Special Report

The Best and Worst Run States in America: A Survey of All 50

21. Kansas
> Debt per capita: $2,370 (13th lowest)
> Credit Rating (S&P/Moody’s): AA+/Aa2
> 2013 unemployment rate: 5.4% (11th lowest)
> Median household income: $50,972 (24th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 14.0% (20th lowest)

Kansas ranked comparatively well due to its low 2013 unemployment rate, low foreclosure rate, and relatively stable home prices, among other factors. Last year, just 5.4% of the state’s workforce was unemployed, among the better unemployment rates nationwide. Between 2009 and 2013, home values in Kansas rose by more than 3%, despite declining more than 6% nationwide. However, Kansas had one of the nation’s lowest pension funded ratios as of 2013, at just 56.4%. Recent income tax cuts have, according to many observers, caused the state to miss revenue collection estimates and may force it to cut expenditures to keep its fiscal house in order. In August, S&P cut the state’s credit rating from AA+ to AA and identified recent income tax cuts as a contributing factor.

22. West Virginia
> Debt per capita: $3,940 (18th highest)
> Credit Rating (S&P/Moody’s): AA/Aa1
> 2013 unemployment rate: 6.5% (18th lowest)
> Median household income: $41,253 (3rd lowest)
> Poverty rate: 18.5% (10th highest)

West Virginia has had to contend in recent years with a declining coal industry. The once critical sector for jobs has been under pressure from the retirement of coal-based power plants, new environmental regulations, cheap natural gas, and dropping production levels. Despite the ongoing slowdown of a key industry, West Virginia remained among the better half of all states. One reason is that, despite coal’s decline, the state’s GDP still grew by 5.1% in 2013, with mining accounting for virtually all of the state’s growth. This is largely due to the growth of shale gas drilling in the state. Another factor contributing to the state’s relatively high rank is a low foreclosure rate. Just one in every 744 homes was in foreclosure last year, less than in all but three other states. Further, the median home value in the state rose by more than 9% between 2009 and 2013, more than in all but two other states and during a time when home values declined nationwide.

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23. Tennessee
> Debt per capita: $949 (the lowest)
> Credit Rating (S&P/Moody’s): AA+/Aaa
> 2013 unemployment rate: 8.2% (10th highest)
> Median household income: $44,297 (9th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 17.8% (12th highest)

Tennessee had exceptionally strong finances by most metrics reviewed. For instance, more than 91% of its pension liabilities were funded as of 2013, among the highest percentages in the nation. The state also had less than $1,000 in outstanding debt per resident in fiscal 2012, less than any other state. That year, Tennessee had comparatively small tax revenue relative to other states, likely due, at least in part, to the absence of a state income tax on salaries and wages. Also, the state’s residents are not especially well off. Both per capita GDP and median household income were considerably lower in Tennessee than in the nation as a whole in 2013. Individuals were also more likely to live below the poverty line in Tennessee, and households were more likely to rely on food stamps last year.

24. Maryland
> Debt per capita: $4,342 (12th highest)
> Credit Rating (S&P/Moody’s): AAA/Aaa
> 2013 unemployment rate: 6.6% (22nd lowest)
> Median household income: $72,483 (the highest)
> Poverty rate: 10.1% (3rd lowest)

Maryland had the highest median household income of any state in 2013, at $72,483. This is one of the major reasons for the state’s top credit ratings. Maryland also has one of the highest percentages of college graduates nationwide, with more than 37% of adults 25 and older holding a bachelor’s degree as of last year. Home values, too, likely benefit from a wealthier population. The state’s median home value of $280,200 in 2013 was fifth highest in the nation. However, Maryland also had one of the nation’s highest foreclosure rates, with 1 in 64 homes in foreclosure in 2013. Further, Maryland’s economy did not grow at all in 2013. The federal government shutdown last fall was likely a big factor in this. Government accounted for 20.8% of state GDP in 2013, among the highest levels in the nation.

25. Oklahoma
> Debt per capita: $2,592 (18th lowest)
> Credit Rating (S&P/Moody’s): AA+/Aa2
> 2013 unemployment rate: 5.4% (11th lowest)
> Median household income: $45,690 (10th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 16.8% (17th highest)

A typical family in Oklahoma earned $45,690 in 2013, one of the lowest median household incomes nationwide. However, the state’s economy grew 4.2% between 2012 and 2013, more than double the national rate of 1.9%. The state’s mining sector, which made up 12.4% of Oklahoma’s GDP last year, accounted for the bulk of economic growth. Oklahoma is one of the top oil and natural gas producing states in the U.S. It also generates more gypsum rock than any other state. The mineral is used primarily in roads and construction materials, but can be found as well in a variety of foods, including beer and bread. In addition to strong growth, Oklahoma also had one of the nation’s lowest unemployment rates last year, at 5.4%.

