Special Report

The States With the Best and Worst Economies

Source: Thinkstock

11. Virginia
> 5 yr. GDP annual growth rate: +0.7% (10th smallest increase)
> 2017 GDP: $441.5 billion (12th largest)
> June 2018 Unemployment: 3.2% (tied — 14th lowest)
> 5 yr. annual employment growth: +0.9% (18th smallest increase)

Like its neighbor, Maryland — the state that pushes it out of the top 10 — Virginia’s economy benefits from its proximity to Washington, D.C., which is a source of many high-paying, professional jobs. This helps explain the state’s highly educated and relatively affluent population. Virginia’s median household income of $68,114 a year is well above the national median of $57,617. Among state adults, 38.1% have a bachelor’s degree, compared to the national share of 31.3%. Americans with a college degree tend to have less trouble finding steady employment, and Virginia’s 3.2% June unemployment rate compares favorably to the national rate of 3.8%.

Source: Thinkstock

12. Oregon
> 5 yr. GDP annual growth rate: +1.7% (16th largest increase)
> 2017 GDP: $212.6 billion (24th largest)
> June 2018 Unemployment: 4.0% (tied — 23rd highest)
> 5 yr. annual employment growth: +2.2% (6th largest increase)

Though it ranks just outside of the the top 10 state economies, Oregon ranks average or above average in most measures of economic prosperity. What pushes the state’s economy rank higher is its high job growth. Oregon’s employment increased at an annualized average of 2.2% each year from 2012 through 2017. The nation’s job growth, by comparison, increased at a 1.5% pace over that same period. Job growth was not confined to one or two industries, rather most major industries in the state had healthy job growth.

Source: Meinzahn / iStock

13. Florida
> 5 yr. GDP annual growth rate: +2.3% (7th largest increase)
> 2017 GDP: $836.1 billion (4th largest)
> June 2018 Unemployment: 3.8% (tied — 21st lowest)
> 5 yr. annual employment growth: +2.5% (3rd largest increase)

Just like a state’s economy contributes to the population’s wealth, a wealthy population can bolster an economy. and median household incomes in nearly every state among the most affluent economies are comparable to or above the national median income. While there are several exceptions, the biggest by far is Florida, where the typical household earns $50,860 a year, roughly $6,800 below the national median household income.

The state ranks as high as it does as a result of reporting some of the strongest economic growth figures over the past half decade. From 2012 through 2017, the state’s employment grew at an annual rate of 2.5% and GDP grew at an annual rate of 2.3% compared to national growth rates of 2.5% and 1.7, respectively, over the same period.

Source: Thinkstock

14. Nebraska
> 5 yr. GDP annual growth rate: +1.9% (12th largest increase)
> 2017 GDP: $104.9 billion (16th smallest)
> June 2018 Unemployment: 2.9% (tied — 7th lowest)
> 5 yr. annual employment growth: +0.8% (13th smallest increase)

Most of the better ranked state economies boast an affluent population and high home prices. A less expensive housing market relative to regional incomes can free up more disposable income for residents. In Nebraska, the typical household earns $56,927 a year, roughly in line with the national median household income of $57,617. Relative to that income, home prices are quite affordable, equivalent to 2.6 times the state median income — the third most affordable housing market in the country. Unemployment is also quite low in the state, at 2.9%, compared to the national unemployment rate of 3.8%.

Source: Thinkstock

15. New Jersey
> 5 yr. GDP annual growth rate: +0.7% (9th smallest increase)
> 2017 GDP: $511.3 billion (8th largest)
> June 2018 Unemployment: 4.3% (tied — 13th highest)
> 5 yr. annual employment growth: +1.0% (21st smallest increase)

New Jersey has one of the highest unemployment rates for a state with an economy ranking in the top 20. The state’s June jobless rate of 4.3% is tied for 13th highest among states, and is 0.5 percentage points higher than the national rate. The state’s low poverty levels and high educational attainment push it higher up the list. Roughly 39% of the state’s adult population has a bachelor’s degree, the fourth highest share among states. Just 10.2% of the state’s residents live in poverty, the ninth lowest poverty rate of all states.