Special Report

America's Best States to Live In

Cheyenne Buckingham, Grant Suneson

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10. Utah
> 10-yr. population change: +17.3% (3rd largest increase)
> Annual unemployment: 3.2% (9th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 9.7% (6th lowest)
> Life expectancy at birth: 79.9 years (13th longest)

Over the past decade, Utah’s population expanded by 17.3%, the third largest population growth of any state. Americans from out of state have likely moved to Utah also because of its robust job market. Only 3.2% of the workforce in Utah are unemployed, one of the lowest rates in the nation and below the comparable national rate of 4.4%. Utah also has the sixth lowest poverty rate at just 9.7%, much less than the national rate of 13.4%. Utah also has the lowest income inequality of any state. State residents in the 80th percentile of income only make 3.8 times more than those in the 20th percentile. This is well below the national average of five times.

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9. Vermont
> 10-yr. population change: +0.4% (3rd smallest increase)
> Annual unemployment: 3.0% (6th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 11.3% (19th lowest)
> Life expectancy at birth: 80.2 years (7th longest)

Vermont has the second lowest incidences of violent and property crime in the country. In fact, the state’s violent crime rate of 165.8 incidents per 100,000 residents is less than half the U.S. violent crime rate. In addition to the harm done to victims of crime, high-crime areas are less likely to attract new businesses than safer places, and those who live in high-crime areas can lack a sense of safety and well-being.

Vermont residents tend to be well educated — 38.3% of adults in the state have at least a bachelor’s degree, compared with 32.0% of Americans. Areas with a greater share of degree-holding residents tend to have higher employment rates because workers with higher education levels have higher employment rates and tend to work in better-paying jobs.

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8. Maryland
> 10-yr. population change: +7.7% (23rd smallest increase)
> Annual unemployment: 4.1% (23rd lowest)
> Poverty rate: 9.3% (2nd lowest)
> Life expectancy at birth: 79.2 years (25th longest)

High educational attainment can lead to higher-paying, and often more steady jobs. In Maryland, 39.7% of adults have their bachelor’s degree, the third highest share of any other state and well above the 32.0% of adults who have the same education level nationwide. Maryland also has the highest median household income of all states. The typical household in Maryland earns $80,776 a year, over $20,400 more than the national figure.

Maryland also has the second lowest poverty rate in the nation, with just 9.3% of the state population living in poverty. The state also has the fourth largest share of households making at least $200,000 annually.

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7. Hawaii
> 10-yr. population change: +11.2% (12th largest increase)
> Annual unemployment: 2.4% (the lowest)
> Poverty rate: 9.5% (4th lowest)
> Life expectancy at birth: 81.2 years (the longest)

Based on its tropical climate and expansive beaches, Hawaii has a reputation as a great place to live. But it also performs well in a number of more objective quality of life indicators. For instance, the state is home to some of the healthiest Americans. The average life expectancy at birth in the state of 81.2 years is the highest of all states. Similarly, just 22.3% of adult residents are obese, the second lowest obesity rate in the country.

The state also performs well in a number of key economic measures. The state’s poverty rate is 9.5%, well below the 13.4% national poverty rate. Hawaii residents also tend to make a good living, with a median household income of $77,765 a year, well above the national median. However, since it is so far away from the, it has the highest cost of living by a wide margin, offsetting some of the high incomes.

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6. New Jersey
> 10-yr. population change: +3.7% (12th smallest increase)
> Annual unemployment: 4.6% (17th highest)
> Poverty rate: 10.0% (7th lowest)
> Life expectancy at birth: 80.0 years (10th longest)

New Jersey is the second most affluent state on this list behind Maryland. The median annual household income of $80,088 exceeds the national figure of $60,336 by almost $20,000. In New Jersey, 16.7% of households earn at least $200,000 annually, the largest share of any state and well above the comparable national share of 9.0%. In addition, only 10.0% of New Jersey residents live in poverty, the seventh lowest share of all states and below the 13.4% of Americans that live in poverty nationwide.

New Jersey is also a relatively safe place to live. The rates of violent and property crime are among the lowest in the nation. For example, there are only about 1,555 cases of property crime for every 100,000 state residents — the sixth lowest property crime rate among all states.