Special Report

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

Samuel Stebbins

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26. Wyoming
> 2017 unemployment: 4.2% (24th lowest)
> Pension funded ratio: 73.3% (18th highest)
> 1 yr. GDP growth: +1.4% (22nd lowest)
> Poverty rate: 11.3% (17th lowest)
> Moody’s credit rating and outlook: N/A

Wyoming ranked among the five best-managed states for seven years, from 2010 through 2016. However, the resource-rich state is heavily dependent on its coal industry, which has taken a beating in recent years. Though Wyoming still accounts for two-fifths of total U.S. coal production, production in the state is down considerably from $467.6 million short tons in 2008 to $316.5 million in 2017.

Still, Wyoming is a fiscally well-managed state. Its total debt amounts to just 13.1% of its total revenue, the smallest share of any state. Also, Wyoming has the equivalent of 91.2% of its annual expenditures saved in a rainy day fund, the largest share of any state. In comparison, the average rainy day fund across all states amounts to just 7.2% of annual spending.

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27. Virginia
> 2017 unemployment: 3.8% (19th lowest)
> Pension funded ratio: 72.4% (20th highest)
> 1 yr. GDP growth: +1.8% (22nd highest)
> Poverty rate: 10.6% (11th lowest)
> Moody’s credit rating and outlook: Aaa/Stable

Economic growth has been relatively slow in Virginia in recent years. The state’s labor force has grown by just 1.7% since 2013, half the comparable national labor force growth of 3.4%. Similarly, in the last year, Virginia’s 1.8% economic growth trailed the 2.2% nationwide GDP growth. Still, Virginia outperforms most states in several other important measures. The state has more of its pension obligations funded than most states, and it has a perfect credit rating and stable outlook from Moody’s.

Recently, Arlington, Virginia, was selected from a pool of over 200 contenders as a location for one of Amazon’s second headquarters. Amazon will invest $2.5 billion in the location and bring about 25,000 new high-paying jobs to the state.

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28. Maine
> 2017 unemployment: 3.3% (10th lowest)
> Pension funded ratio: 77.3% (14th highest)
> 1 yr. GDP growth: +1.9% (20th highest)
> Poverty rate: 11.1% (15th lowest)
> Moody’s credit rating and outlook: Aa2/Stable

Maine is one of the oldest states in the country, with one in every five residents age 65 or older. While the state currently has funding for 77.3% of its pension obligations, a rapidly aging population means that there will be more retirees and fewer workers their health care benefits and retirement income. In an effort to draw in more younger residents, Maine is offering tax credits to recent college graduates who return to the state.

Maine’s job market is relatively strong with just 3.3% of workers unemployed in 2017, well below the 4.4% national unemployment rate. Maine is also the safest state to live in the country. There were just 121 violent crimes for every 100,000 Maine residents in 2017, less than one third of the comparable national violent crime rate.

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29. Arizona
> 2017 unemployment: 4.9% (11th highest)
> Pension funded ratio: 60.4% (15th lowest)
> 1 yr. GDP growth: +3.1% (4th highest)
> Poverty rate: 14.9% (12th highest)
> Moody’s credit rating and outlook: Aa2/Stable

Arizona ranked among the six worst-run states as recently as 2014. Improving tremendously in recent years, it now ranks closer to the middle of all states. Last year, Arizona had near nation-leading GDP growth of 3.1%, well above the 2.2% national figure. Economic growth has been bolstered by an influx of new residents. Arizona’s population grew by a net total of 1.1% due to migration from mid-2016 to mid-2017, more than all but four other states.

Arizona still has some lingering problems, however. Its 4.9% annual unemployment rate is higher than most states and than the 4.4% national rate. Additionally, there were 508 violent crimes for every 100,000 people in the state in 2017, well above the U.S. violent crime rate of 383 per 100,000.

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30. Ohio
> 2017 unemployment: 5% (8th highest)
> Pension funded ratio: 72.0% (22nd highest)
> 1 yr. GDP growth: +1.6% (25th highest)
> Poverty rate: 14% (18th highest)
> Moody’s credit rating and outlook: Aa1/Stable

Economic growth in Ohio was slower than typical in 2017. The state’s 1.6% GDP growth was below the 2.2% national GDP growth that year. In the last four years, Ohio’s labor force grew by just 1.1%, even as the number of workers nationwide climbed by 3.4%. The weak job market may be a drag on growth and detering many would-be job seekers. In 2017, 5.0% of Ohio’s workforce was unemployed, one of the highest unemployment rates of any state.

2018 marks the final year John Kasich will serve as Ohio governor. Kasich, a Republican, controversially expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, and partially as a result, the state’s uninsured rate dropped from 11.0% in 2013, the year before the Medicaid expansion took effect, to 6.0% in 2017.