Special Report

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

Samuel Stebbins

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16. Wyoming
> 2018 unemployment: 4.1% (20th highest)
> Pension funded ratio: 75.9% (23rd highest)
> 1 yr. GDP growth: 0.1% (2nd lowest)
> Poverty rate: 11.1% (17th lowest)
> Moody’s credit rating and outlook: N/A

Wyoming is the only state in the country that has the equivalent of over 100% of its annual budget saved in a rainy day fund. Alaska has the next largest rainy day fund ratio in the country, at 56.4% of annual budget saved. Wyoming ‘s large rainy day fund positions it well to cope with a revenue shortfall or emergency spending.

In other areas, Wyoming is struggling more than most states. The state reported virtually no economic growth in the last year, and its 4.1% jobless rate is slightly higher than the 3.9% national average. Wyoming is one of only nine states to report population decline between 2017 and 2018, and in the last year, over 3,000 more people left Wyoming than moved there.

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17. Florida
> 2018 unemployment: 3.6% (22nd lowest)
> Pension funded ratio: 79.3% (15th highest)
> 1 yr. GDP growth: 3.2% (11th highest)
> Poverty rate: 13.6% (18th highest)
> Moody’s credit rating and outlook: Aaa/Stable

Largely due to net migration, Florida’s population is one of the fastest growing in the country. In the last year, Florida’s population grew by 1.5%, more than double the 0.6% national population growth. Population growth can fuel economic expansion, and Florida’s GDP grew by 3.2% in the last year, more than most states and the 2.9% national economic growth. Economic growth can also be closely tied to the strength of the job market, and Florida’s 3.6% 2018 unemployment rate is below the comparable 3.9% national figure.

By some measures, however, Florida is below average. For example, the state’s 13.6% poverty rate is slightly higher than the 13.1% national rate. Similarly, Florida’s violent crime rate of 385 incidents per 100,000 people is slightly higher than 369 per 100,000 national rate.

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18. Wisconsin
> 2018 unemployment: 3.0% (9th lowest)
> Pension funded ratio: 102.6% (the highest)
> 1 yr. GDP growth: 2.4% (22nd lowest)
> Poverty rate: 11.0% (14th lowest)
> Moody’s credit rating and outlook: Aa1/Stable

Though Wisconsin is one of 14 states that chose not to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, state residents are more likely to have health insurance than the typical American. The uninsured rate in Wisconsin is 5.5%, well below the 8.9% national rate. Wisconsin residents are also less likely to live in poverty and more likely to own their home than the typical American. Such strong socioeconomic indicators are partially attributable to the state’s healthy job market. Just 3.0% of the workforce in the state was unemployed in 2018, well below the 3.9% national unemployment rate.

Wisconsin relies heavily on credit to fund operations. The state’s debt is equal to 49.7% of its annual budget, more than most states. Additionally, Wisconsin has the equivalent of only 1.9% of its annual expenditures in a rainy day fund, well below the 8.3% average across all states.

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19. Vermont
> 2018 unemployment: 2.7% (5th lowest)
> Pension funded ratio: 64.3% (17th lowest)
> 1 yr. GDP growth: 1.2% (6th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 11.0% (14th lowest)
> Moody’s credit rating and outlook: Aa1/Stable

Vermont is the second best-run state in the Northeast and the 19th best run nationwide. Vermont allocates a larger than typical share of its budget to education, and the state’s school system appears to be effective by some measures. Of all adults 25 and older in the state, 93.5% have a high school diploma, the second highest share among states, trailing only Montana. Vermonters are also more likely than Americans on average to be college educated — 38.7% of adults in the state have at least a bachelor’s degree, compared to 32.6% of adults nationwide. Better-educated adults are less likely to be out of a job, and Vermont’s 2.7% unemployment rate is well below the 3.9% national rate.

Economic growth in Vermont has been sluggish recently. In 2018, Vermont’s economy expanded by just 1.2%. Over the same period, the national GDP increased by 2.9%.

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20. Virginia
> 2018 unemployment: 3.0% (9th lowest)
> Pension funded ratio: 77.2% (20th highest)
> 1 yr. GDP growth: 2.6% (18th highest)
> Poverty rate: 10.7% (11th lowest)
> Moody’s credit rating and outlook: Aaa/Stable

Virginia is a relatively safe state. There were just 200 violent crimes reported for every 100,000 people in the state in 2018, well below the national violent crime rate of 369 per 100,000. Crime rates tend to be lower in places with better economic conditions, and Virginia has one of the strongest job markets of any state. Just 3.0% of the Virginia workforce was out of a job in 2018, well below the 3.9% national unemployment rate.

Virginia may not be as well equipped as most states to weather an economic downturn or provide emergency funding. Though the state makes regular deposits into a rainy day fund, it currently has the equivalent of just 2.2% of its annual expenditures saved in such a fund, well below the 8.3% national average.

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