26. Wisconsin
> Debt per capita: $4,004 (16th highest)
> Credit Rating (S&P/Moody’s): AA/Aa2
> 2013 unemployment rate: 6.7% (23rd lowest)
> Median household income: $51,467 (24th highest)
> Poverty rate: 13.5% (18th lowest)

Perhaps no number stands out more for Wisconsin than its pension funded ratio of 99.9% as of 2013. Further, Governor Scott Walker’s controversial collective bargaining reform law, Act 10, lowered costs for the state by shifting more periodic pension costs to employees. Yet, Walker’s reputation for saving is not impeccable. Wisconsin’s Legislative Fiscal Bureau projects a nearly $1.8 billion shortfall heading into the 2015-2017 budget, with independent fact-checking website Politifact calling alternative projections by Walker “rosy.” Outside of budgetary matters, Wisconsin also scored well for the percentage of residents without health insurance, which stood at just 9.1% last year — better than in all but five other states.

27. Florida
> Debt per capita: $1,952 (9th lowest)
> Credit rating (S&P/Moody’s): AAA/Aa1
> Unemployment rate: 7.2% (21st highest)
> Median household income: $46,036 (12th lowest)
> Pct below poverty line: 17.0% (15th highest)

Already one of the nation’s largest states, Florida’s population has continued to grow in recent years. As of last July, 3.2% of the state’s population had migrated to Florida since mid-2010, either from a foreign country or another state. In all, more than 600,000 people moved to the state in that time. The influx of new residents has likely contributed to a moderate rise in home values from 2012 to 2013. However, due in large part to the housing crisis, home values last year were still 16% lower than they were in 2009. This is among the largest declines in the nation. And while the housing market has recovered to some degree, it will likely be a while until Florida homes sales return to the prices seen at the market’s peak in late 2006.

28. Indiana
> Debt per capita: $3,426 (24th highest)
> Credit Rating (S&P/Moody’s): AAA/Aaa
> 2013 unemployment rate: 7.5% (18th highest)
> Median household income: $47,529 (17th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 15.9% (23rd highest)

The manufacturing industry accounted for 30% of Indiana’s economic output in 2013, more than double the industry’s 12.5% contribution to U.S. GDP. The sector was also the largest contributor to the state’s overall GDP growth last year. Motor vehicle and machinery production dominates the state’s manufacturing. Subaru and Honda have large production facilities located there. Like other U.S. manufacturing centers, Indiana’s economy was hit hard by the Great Recession. The state’s median home value was $122,200 in 2013, well below the national home value of $173,900.

ALSO READ: The 10 States with the Worst Quality of Life

29. Maine
> Debt per capita: $4,220 (14th highest)
> Credit Rating (S&P/Moody’s): AA/Aa2
> 2013 unemployment rate: 6.7% (23rd lowest)
> Median household income: $46,974 (16th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 14.0% (20th lowest)

Maine has a relatively small population and is one of the nation’s most rural regions. Low population density may partly explain Maine’s low violent crime rate of 129 violent crimes per 100,000 people, the second lowest rate nationwide. However, Maine also has one of the nation’s smallest economies, with a 2013 GDP per capita of $38,517, less than that of all but a handful of states. While Maine is a popular destination among vacationers and tourists, its population fell between the middle of 2010 and July 2013, one of only two states with a decline in population. While the college attainment rate among Maine adults was middle of the road as of last year, nearly 92% had completed at least high school, the fifth best rate in the nation.

30. California
> Debt per capita: $3,987 (17th highest)
> Credit rating (S&P/Moody’s): A/Aa3
> Unemployment rate: 8.9% (4th highest)
> Median household income: $60,190 (10th highest)
> Pct below poverty line: 16.8% (17th highest)

California is by far the nation’s most populous state, with more than 38 million people as of last year. Yet, for many residents, life in California can be difficult. Last year, 17.2% of Californians did not have health insurance, among the higher rates nationwide. And while California had a median household income of $60,190 in 2013, the 10th highest in the nation, its poverty rate of 16.8% was higher than the national rate of 15.8%. California’s supplemental poverty measure — which adds noncash benefits, subtracts taxes, and adjusts for area housing costs — of 23.4% between 2011 and 2013 was the worst in the nation. One contributing factor appears to be the high cost of living, which, as of 2012, was the fourth highest in the nation.

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