Special Report

America's Best and Worst States to Live In

Life satisfaction in a given state is often based on highly subjective measures — whether the climate is nice, whether friends and family are present, and other factors. While a connection to a place can often be based on intangibles, a good quality of life in a given state is largely predicated upon a few key factors. The levels of poverty, education, and health can largely capture living conditions in a state, which tend to vary considerably across the country.

24/7 Wall St. reviewed statewide social and economic measures to rank each state’s living conditions. Massachusetts, home to one of the nation’s wealthiest and most highly educated populations, leads the nation. Mississippi, the poorest state in the country, trails the other 49 states.

While satisfactory living conditions are possible to obtain with high and low incomes, this is true only to a point. Once incomes fall below the poverty line, for example, financial constraints are far more likely to diminish quality of life. In 18 of the 25 states on the lower end of the livability ranking, the poverty rate exceeds the national rate of 15.5%. New Mexico and Mississippi report poverty rates of over 20%.

Click here to see how all 50 states compare in quality of life.

Education is another major contributor to living conditions — not just as a basis of economic prosperity, but also as a component of an individual’s quality of life. Adults living in the nation’s best states report higher than average college attainment rates. Also, due in part to the greater access to high paying jobs an education can offer, incomes tend to be higher in these states as well. In 17 of the 25 best states to live, the annual median household income and the percentage of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree both exceed the respective national figures.

Many of these strong socioeconomic measures lead to a higher quality of life, which in turn often results in a longer life — itself a desirable outcome. The difference in life expectancy between MIssissippi, where people tend to live the shortest lives, and Hawaii, where people live the longest is 6.3 years. While this variance is not very large, the likelihood of living a relatively long life as a resident of a particular state is closely associated with that state’s living conditions. In only 10 states — all among the 25 best states to live in — the average resident can expect to live more than 80 years. To compare, the nationwide life expectancy at birth is 78.9 years.

Housing markets in these states are also indicative of quality of living. A high median home value, for instance, frequently means high demand for housing in the area. Nationwide, the typical home is worth $181,200. In most of the 25 states at the top of the ranking, the median home value far exceeds this value. The opposite tends to be true on the lower end. Of the 18 states where the typical home is valued at more than $200,000, 17 are in the top 25 states for livability.

Lower home values are indicative of, and contribute to, relatively affordable costs of living. Of course, low home values are also a product of a lack of demand in a housing market, which is often driven by poor living conditions. The average cost of goods and services in most of the best states to live is greater than the national average, while the average cost of living is less than the national average in all of the 25 states on the lower end of the livability ranking.

To identify the best and worst states in which to live, 24/7 Wall St. devised an index composed of three socioeconomic measures for each state: poverty rate, the percentage of adults who have at least a bachelor’s degree, and life expectancy at birth. The selection of these three measures was inspired by the United Nations’ Human Development Index. Poverty rates and bachelor attainment rates came from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2014 American Community Survey (ACS). Life expectancies at birth are from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and are as of 2010, latest year for which data is available.

These are the best and worst states to live in.

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