The States With the Best and Worst Economies
50. West Virginia
> 2016 GDP: $66.50 billion (11th smallest)
> 5 yr. GDP annual growth rate: -0.1% (4th largest decline)
> Unemployment: 4.5% (17th highest)
> 5 yr. annual employment growth: -0.5% (the largest decline)
West Virginia’s unemployment rate of 4.5% in May was only slightly higher than the national jobless rate of 4.3% and exceptionally low compared to a number of other states on the low end of this list. However, the state has the worst job growth rate in the nation, with the number of jobs actually shrinking by 0.5% on average each year over the five years through 2016. Fewer than 20% of adults in West Virginia have a bachelor’s degree, the lowest percentage of all states. College-level education in a population is widely considered a key element of economic health.
> 2016 GDP: $47.46 billion (5th smallest)
> 5 yr. GDP annual growth rate: -1.4% (the largest decline)
> Unemployment: 6.7% (the highest)
> 5 yr. annual employment growth: 0.2% (the slowest growth)
GDP growth is a traditional measure of economic strength — and by that measure, Alaska has the worst economy of any state. Alaska’s GDP contracted by an annual rate of 1.4% between 2011 and 2016, even as the U.S. economy as a whole grew by 2.0%. Alaska’s GDP contraction may partially explain the large share of the state’s workforce out of a job. The state’s 6.7% unemployment rate is the highest of any state and well above the 4.3% U.S. unemployment rate.
> 2016 GDP: $95.28 billion (15th smallest)
> 5 yr. GDP annual growth rate: 0.5% (3rd smallest growth)
> Unemployment: 4.9% (7th highest)
> 5 yr. annual employment growth: 0.9% (8th slowest growth)
While measures such as GDP and employment growth rates are useful in gauging the strength of a given economy, the prevalence of serious financial hardship is perhaps a more tangible measure. Across Mississippi, 22% of residents live in poverty, the largest share of any state and well above the 14.7% U.S. poverty rate.
Higher educational attainment often correlates with higher incomes, and in Mississippi, only 20.8% of adults have at least a bachelor’s degree, well below the corresponding 30.6% national share.
47. New Mexico
> 2016 GDP: $86.05 billion (14th smallest)
> 5 yr. GDP annual growth rate: 0.6% (5th smallest growth)
> Unemployment: 6.6% (2nd highest)
> 5 yr. annual employment growth: 0.7% (3rd slowest growth)
New Mexico is one of only two states where more than one in five residents live below the poverty line. The state’s widespread financial hardship is likely partially the result of a lack of available jobs. Some 6.6% of the state’s labor force is out of work, one of the highest shares of any state and well above the 4.3% U.S. unemployment rate. Job growth in the state has not kept pace with total U.S. job growth in the last five years. Between 2011 and 2016, total employment expanded by only 0.7% in New Mexico compared to 1.9% employment growth nationwide.
> 2016 GDP: $205.61 billion (25th largest)
> 5 yr. GDP annual growth rate: -0.3% (3rd largest decline)
> Unemployment: 5.7% (3rd highest)
> 5 yr. annual employment growth: 0.6% (2nd slowest growth)
The state’s GDP contracted by 0.3% by 0.3% between 2011 and 2015, even as the U.S. economy grew by 2.0% over the same time period.
Having an educated workforce can bolster economic growth. In Louisiana, only 84.6% of adults have graduated from high school and only 23.2% have at least a bachelor’s degree — each among the lowest shares of any state and well below the corresponding 87.1% and 30.6% national shares.