Special Report

Best and Worst States to Live In

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31. Montana
> 10-yr. population change: +9.0% (14th highest)
> 2018 unemployment: 3.7% (24th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 13.0% (22nd highest)
> Life expectancy at birth: 78.5 years (20th shortest)

Serious financial hardship is about as common in Montana as it is nationwide. Across the state, 13.0% of residents live below the poverty line, compared to 13.1% of Americans nationwide. While people in Montana are about as likely to be financially secure as the typical American, they are slightly less likely to live as long. Life expectancy at birth in the state is 78.5 years, about six months shy of the national average.

Population growth can be indicative of how attractive a state is to potential new residents and those looking to start a family — and Montana is growing faster than most states. In the last decade, the number of people living in the state climbed by 9.0%, outpacing the comparable 6.6% U.S. population growth.

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32. South Dakota
> 10-yr. population change: +8.6% (16th highest)
> 2018 unemployment: 3.0% (11th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 13.1% (20th highest)
> Life expectancy at birth: 79.0 years (25th shortest)

Just 29.2% of adults in South Dakota have a bachelor’s degree, below the 32.6% national average. Incomes tend to rise with educational attainment, and the typical household in South Dakota earns $56,274 a year, well below the national median household income of $61,937. Despite the lower median income, South Dakota’s 13.1% poverty rate is exactly in line with the national rate. Similarly, at 79.0 years, life expectancy in South Dakota is also closely aligned with the average nationwide of 79.1 years.

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33. North Carolina
> 10-yr. population change: +10.7% (10th highest)
> 2018 unemployment: 3.9% (21st highest)
> Poverty rate: 14.0% (14th highest)
> Life expectancy at birth: 78.0 years (14th shortest)

North Carolina’s population growth of over 10% over the past decade is relatively high for a state that ranks just outside of the bottom third on this list. The state’s poverty rate and life expectancy each ranks 14th worst in the nation. The state’s adult bachelor’s attainment rate, at 31.9%, compares slightly better, likely in part due to the presence of the research triangle, the cluster of major universities and research institutions in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill region.

The state ranks close to, or slightly worse than the national average in a number of other socioeconomic measures, including unemployment, violent crime, and the share of residents without health insurance coverage.

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34. Texas
> 10-yr. population change: +15.8% (2nd highest)
> 2018 unemployment: 3.9% (21st highest)
> Poverty rate: 14.9% (11th highest)
> Life expectancy at birth: 79.0 years (25th longest)

Many places that rank poorly for overall quality of life tend to have declining populations, which can be indicative of their lower desirability as a place to live. Texas is perhaps the biggest exception to that rule. While the state ranks in the bottom third of states, its population has increased by 15.8% in the past decade, second only to that of North Dakota.

Those with a higher level of education are more likely to have more options in life and higher incomes. Texas has nearly the lowest high school diploma attainment rate among adults, at just 84%. The state’s bachelor’s degree attainment rate among adults is a little better. Some 30.3% of state residents 25 or over have a bachelor’s degree, compared to 32.6% of all adults nationwide.

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35. Georgia
> 10-yr. population change: +7.0% (20th highest)
> 2018 unemployment: 3.9% (21st highest)
> Poverty rate: 14.3% (12th highest)
> Life expectancy at birth: 77.7 years (13th shortest)

Georgia residents are more likely to struggle financially than the typical American. The state’s 14.3% poverty rate is higher than the comparable 13.1% national rate. Crime tends to be more common in poorer areas, and crime is more common in Georgia than it is nationwide. There were 405 violent crimes reported for every 100,000 people in Georgia in 2018 — compared to the national violent crime rate of 369 per 100,000.

The higher than average poverty rate may also help explain the relatively low life expectancy in Georgia, as lower-income Americans can afford fewer healthy options related to diet, lifestyle, and health care. Life expectancy at birth in Georgia is 77.7 years, over a year below the 79.1-year national average.

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