Special Report

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

Source: Thinkstock

21. Wyoming
> 2016 Unemployment: 5.3% (13th highest)
> Pension funded ratio: 73.1% (24th lowest)
> Credit rating and outlook: N/A
> Poverty: 11.3% (14th lowest)

A resource-rich state, Wyoming’s economy is heavily dependent on energy production. Roughly 1 in every 10 workers in the state are employed in the agriculture and mining sector, the largest share of any state. While a heavy dependence on natural resources can make an economy overly vulnerable to commodity price fluctuations, taxes on resource extraction can be a boon for government balance sheets. Wyoming brings in the equivalent of about $4,000 a year per resident in tax revenue, more than all but five other states.

A large portion of Wyoming’s tax revenue has been used to pad state coffers. A safeguard against increasing tax rates, Wyoming’s rainy day fund is one of only two nationwide worth more than the state’s entire annual budget.

Source: Thinkstock

22. Florida
> 2016 Unemployment: 4.9% (20th highest)
> Pension funded ratio: 86.5% (11th highest)
> Credit rating and outlook: Aa1/Stable
> Poverty: 14.7% (16th highest)

One of only a handful of states with no individual income tax, Florida’s tax revenue amounts to only $1,806 per person in annually, the least of any state. Despite its relatively limited financial resources, Florida’s standing on this list has improved considerably in recent years. Ranking among the 10 worst run states as recently as 2010, Florida now ranks in the top half of all states.

While low taxes may make it more challenging to meet budget obligations, Florida’s tax climate also likely makes it a more attractive place to live for many Americans. The Sunshine State gained nearly 326,000 new residents in the 12 months between July 2015 and July 2016 due to migration alone, the largest such population increase among states.

Source: Thinkstock

23. North Carolina
> 2016 Unemployment: 5.1% (16th highest)
> Pension funded ratio: 95.5% (4th highest)
> Credit rating and outlook: Aaa/Stable
> Poverty: 15.4% (13th highest)

Overpromising and under delivering is a consistent theme across many state pension systems, but not in North Carolina. Nearly 96% of the state’s pension obligations have financial backing compared to only 71.6% of state pensions nationwide. Currently, North Carolina is one of few states with a perfect credit rating and stable outlook from Moody’s.

North Carolina is one of several states not to take advantage of federal funds to expand its Medicaid program. Partially as a result, about 1 in every 10 state residents are uninsured, a larger share than in most states.

Source: Thinkstock

24. Tennessee
> 2016 Unemployment: 4.8% (25th highest)
> Pension funded ratio: 95.4% (5th highest)
> Credit rating and outlook: Aaa/Stable
> Poverty: 15.8% (11th highest)

With a perfect rating and stable outlook from Moody’s, Tennessee is a fiscally responsible state. It has the lowest debt per capita of any state and a nearly fully funded state pension system at a time when on average only 71.6% of state pensions are funded. The state also benefited from a near nation-leading economic growth in 2016 of 2.9%.

Still, Tennessee is ill-prepared to meet its budgetary obligations in the event of falling tax revenue. The state only has the equivalent of 5.5% of its annual budget in a rainy day fund, well below the 8.2% average across all states. Tennessee is also not especially safe. There were 633 violent crimes in the state for every 100,000 people in 2016, the fourth highest violent crime rate in the country after only Alaska, Nevada, and New Mexico.

Source: Thinkstock

25. Georgia
> 2016 Unemployment: 5.4% (9th highest)
> Pension funded ratio: 80.9% (17th highest)
> Credit rating and outlook: Aaa/Stable
> Poverty: 16.0% (10th highest)

Georgia is one of the minority of states that did not take advantage of federal money and expand their Medicaid program. Medicaid is intended to help the poorest Americans obtain health care coverage, and Georgia has a larger population struggling financially than most states. Some 16.0% of people in Georgia live below the poverty line compared to 14.0% of Americans nationwide. Due in large part to its decision not to expand Medicaid, some 12.9% of state residents are uninsured, nearly the largest share of any state after only Alaska, Oklahoma, and Texas.

While many in Georgia struggle financially, the state itself is fiscally sound. Georgia is one of only 14 states the highest rating from Moody’s and a stable outlook.

Sponsored: Find a Qualified Financial Advisor

Finding a qualified financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to 3 fiduciary financial advisors in your area in 5 minutes. Each advisor has been vetted by SmartAsset and is held to a fiduciary standard to act in your best interests. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors that can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.