Special Report

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

Samuel Stebbins

Source: Sean Pavone / Getty Images

31. Ohio
> 2018 unemployment: 4.6% (8th highest)
> Pension funded ratio: 80.1% (14th highest)
> 1 yr. GDP growth: 1.9% (12th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 13.9% (16th highest)
> Moody’s credit rating and outlook: Aa1/Stable

Economic conditions in Ohio are bleaker than in most other states. Ohio’s 4.6% 2018 unemployment rate is higher than in the majority of states and above the 3.9% national rate. The job market can be closely tied to overall economic growth, and GDP growth has been sluggish in Ohio. The state’s economy expanded by just 1.9% in 2018, far slower than the comparable 3.9% national growth.

Still, Ohio does as well or better than the U.S. as a whole in some other socioeconomic and other measures. A relatively safe state, Ohio’s violent crime rate of 280 incidents per 100,000 people is lower than the 369 per 100,000 national rate. Additionally, while many states are facing a pension crisis, Ohio has funding for over 80% of its pension obligations, far higher than the 69.1% average funded ratio across all states.

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32. South Carolina
> 2018 unemployment: 3.4% (16th lowest)
> Pension funded ratio: 54.3% (7th lowest)
> 1 yr. GDP growth: 2.6% (17th highest)
> Poverty rate: 15.3% (10th highest)
> Moody’s credit rating and outlook: Aaa/Stable

South Carolina is one of only 15 states with a perfect triple A credit rating and a stable outlook from Moody’s. Still, it is not without some budgetary problems. South Carolina has funding for only about 54% of its pension obligations, one of the lowest funding ratios of any state.

State residents benefit from a strong job market. Just 3.4% of workers were out of a job, on average, in 2018, a smaller share than the 3.9% nationwide annual unemployment rate. Despite the availability of jobs, a relatively large share of the state population is struggling financially. Some 15.3% of South Carolinians live below the poverty line, the 10th highest poverty rate among states.

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33. Arizona
> 2018 unemployment: 4.8% (6th highest)
> Pension funded ratio: 62.2% (12th lowest)
> 1 yr. GDP growth: 4.1% (4th highest)
> Poverty rate: 14.0% (15th highest)
> Moody’s credit rating and outlook: Aa2/Stable

Arizona’s population is growing far faster than most states. From July 2017 to July 2018, largely due to inbound migration, the state population grew by 1.7%, the fourth fastest population growth rate among states. Population growth can contribute to economic growth, and Arizona’s economy expanded by 4.1% last year, the fourth highest growth rate among states and well above the national 2.9% GDP growth.

Despite the rapid economic growth, Arizona’s job market is one of the weakest in the country. Arizona’s annual unemployment rate of 4.8% is higher than in all but five other states and is well above the 3.9% national average.

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34. New York
> 2018 unemployment: 4.1% (20th highest)
> Pension funded ratio: 94.5% (4th highest)
> 1 yr. GDP growth: 1.2% (7th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 13.6% (18th highest)
> Moody’s credit rating and outlook: Aa1/Stable

By several measures, New York’s economy is lagging behind much of the rest of the country. For one, the state’s 1.2% economic growth in 2018 was slower than all but six other states and well below the 2.9% national growth. Joblessness is also a problem in New York, as the state’s 4.1% unemployment rate is higher than most states and the 3.9% national rate.

New York is not lagging behind the rest of the country in all measures, however. While many states are facing a pension crisis, New York has funding for about 95% of its pension obligations, far higher than the 69.1% average funded ratio across all states.

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35. Kansas
> 2018 unemployment: 3.4% (16th lowest)
> Pension funded ratio: 67.1% (22nd lowest)
> 1 yr. GDP growth: 2.1% (15th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 12.0% (21st lowest)
> Moody’s credit rating and outlook: Aa2/Stable

More people left Kansas between mid-2017 and mid-2018 than moved into the state over that period. Population decline or stagnation can be a drag on economic output, and last year, the Kansas economy grew by only 2.1%, slower than the 2.9% national economic growth.

Kansas is not as prepared as most states to fund government services in the event of a revenue shortfall. It is one of only four states nationwide with nothing saved in a rainy day fund. Kansas also only has funding for only 67.1% of its total pension obligations.

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