Special Report

America's Best States to Live In

St. Louis, Missouri
Source: Thinkstock

35. Missouri
> 10-yr. population growth: 8.0% (16th lowest)
> Oct. unemployment rate: 5.1% (19th highest)
> Poverty rate: 14.8% (21st highest)
> Life expectancy at birth: 77.1 years (11th lowest)

Homeownership is a practical way for many to increase their personal wealth, and consequently their quality of life. The typical home in Missouri costs about $147,800, about $46,700 less than the typical American home. Low real estate taxes in the state make homeownership especially affordable. Partially as a result, the state’s 66% homeownership rate is slightly higher than the 63% corresponding national rate. In addition to real estate, goods and services in general cost about 10.6% less in Missouri than they do on average nationwide.

Still, Missouri lags behind the nation as a whole in several important measures. The state’s 77.1 year life expectancy is about 1.5 years below the average U.S. life expectancy. Violent and property crime are more common in the state than they are nationwide as well.

Detroit, Michigan abandoned building
Source: Thinkstock

34. Michigan
> 10-yr. population growth: 0.6% (the lowest)
> Oct. unemployment rate: 4.7% (24th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 15.8% (15th highest)
> Life expectancy at birth: 77.8 years (16th lowest)

Much of Michigan has suffered economically over the last few decades from deindustrialization and the decline of American auto manufacturing. Population growth in Michigan was the lowest in the country over the last 10 years at only 0.6%, a likely consequence of poor long-term economic conditions. Meanwhile, the U.S. population has swelled by 11.5% since 2005.

The median income in Michigan is about $4,700 less than the nationwide median income of $55,775 a year. Additionally, the state’s 15.8% poverty rate is more than one percentage point above the national poverty rate.

33. Texas
> 10-yr. population growth: 23.3% (3rd highest)
> Oct. unemployment rate: 4.7% (24th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 15.9% (14th highest)
> Life expectancy at birth: 78.1 years (21st lowest)

Home to roughly 27.5 million people, Texas is one of the largest states in the country. Though socioeconomic measures vary considerably from one region to another in the state, Texas as a whole performs slightly worse than the nation in terms of life expectancy, crime rates, and poverty.

Certain socioeconomic measures are closely tied to educational attainment rates, and many of the lagging measures in the Lone Star State would likely improve if a larger share of adults completed high school and college. Only 82.4% of adults in Texas have a high school diploma, the second smallest share of any state. Similarly, only 28.4% have earned a bachelor’s degree, lower than the comparable 30.6% share of American adults with a similar level of education.

Saguaro arizona
Source: Thinkstock

32. Arizona
> 10-yr. population growth: 17.1% (10th highest)
> Oct. unemployment rate: 5.2% (14th highest)
> Poverty rate: 17.4% (8th highest)
> Life expectancy at birth: 79.3 years (15th highest)

Income is closely tied to overall well-being as it often shapes the choices people have and make that are related to health care, diet, and overall lifestyle. In Arizona, many people have limited options, as 17.4% of state residents live in poverty, a larger share than the 14.7% national poverty rate. Health care options in particular are further limited for the roughly one in 10 state residents without health insurance. Despite these shortcomings, life expectancy in the Grand Canyon State is nearly a year greater than it is across the country as a whole.

Idaho welcome sign
Source: Thinkstock

31. Idaho
> 10-yr. population growth: 18.6% (8th highest)
> Oct. unemployment rate: 3.8% (10th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 15.1% (20th highest)
> Life expectancy at birth: 79.0 years (21st highest)

Idaho’s population surge of 18.6% over the last decade is one of the largest population spikes of any state. The influx may be attributable to some of the state’s economic advantages. A relatively inexpensive state, goods and services are about 6.6% less expensive in Idaho than they are on average across the country. Additionally, the state’s 3.8% unemployment rate is nearly the lowest in the country.

Populations with higher educational attainment are better equipped to weather economic downturns and more likely to raise healthy, prosperous families. While Idaho ranks relatively well in many other categories, people in the state are less likely to have a four-year college degree than Americans nationwide. Only 26.0% of adults in the state have a bachelor’s degree compared to 30.6% of Americans.