Special Report

America's Happiest (and Most Miserable) States

Baltimore, Maryland sunset
Source: Thinkstock

31. Maryland
> Poverty rate: 9.7% (2nd lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 5.2% (24th highest)
> Obesity rate: 28.9% (20th lowest)
> Pct. of adults w/ bachelor’s degree: 38.8% (3rd highest)

With a median household income of $75,847 a year, Maryland is the wealthiest state. Serious financial hardship is also relatively uncommon in Maryland, as only 9.7% of state residents live in poverty, the second smallest share of any state in the country.

Well-being in Maryland is likely undermined by some unhealthy behaviors and social conditions. Nearly 39% of adults in the state do not get enough sleep, a higher share than in all but three other states. In addition, violent crime is relatively common in parts of the state. There are about 457 violent crimes per 100,000 state residents annually, well above the national violent crime rate of 383 per 100,000.

Wichita, Kansas
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32. Kansas
> Poverty rate: 13.0% (20th lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 4.2% (15th lowest)
> Obesity rate: 34.2% (7th highest)
> Pct. of adults w/ bachelor’s degree: 31.7% (17th highest)

Across Kansas, adults report an average of 3.2 poor mental health days a month, about a half day less than the national average. However, many state residents still struggle with mental health issues. There are 16.1 suicides in Kansas for every 100,000 residents, versus the 13.4 suicides per 100,000 person national rate.

Many people living in Kansas also suffer from poor physical health. More than one in three adults in the state are obese, a higher proportion than in all but half a dozen other states. Other significant health risk factors, including high blood pressure and high cholesterol, are also more common in Kansas than they are across the country as a whole.

Las Vegas, Nevada skyline
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33. Nevada
> Poverty rate: 14.7% (23rd highest)
> Unemployment rate: 6.7% (the highest)
> Obesity rate: 26.7% (15th lowest)
> Pct. of adults w/ bachelor’s degree: 23.6% (6th lowest)

According to Gallup’s survey, Nevada ranks below most states in the community element of well-being, which includes enjoying one’s community and feeling safe. Indeed, Nevada communities are among the least safe in the country. The state’s violent crime rate of nearly 700 incidents per 100,000 residents is the second highest rate nationwide.

Another factor likely affecting the state’s overall well-being is its high unemployment. Of Nevada’s labor force, 6.7% do not have a job, the highest unemployment rate of any state. While some jobs certainly enhance well-being more than others, at the very least stable employment provides residents with the resources needed to afford basic needs.

New York City, New York
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34. New York
> Poverty rate: 15.4% (17th highest)
> Unemployment rate: 5.3% (23rd highest)
> Obesity rate: 25.0% (7th lowest)
> Pct. of adults w/ bachelor’s degree: 35.0% (9th highest)

More than 40% of New York state’s population lives in the five boroughs of New York City. Large metropolitan areas have a number of benefits but also drawbacks for quality of life. While strengthening social networks and providing opportunities for physical activity, cities also potentially induce financial strain or general anxiety. For example, while the violent crime rate for New York state of 380 incidents per 100,000 residents is roughly similar to the national figure, in New York City an estimated 586 violent crimes are reported per 100,000 residents.

The city’s dense layout, however, may provide other benefits to the state as a whole. Just 12.6% of New York state’s population is considered to be low income and to have inadequate access to grocery stores, the third smallest share nationwide.

Bridgeport, Connecticut
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35. Connecticut
> Poverty rate: 10.5% (6th lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 5.6% (18th highest)
> Obesity rate: 25.3% (9th lowest)
> Pct. of adults w/ bachelor’s degree: 38.3% (4th highest)

The typical Connecticut household earns $71,346 a year, one of the highest median incomes of any state. However, there is also a large share of low-earning households, as Connecticut has the second worst income disparity of any state. Those on the lower end of the income spectrum face additional financial strain under the state’s high cost of living. Goods and services in Connecticut cost about 9% more than they do across the country on average.

Just as income disparity can undermine the perceived well-being of a large share of the population, so can the prevalence of some unhealthy habits. Adults in Connecticut are more likely to regularly drink alcohol in excess than adults nationwide. Also, the state’s deadly overdose rate is slightly higher than it is nationwide.