America’s Best States to Live In

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Palm trees at Manhattan Beach, Los Angeles County, California
Source: Thinkstock

15. California
> 10-yr. population growth: 11.0% (24th highest)
> Oct. unemployment rate: 5.5% (9th highest)
> Poverty rate: 15.3% (19th highest)
> Life expectancy at birth: 80.4 years (3rd highest)

Incomes in California are relatively high. The typical household earns $64,500 a year, about $8,700 more than the typical American household. However, for many across the state, the benefits associated with higher incomes may be offset by the high cost of living. Homeownership in particular is prohibitively expensive for many state residents. The median home value in California is $449,100, more than double the value of the typical home nationwide. High property values partially explain the state’s relatively low homeownership rate of 53.6%, which is nearly 10 percentage points lower than the corresponding national rate.

There appear to be some relatively positive health outcomes for state residents. California is one of only five states where the average life expectancy at birth exceeds 80 years.

Distant Oil Rig on Bakken Road, Fracking, North Dakota
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14. North Dakota
> 10-yr. population growth: 24.2% (the highest)
> Oct. unemployment rate: 3.0% (3rd lowest)
> Poverty rate: 11.0% (9th lowest)
> Life expectancy at birth: 79.3 years (14th highest)

The U.S. Geological Survey estimated in 2008 that North Dakota’s Bakken shale formation contained the equivalent of 3.6 million barrels of oil, many times greater than initially thought. The revelation lead to a boom in the state’s resource extraction industry and a 24.2% population spike, the largest population growth of any state in the country.

A boon to the state’s economy, jobs in oil and gas extraction, as well as service jobs supporting the industry, are plentiful and paying well. North Dakota’s 3.0% unemployment rate is nearly the lowest in the country. Additionally, the $60,557 median annual household income across the state is nearly $5,000 more than the median nationwide. Also, only 11% of state residents live in poverty, well below the nearly 15% poverty rate nationwide.

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New York City, New York
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13. New York
> 10-yr. population growth: 6.1% (12th lowest)
> Oct. unemployment rate: 5.2% (14th highest)
> Poverty rate: 15.4% (17th highest)
> Life expectancy at birth: 80.0 years (6th highest)

At $60,850 a year, New York’s median household income is about $5,000 more than the median nationwide. For many, higher incomes are offset by a higher cost of living. Goods and services are about 16% more expensive in New York than across the country on average, and 15.4% of the state’s population lives in poverty, a slightly higher share than the 14.7% poverty rate nationwide.

New York has a higher than average poverty rate, which often occurs in states with lower educational attainment and lower life expectancy. In New York, however, about 35% of adults have at least a bachelor’s degree, well above the comparable 30.6% national share. Also, life expectancy in the Empire State is 80 years at birth, about a 1.5 years longer than average life expectancy nationwide.

Wall street in the Narrows, Zion National Park, Utah
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12. Utah
> 10-yr. population growth: 23.4% (2nd highest)
> Oct. unemployment rate: 3.2% (5th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 11.3% (12th lowest)
> Life expectancy at birth: 79.7 years (9th highest)

Utah’s population growth rate of 23.4% since 2005 is the second fastest in the county. The state’s economy has accommodated the influx handily as Utah’s 3.2% unemployment rate is nearly the lowest in the country.

Additionally, the $62,912 median annual household income across the state is roughly $7,000 greater than the national median. Goods and services are also slightly cheaper on average in Utah than they are nationwide. A likely byproduct of such favorable economic conditions is a relatively low poverty rate. Only 11.3% of state residents live at or below the poverty line, about 3.5 percentage points below the national poverty rate.

Airplane over Seattle, Washington
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11. Washington
> 10-yr. population growth: 16.7% (11th highest)
> Oct. unemployment rate: 5.4% (12th highest)
> Poverty rate: 12.2% (17th lowest)
> Life expectancy at birth: 79.6 years (11th highest)

A number of socioeconomic measures indicate a relatively high quality of life in Washington. The typical household in the state earns $64,129 a year, about $8,400 more than the typical American household. Higher incomes help protect families and individuals in times of economic hardship, and in Washington likely contribute to the relatively low poverty rate. Only 12.2% of state residents live at or below the poverty line, 2.5 percentage points lower than the total share of Americans living in poverty.

Economic stability likely also contributes to a higher than average life expectancy in the state. Life expectancy at birth is 79.6 years, more than a year longer than it is nationwide.