Special Report

America's Best and Worst States to Live In

Thomas C. Frohlich, Michael B. Sauter

35. Missouri
> 10-yr. population growth:
7.7% (16th lowest)
> 2014 unemployment rate: 6.1% (23rd highest)
> Poverty rate: 15.5% (21st highest)
> Life expectancy at birth: 77.5 years (11th lowest)

The national economy added jobs at a rate of 3.7% from 2012 through 2014. In Missouri, however, employment grew at less than half the nationwide rate over that period. Similarly, while the U.S. population grew by 10.6% over the 10 years through last year, Missouri’s population grew at a slower 7.7% rate. Incomes in the state are also relatively low, with a typical household earning $48,363, much lower than the national median household income of $53,657. As is often the case in states with relatively low incomes, home values are also low. A typical home in Missouri is worth $138,500, well below the national median home value of $181,200. While this reflects low demand, the low cost of housing makes living in Missouri more affordable. Goods and services cost roughly 10% less than they do across the nation on average.

Still, for many potential homeowners, nothing is more important than a safe neighborhood, and Missouri has one of the highest violent crime rates in the country. At 442.9 incidents per 100,000 residents, the state’s violent crimes rate much higher than the national rate of 356.5 incidents for every 100,000 residents.

34. Texas
> 10-yr. population growth:
21.0% (3rd highest)
> 2014 unemployment rate: 5.1% (16th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 17.2% (12th highest)
> Life expectancy at birth: 78.5 years (23rd lowest)

Texas ‘s living conditions are far from being the best in the nation, but they are not the worst either. The state’s annual median household income of $53,035 is on par with the national median of $53,657. Despite average incomes, many Texas neighborhoods are not particularly safe. Texas has one of the higher violent crime rates in the country at 405.9 incidents per 100,000 residents, in contrast with the national rate of 356.5 incidents for every 100,000 residents. The high crime rates may have partially contributed to lower home values. A typical home in Texas is worth $139,600, well below the national median home value of $181,200. Despite this indication of low housing demand, Texas’ population growth of 21% over the 10 years through last year was the third fastest population growth rate of any state.

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33. Michigan
> 10-yr. population growth:
0.4% (the lowest)
> 2014 unemployment rate: 7.3% (5th highest)
> Poverty rate: 16.2% (18th highest)
> Life expectancy at birth: 78.2 years (16th lowest)

Socioeconomic indicators, and Michigan’s position on the livability ranking, are towards the middle compared with other states. The state’s annual median household income of $49,847, for example, is approaching the national median of $53,657. On the other hand, Michigan has one of the higher violent crime rates in the country at 427.3 incidents per 100,000 residents, in contrast with the national rate of 356.5 incidents for every 100,000 residents. Crime tends to be high in states that face the same challenges as Michigan. For instance, a high unemployment rate often increases the number of idle men, who are by far the most likely individuals to commit crimes. Michigan’s unemployment rate of 7.3% is the fifth highest in the nation.

32. Arizona
> 10-yr. population growth:
15.5% (10th highest)
> 2014 unemployment rate: 6.9% (8th highest)
> Poverty rate: 18.2% (10th highest)
> Life expectancy at birth: 79.6 years (17th highest)

Arizona ‘s living conditions are far from being the best in the nation, but they are not the worst either. The state’s annual median household income of $50,068 is not much below the national median of $53,657. The income, while approaching average, may not be particularly well distributed as the state’s poverty rate of 18.2% is 10th highest in the nation. Poverty frequently contributes to poorer health outcomes, which in turn often lead to a higher incidence of premature death. However, unlike many other states with especially high poverty rates, the life expectancy at birth in Arizona of 79.6 years is actually higher than the national life expectancy of 78.9 years.

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31. Florida
> 10-yr. population growth:
14.4% (15th highest)
> 2014 unemployment rate: 6.3% (20th highest)
> Poverty rate: 16.5% (16th highest)
> Life expectancy at birth: 79.4 years (22nd highest)

Amenities and entertainment venues are readily available in Florida. There are 153 theater companies, 95 sports clubs, 342 museums, and 53 zoos per 100,000 Floridians — each among the top five concentrations compared to other states. The typical Florida household, however, is not especially wealthy, earning $47,463 each year, the 12th lowest annual median household income in the nation. Florida is also not an especially safe state. Each year, around 540.5 violent crimes are reported per 100,000 residents, much higher than the national rate of 356.5 incidents for every 100,000 residents.