been booming in Utah. The state ranks sixth highest in Gallup’s job creation index and has the tenth-lowest unemployment rate of any state in the country as of June. In 2011, the proportion of respondents stating their employers were hiring was 20 percentage points higher than the proportion stating their employers were letting people go. Positive attitudes go well beyond just the number of jobs: in the past 18 months, residents of Utah were more likely than those of any other state to claim they felt treated like a partner at work and to claim they had easy access to clean water. People in Utah not only like where they live, but they are also very healthy. No state has fewer smokers and just four states have lower obesity rates.

America’s Least Livable States

10. Delaware
> Future livability score: 32.5
> Full-time employment: 17th best
> Job creation index: 17th worst
> Outlook on life in five years: 14th best

By many measures, Delaware residents are better off than many other Americans. The state has the 10th-highest median income in the United States, as well as the 11th-lowest percentage of families living below the poverty line. It is also one of just nine states where less than 10% of families have no health insurance. Yet, the state receives the 10th-worst future livability score from Gallup. For one, Mississippi is the only state where employees and managers have a worse relationship. In addition, nearly a third of state residents are obese, and the state scores in the bottom 15 in areas such as access to clean water, smoking and the frequency of dentist visits.

Also Read: The 11 States with the Highest Gas Prices

9. Ohio
> Future livability score: 32.7
> Full-time employment: 23rd worst
> Job creation index: 14th best
> Outlook on life in five years: 4th best

Ohioans are not particularly well off. Median household income in Ohio is almost $5,000 less than the national average, and 14.1% of households receive food stamps, 2.2 percentage points higher than the nationwide rate. Further, few states are as unhealthy as Ohio, which has the nation’s sixth-highest obesity rate and the seventh-highest smoking rate. Residents have mixed views on the economy, as the state has the 19th-lowest score in economic confidence but the 14th-highest score in job creation.

8. Louisiana
> Future livability score: 33.3
> Full-time employment: 24th best
> Job creation index: 21st worst
> Outlook on life in five years: 2nd best

Across almost every health measurement, the Bayou state is at the back of the pack. Louisiana ranks fourth worst for obesity and ease in finding clean water, ninth worst for smoking and seventh worst for regular visits to the dentist and ease in finding a safe place to exercise. The state also has the 11th-lowest rate of population insured. Not only are Louisianians some of the most unhealthy Americans, they are also some of the poorest, with 18.2% of residents living below the poverty line and 15.3% on food stamps — the sixth- and eighth-highest percentages in the country, respectively. Not surprising, residents also have the lowest confidence in their state’s economy of all the states polled.

7. Alabama
> Future livability score: 33.5
> Full-time employment: 8th worst
> Job creation index: 23rd worst
> Outlook on life in five years: 6th best

Alabama is one of the poorest states in the country with a median income that is nearly $10,000 less than the national median of $50,046. The state’s economy has shown some positive signs, including one of the highest declines in unemployment in the country in the past 12 months. However, according to Gallup’s measures of future livability, Alabama is in poor shape. Despite the improvement in unemployment, the state still has the eighth-lowest rate of people employed full-time. It also has the 10th-highest obesity and smoking rates in the country.

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6. Florida
> Future livability score: 33.9 (tied for 5th worst)
> Full-time employment: 3rd worst
> Job creation index: 13th worst
> Outlook on life in five years: 12th best

Even though Florida’s unemployment rate fell 2.1 percentage points, from 10.7% to 8.6%, residents still give the economy poor reviews. According to Gallup, the state has the 17th-worst economic confidence score, as well as the 13th-worst score in job creation. Floridians also are less likely than residents in most other states to claim that their standard of living is improving or that the areas where they live are improving. Home prices in Florida have declined by 48.4% between the first quarters of 2007 and the first quarter of 2012, according to Fiserv, while 21% of the population is without health insurance.

