Special Report

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

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6. North Dakota
> 2017 unemployment: 2.6% (2nd lowest)
> Pension funded ratio: 65.9% (23rd lowest)
> 1 yr. GDP growth: -0.5% (4th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 10.3% (8th lowest)
> Moody’s credit rating and outlook: Aa1/Negative

Within the last decade, North Dakota was home to one of the fastest growing populations and fastest growing economies of any state. The boom was almost entirely attributable to natural gas drilling in the Williston Basin. However, following the collapse of oil prices in 2014, growth in the state has slowed. Still, North Dakota boasts a strong job market, with just a 2.6% unemployment rate, the lowest of any state other than Hawaii.

Average output per worker in North Dakota is also much greater than in other parts of the country. The state’s GDP per capita of $67,244 is about $12,000 more than GDP per capita nationwide. Generally, higher per capita GDP reflects a higher standard of living.

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7. Colorado
> 2017 unemployment: 2.8% (4th lowest)
> Pension funded ratio: 46.0% (5th lowest)
> 1 yr. GDP growth: +2.7% (8th highest)
> Poverty rate: 10.3% (8th lowest)
> Moody’s credit rating and outlook: Aa1/Stable

Colorado is one of the fastest growing states in the country by population. About 47,000 more people moved to Colorado than left between July 2016 and July 2017, among the most of any state when adjusted for population. The influx has likely helped drive up home values. The typical house in the state appreciated in value by 11.0% from 2016 to 2017, the second largest increase of any state. Over the last four years, home values in the state jumped 45.1%.

The growing population has led to a growing workforce. Since 2013, the number of people working or looking for work in Colorado has jumped by 8.1%, more than double the 3.4% growth in the national labor pool. Still, the state’s economy easily absorbed the growing demand for jobs as just 2.8% of of workers in Colorado were unemployed in 2017, well below the 4.4% national unemployment rate last year.

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8. Idaho
> 2017 unemployment: 3.2% (8th lowest)
> Pension funded ratio: 87.7% (7th highest)
> 1 yr. GDP growth: +2.4% (13th highest)
> Poverty rate: 12.8% (25th lowest)
> Moody’s credit rating and outlook: Aa1/Stable

Idaho is adding new residents at a nation-leading pace. Between mid-2016 and mid-2017, the state’s population grew by 1.5% from migration alone — more than four times the comparable average across all states. The population influx has likely contributed to soaring home values and strong economic growth. Over the last year, the typical state home appreciated in value by 9.3%, well above the 6.1% national average. Additionally, Idaho’s economy grew by 2.4% that year, faster than all but 12 other states.

Idaho’s rainy day fund has also been largely replenished since it was drained in the wake of the Great Recession. The state now has the equivalent of 11.4% of its annual budget set aside for emergency spending, more than the 7.2% average across all states.

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9. Massachusetts
> 2017 unemployment: 3.7% (16th lowest)
> Pension funded ratio: 57.6% (12th lowest)
> 1 yr. GDP growth: +2.6% (9th highest)
> Poverty rate: 10.5% (10th lowest)
> Moody’s credit rating and outlook: Aa1/Stable

Massachusetts is the only state east of the Mississippi to rank among the top 10 best-managed. The state has a massive $53.6 billion budget, and it allocates a relatively large 37.6% share to public welfare. The state has relatively generous benefits for residents who qualify. For example, unemployment insurance recipients receive an average of $511 a week, the most of any state. Residents of Massachusetts are also less likely to be unemployed than most Americans. Just 3.7% of workers in the state were unemployed in 2017, a smaller share than the 4.4% national unemployment rate.

Massachusetts was also the first state to mandate health insurance coverage for its citizens, years before the Affordable Care Act was even discussed at the national level. Partially as a result, just 2.8% of state residents do not have health insurance, the lowest uninsured rate in the country.

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10. Nebraska
> 2017 unemployment: 2.9% (5th lowest)
> Pension funded ratio: 88.8% (5th highest)
> 1 yr. GDP growth: +0.9% (17th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 10.8% (13th lowest)
> Moody’s credit rating and outlook: Aa1/Stable

Nebraska, a relatively small state of just 1.9 million residents, has a well-managed budget. The state has funding for 88.8% of its pension obligations, and its debt is equal to just 17.9% of its annual revenue. For reference, states have an average of just 65.9% of their pensions funded, and the average debt as a percent of annual spending across all states is 54.3%. However, Nebraska is facing a projected $95.1 million budget shortfall in the next two years, and how the state will close the gap remains uncertain.

Nebraska also has one of the healthiest job markets of any state. Just 2.9% of workers were out of a job in 2017, well below the 4.4% national unemployment rate in 2017.

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