Special Report

The Best and Worst Run States in America: A Survey of All 50

Concord, New Hampshire
Source: Thinkstock

26. New Hampshire
> Debt per capita: $6,087 (7th highest)
> 2015 Unemployment rate: 3.4% (4th lowest)
> Credit rating: Aa1/AA
> Poverty: 8.2% (the lowest)

A low concentration of poverty in a state is often indicative of other positive conditions as poverty tends to correlate with a strong economy, low crime, and high educational attainment. This is certainly the case in New Hampshire, which has the lowest poverty rate in the nation at just 8.2%, much lower than the national rate of 14.7%. New Hampshire also has among the lowest violent crime rates in the country, as well as one of the best high school and college attainment rates among adults.

The state performs less favorably in budgetary management measures. While S&P rates most states’ debt at either a AAA or AA+, New Hampshire’s debt is rated at AA. This is likely due in part to the fact that the state has a relatively high debt load per capita, which in turn could be due to the state collecting relatively little tax revenue per capita. The state also has a rainy day fund of just 1.8% of its expenditures, smaller than the vast majority of states.

Athens, Georgia
Source: Thinkstock

27. Georgia
> Debt per capita: $1,310 (4th lowest)
> 2015 Unemployment rate: 5.9% (tied-12th highest)
> Credit rating: Aaa/AAA
> Poverty: 17.0% (9th highest)

Georgia is one of 19 states to refuse to expand Medicaid benefits under the Affordable Care Act. As a direct result, a larger than average share of residents lack health insurance. Nearly 14% of state residents do not have insurance compared to only about 9% of Americans. Since Medicaid’s purpose is to help poorer Americans, many of those without insurance are also likely among the 17% of state residents who live below the poverty line, one of the highest poverty rates of all states. Georgia is also far less generous than most states with unemployment benefits. The state’s $278 average weekly unemployment benefit payout is $56 below the average across all states

While Georgia may lag behind much of the rest of the country in social benefits, it reliably pays its debts. The state has a perfect credit rating from both Moody’s and S&P.

Columbus, Ohio
Source: Thinkstock

28. Ohio
> Debt per capita: $2,899 (20th lowest)
> 2015 Unemployment rate: 4.9% (tied-21st lowest)
> Credit rating: Aa1/AA+
> Poverty: 14.8% (tied-21nd highest)

A Rust Belt state, Ohio’s economy remains relatively dependent on its manufacturing sector. The industry employs 15.5% of the state’s workforce, the fifth largest manufacturing employment of all states. Hit especially hard by the economic crisis, unemployment peaked in Ohio at 11% in 2010. Today, Ohio’s 4.6% unemployment rate is slightly lower than the 4.9% national rate. Under Gov. John Kasich’s fiscally conservative policies, Ohio’s rainy day fund has increased. The state’s reserves are equal to 5.5% of annual expenditure, more than the majority of states. Additionally, following tax cuts under Kasich’s administration, Ohio’s per capita tax revenue is lower than in the majority of states. While his administration has been praised for fiscal responsibility, others have attributed local budget shortfalls to the governor’s state-level cuts.

Ohio is also one of a minority of states with a negative net migration, as nearly 58,000 more people left than moved in between 2010 and 2015.

Indianapolis, Indiana capital building
Source: Thinkstock

29. Indiana
> Debt per capita: $3,191 (25th lowest)
> 2015 Unemployment rate: 4.8% (20th lowest)
> Credit rating: Aaa/AAA
> Poverty: 14.5% (25th highest)

By several important measures, most notably unemployment and poverty, Indiana is faring better on average than the nation as whole. The state does, however, has a housing problem. There was one foreclosure for every 110 homes in the state last year, one of the highest foreclosure rates in the country.

A diversified economy is better equipped to weather economic downturns, and Indiana may be overly dependent on its manufacturing sector. Nearly one in five workers in the state are employed in manufacturing, the largest share of any state in the country.

Aerial view of Juneau , Alaska
Source: Thinkstock

30. Alaska
> Debt per capita: $8,191 (4th highest)
> 2015 Unemployment rate: 6.5% (5th highest)
> Credit rating: Aa2/AA+
> Poverty: 10.3% (5th lowest)

No state has experienced a more precipitous drop in the rankings than Alaska. Just two years ago, the state ranked seventh overall. It fell to 18th last year, and this year it is 30th best on our list. At the heart of Alaska’s decline is largely what has previously propped it up — the state’s massive petroleum industry.

Alaska collects billions of dollars in oil revenue each year. The state uses these revenues to easily fund state programs as well as pay a dividend of more than $1,000 to every state resident. This payment in turn contributes to Alaska’s high median household income. However, with the recent decline in oil prices, Alaska’s revenue from the industry has plummeted from nearly $10 billion in fiscal 2012 to less than half that in 2015. Last year, the state faced a $3.5 billion budget deficit and the state spent a huge portion of its reserves to cover the shortfall.

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