Special Report

America's Happiest (and Most Miserable) States

Kansas City, Missouri
Source: Thinkstock

36. Missouri
> Poverty rate: 14.8% (21st highest)
> Unemployment rate: 5.0% (24th lowest)
> Obesity rate: 32.4% (10th highest)
> Pct. of adults w/ bachelor’s degree: 27.8% (20th lowest)

Well-being can increase with income — up to about $75,000 a year. In Missouri, only 17.6% of earners meet that threshold, well below the 23.1% share of American earners who do.

In addition to higher incomes, many in Missouri would also likely benefit from healthier living, as the state trails much of the rest of the nation in several important health measures. For example, some 22.3% of adults in the state are smokers, a larger share than in all but four other states. Some poor health outcomes are also slightly more common in Missouri than across the nation as a whole. Of all adults in the state, 12.9% report frequent mental distress, and 13.9% report frequent physical distress, higher than the 11.2% and 11.4% share of all American adults who report similar distress.

Naperville, Illinois
Source: Thinkstock

37. Illinois
> Poverty rate: 13.6% (23rd lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 5.9% (12th highest)
> Obesity rate: 30.8% (18th highest)
> Pct. of adults w/ bachelor’s degree: 32.9% (12th highest)

According to Gallup, Illinois residents are less likely to have a strong sense of community than residents of most states, meaning they feel may not feel safe in their communities nor enjoy being part of them. The state has one of the higher murder rates in the country. Pollution is also more common in the state, which may further affect the share of Illinois residents who enjoy where they live.

Of state adults, 32.9% have at least a bachelor’s degree, the 12th highest share of any state. High educational attainment can be valuable in attaining a good paying job, and it also can provide a sense of purpose and stability for many people.

Road to Nashville, Tennessee
Source: Thinkstock

38. Tennessee
> Poverty rate: 16.7% (10th highest)
> Unemployment rate: 5.8% (14th highest)
> Obesity rate: 33.8% (9th highest)
> Pct. of adults w/ bachelor’s degree: 25.7% (10th lowest)

Tennessee survey respondents reported very poor health. Adults in the state report five days on average of poor physical health each month, over a day more than the U.S. average. There are also 205.6 heart disease deaths annually per 100,000 state residents, and 8.4% of adults have some form of cardiovascular disease, each among the higher shares in the country. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. Tennessee also has high rates of diabetes and obesity.

The state also has relatively high unemployment, as well as a poverty rate of 16.7%, the 10th highest proportion of any state. Residents who are not earning incomes and are poor are more likely to struggle to secure the basic necessities needed for well-being.

Wilmington, New Castle County, Delaware
Source: Thinkstock

39. Delaware
> Poverty rate: 12.4% (18th lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 4.9% (22nd lowest)
> Obesity rate: 29.7% (23rd lowest)
> Pct. of adults w/ bachelor’s degree: 30.9% (19th highest)

Delaware residents are less likely to feel safe and connected in their communities than those in the vast majority of other states. One reason for the lack of community well-being may the high presence of violent crime in the state. There are roughly 500 violent crimes reported per 100,000 Delaware residents, approximately 100 more than the average violent crime rate nationwide. Access to affordable food is another important measure of community well-being. In Delaware, more than one in four residents have both low incomes and minimal access to healthy food, one of the highest shares in the country.

Unhealthy habits also likely play a role in state residents’ perception of their own well-being. For example, sleep deprivation is linked to a number of serious health conditions. In Delaware, some 37.5% of adults do not get enough sleep, a larger share than the 34.2% of adults nationwide.

Detroit, Michigan 2, skyline, sunset
Source: Thinkstock

40. Michigan
> Poverty rate: 15.8% (15th highest)
> Unemployment rate: 5.4% (20th highest)
> Obesity rate: 31.2% (16th highest)
> Pct. of adults w/ bachelor’s degree: 27.8% (20th lowest)

Unhealthy behaviors can greatly reduce an individual’s well-being, and in Michigan, a relatively large share of adults report some unhealthy habits. One in five adults in the state regularly drink too much alcohol, the 10th highest excessive drinking rate of any state. Additionally, despite the well-established health risks, 20.7% of Michigan adults are smokers, well above the 17.5% share of adults nationwide.

A number of important socioeconomic measures may also partially explain Michigan residents’ relatively low sense of well-being. For example, 15.8% of people in the state live in poverty, higher than the national poverty rate of 14.7%. Violent crime is also more of a problem in Michigan than it is nationwide. There are 415.5 violent crimes for every 100,000 state residents annually, compared to a national violent crime rate of 383.2 incidents per 100,000 residents.