5. Arkansas
> Future livability score: 33.9 (tied for 5th worst)
> Full-time employment: 13th worst
> Job creation index: 17th best
> Outlook on life in five years: 10th best

Even though the state’s unemployment rate of 7.2% is well below the national rate of 8.2%  for June, Arkansans have less confidence in the economy than residents of all other states except West Virginia. There may be good reasons for this pessimism as 18% of residents live below the poverty line, the fifth-highest proportion nationwide. Additionally, at $38,307 a year, more than $11,000 live below the median for the United States. Arkansas has the nation’s third-lowest household median income. The state is also one of the unhealthiest in the country, with the third-highest obesity rate, the fourth-highest smoking rate and the second-lowest proportion of people who visited a dentist in the past 12 months.

4. Nevada
> Future livability score: 34.5
> Full-time employment: 15th worst
> Job creation index: 9th worst
> Outlook on life in five years: 18th best

The housing collapse has hit Nevada harder than any other state in the country. Home prices dropped 59.7% from the first quarter of 2007 to the first quarter of 2012, more than any other state by nearly 10 percentage points. In the next five years, housing prices are expected to rise only 2% annually, the third-smallest increase among all states. The collapse of the housing market has led to a poor job market. The state has the highest unemployment rate in the country at 11.6%, although the rate dropped 2.2 percentage points from 2011, faster than any other state. Nevadans, however, are not feeling the relief. The state ranks eighth from the bottom in the proportion of people who believe their standard of living is getting better, the second-lowest rate on this list.

3. Kentucky
> Future livability score: 36.7
> Full-time employment: 16th worst
> Job creation index: 23rd best
> Outlook on life in five years: 20th worst

Kentucky’s median household income of $40,062 is the fourth lowest of all states and about $10,000 less than the median income across the United States. The state also has the fourth-highest percentage of people below the poverty line and people on food stamps/SNAP benefits. It is not surprising that the state has the eighth-lowest score on the economic confidence index. Kentuckians health is also poor. The state has the second-highest rate of smokers, with an estimated 29% reporting smoking in 2011, the seventh-highest obesity rate and the 10th lowest rate of people who say they have visited the dentist in the past year. Kentucky ranks fourth from the bottom in ease of finding a safe place to exercise.

2. Mississippi
> Future livability score: 37.8
> Full-time employment: The worst
> Job creation index: 11th best
> Outlook on life in five years: The best

While Gallup ranks Mississippi second worst for future livability, residents feel good about their own future as the state ranks first for the best outlook on life in five years’ time. But the Magnolia state has the lowest percentage of people employed full-time and the lowest median income in the country at $36,851, less than three-quarters of the national average of $50,046. Mississippi ranks worst in the country in the percentage of the population living below the poverty line and in the percentage of residents who feel like their manager treats them like a partner and not like a boss. Mississippi is also among the worst in several important areas of health. The state has the second-highest rate of obesity and the fifth-highest percentage of smokers. It is also ranks second worst in finding a safe place to exercise and has the lowest percentage of residents who have visited the dentist in the last year.

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1. West Virginia
> Future livability score: 43.3
> Full-time employment: 2nd worst
> Job creation index: 20th best
> Outlook on life in five years: 23rd best

While West Virginia has an unemployment rate of 7%, well below the 8.2% national unemployment rate, it ranks second worst in terms of people employed full-time. The state also has the second-lowest median household income of $38,218 and the eighth-highest percentage of people below the poverty line, at 17.62%. West Virginia also can lay claim to the dubious title of unhealthiest state. It has the highest rate of smokers in the nation with a quarter of residents smoking as of 2011. The state also has the highest obesity rate (35.3%), the highest rate of people with high blood pressure (38.9%) and the highest rate of people with diabetes (15.7%) as of 2011. Options for those looking to stay in shape are limited as the state ranks dead last in ease of finding a safe place to exercise.

Michael B. Sauter, Alexander E. M. Hess, Lisa Uible and Samuel Weigley

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