Special Report

America's Best States to Live In

Barrow, Alaska
Source: Thinkstock

20. Alaska
> 10-yr. population growth: 15.1% (17th highest)
> Oct. unemployment rate: 6.8% (the highest)
> Poverty rate: 10.3% (5th lowest)
> Life expectancy at birth: 77.8 years (15th lowest)

Alaska’s poverty rate of 10.3% is fifth lowest of all states. The relatively low poverty rate generally means that Alaskans have a good chance of living in financial stability. The typical state household earns $73,355, third highest of any state. High college attainment in a population tends to help explain low poverty levels and high incomes, but Alaska’s college attainment rate, at 29.7%, is just under the national percentage.

Higher income regions tend to have lower than average violent crime rates. Alaska is an exception. There were more than 730 violent crimes reported per 100,000 state residents last year, by far the highest violent crime rate of any state.

Peoria, Illinois
Source: Thinkstock

19. Illinois
> 10-yr. population growth: 3.4% (3rd lowest)
> Oct. unemployment rate: 5.6% (8th highest)
> Poverty rate: 13.6% (23rd lowest)
> Life expectancy at birth: 78.7 years (24th highest)

A college education, in addition to providing higher paying job opportunities, often also leads to a longer and higher quality life. In Illinois, 32.9% of adults have at least a bachelor’s degree, a slightly higher share than the 30.6% of Americans. In addition to a relatively high college attainment rate, the median income in Illinois of $59,588 a year is about $3,800 more than the annual income of the typical American household. With a higher median income, poverty is less common in Illinois than it is nationwide. Only 13.6% of state residents live at or below the poverty line, more than a full percentage point lower than the national poverty rate.

Wisconsin Welcome sign at Marinette WI
Source: Thinkstock

18. Wisconsin
> 10-yr. population growth: 7.4% (15th lowest)
> Oct. unemployment rate: 4.1% (15th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 12.1% (15th lowest)
> Life expectancy at birth: 79.3 years (13th highest)

Due to the socioeconomic benefits of a college-educated population, states with low educational attainment often tend to have a lower quality of life. In Wisconsin, only 28.4% of adults have a bachelor’s degree, well below the 30.6% national share. Still, despite the gap, quality of life is generally high across Wisconsin.

Violent crime, unemployment, and poverty are less common in Wisconsin then they are nationwide. Additionally, life expectancy is nearly a year longer in Wisconsin than it is across the country as a whole.

City Skyline, Omaha Nebraska
Source: Thinkstock

17. Nebraska
> 10-yr. population growth: 11.1% (23rd highest)
> Oct. unemployment rate: 3.3% (8th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 12.6% (19th lowest)
> Life expectancy at birth: 79.2 years (16th highest)

The typical Nebraska household earns roughly $55,000 annually, about $775 less than the typical American household. A lower cost of living more than offsets lower incomes however, as only 12.6% of state residents live at or below the poverty line, well below the 14.7% national poverty rate. A strong job market also likely helps reduce poverty. Nebraska’s 3.3% unemployment rate is one of the lowest in the country.

Nebraska’s 30.2% bachelor’s degree attainment rate is roughly in line with the average college attainment rate nationwide and partially explains the state’s level of prosperity.

Rhode Island
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16. Rhode Island
> 10-yr. population growth: 2.3% (2nd lowest)
> Oct. unemployment rate: 5.5% (9th highest)
> Poverty rate: 13.9% (25th lowest)
> Life expectancy at birth: 79.1 years (18th highest)

Quality of life and economy often go hand in hand. When a local economy is healthy often so is the quality of life — and in turn both tend to attract new residents. However, like other states in New England, Rhode Island bucks this trend. Based on median household income and life expectancy, Rhode Island is among the better states to live in. Yet the state’s the state’s population growth of just 2.3% over the past decade is the second lowest of all states after Michigan.

Health insurance coverage often provides a family with peace of mind, while a lack of health insurance can push a family into bankruptcy. As is the case in many of the best states to live in, the uninsured rate in Rhode Island of 5.7% is one of the lowest in the country.