Special Report

America's Most Miserable States

Americans are not any happier than they were last year. In fact, they are slightly more miserable. At least, that’s what the recent Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index shows. The annual index measures six areas of well-being, including life evaluation, physical health and work environment. In 2011, the national well-being score declined slightly from 2010 and was the lowest since the survey began in 2008.

Read America’s Most Miserable States
Read America’s Happiest States 

On top of calculating an overall national level of well-being, the index also calculates the well-being for each state, assigning scores from 0 to 100, with 100 representing ideal well-being. The national score dropped slightly in 2011 to 66.2 from 66.8 in 2010. Like the national score, the best-off and worst-off states are largely unchanged. Hawaii remains in first place and West Virginia is in last.

24/7 Wall St. reviewed Gallup’s findings in order to identify objective measures that appear to impact well-being. Many of the states where people report having the lowest levels of well-being suffer from many of the same financial, health and social ills. Eight of the 11 fall within the 15 states with the lowest median household incomes. Poverty is particularly high in many. Many of the worst-off states also have relatively low levels of education. Seven of the 11 have some of the lowest rates of residents with at least a high school diploma.

Well-being has not improved since the financial crisis began in 2008, reflecting the moribund U.S. economy. Most states have imposed austerity measures to combat budget shortfalls. Gallup notes that “reductions in public services, public-sector layoffs or salary cuts, and decreases in federal aid” have hindered improvements in well-being across the country.

According to Gallup, states in some areas of the country continue to do better than others. Of the 10 states with the highest levels of well-being, nine are either in the West or Midwest. Of the 10 states with the lowest well-being scores, five are located in the South — a reality since the survey began.

Perhaps the most common shared factor among the states that report the lowest well-being is poor health. Nine of the states on this list are among the 15 states with the lowest life expectancy. Obesity is exceptionally high in seven. Seven also fall within the top 10 states that have the highest rates of smoking. Rates of heart disease, cancer and diabetes are also all particularly high.

In addition to the information from Gallup, 24/7 Wall St. used data from the Census Bureau, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Social Science Research Council, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

These are America’s most miserable states.

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