Special Report

The States With the Best and Worst Economies

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1. Utah
> 5 yr. annualized GDP growth rate through Q1 2020: +3.4% (2nd highest)
> 5 yr. annualized employment growth rate through June 2020: +2.4% (the highest)
> June 2020 unemployment rate: 5.1% (2nd lowest)
> Poverty rate: 9.0% (4th lowest)

Utah’s economy ranks as the best of any state. At a time when COVID-19 has sent unemployment soaring into the double digits across much of the country, Utah’s monthly jobless rate stands at 5.1%, less than half the 11.1% national unemployment rate for June.

Even before the coronavirus hit American shores, economic conditions in Utah were far stronger than they were in most of the country. From the first quarter in 2015 through the first quarter in 2020, Utah’s economy grew at an annual rate of 3.4%, compared to the 1.9% national GDP growth rate. Utah is one of only seven states with a poverty rate below 10%.

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2. Idaho
> 5 yr. annualized GDP growth rate through Q1 2020: +2.8% (9th highest)
> 5 yr. annualized employment growth rate through June 2020: +2.0% (2nd highest)
> June 2020 unemployment rate: 5.6% (3rd lowest)
> Poverty rate: 11.8% (20th lowest)

Like many other states that rank well on this list, Idaho’s job market has, so far, weathered the COVID-19 pandemic relatively well. Only 5.6% of Idaho’s labor force was unemployed in June, the third lowest unemployment rate after only Utah and Kentucky. Unlike the U.S. as a whole, where employment fell by 2.7% from June 2015 to June 2020, Idaho has added jobs in the last five years, with overall employment climbing 10.5%.

Idaho’s job growth has helped fuel economic growth. The state’s GDP has climbed by an annual rate of 2.8% every year since 2015, faster than the vast majority of states. As is the case with many of the best ranking states on this list, Idaho’s population has been booming in recent years. Idaho also has the sixth lowest crime rate of any state.

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3. Washington
> 5 yr. annualized GDP growth rate through Q1 2020: +3.9% (the highest)
> 5 yr. annualized employment growth rate through June 2020: +1.3% (3rd highest)
> June 2020 unemployment rate: 9.8% (21st highest)
> Poverty rate: 10.3% (9th lowest)

Though it was one of the first states to deal with the COVID pandemic, Washington’s economy has fared better throughout the crisis compared to most states. Even though the state’s unemployment rate was among the highest in the country in June 2018 and 2019, it stood at 9.8% in June 2020, below the nationwide rate of 11.1%. Washington has the fifth lowest share of its labor force in jobs that are at high risk of being lost due to the pandemic, at 15.0%.

Even ahead of the pandemic, Washington’s economy was growing faster than any other state. From 2015’s first quarter through 2020’s first quarter, the state’s GDP expanded by 21.2%, by far the highest increase of any state. This growth was bolstered by the state’s robust information sector, thanks to tech behemoths like Amazon and Microsoft.

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4. Colorado
> 5 yr. annualized GDP growth rate through Q1 2020: +2.9% (6th highest)
> 5 yr. annualized employment growth rate through June 2020: +0.9% (5th highest)
> June 2020 unemployment rate: 10.5% (17th highest)
> Poverty rate: 9.6% (7th lowest)

Each of the four states with the best economies is in the West, including Colorado. In most of the country, overall employment has fallen in the last five years. In Colorado, however, employment climbed by an average of 0.9% annually over the same period.

Colorado has also reported stronger than average GDP growth in recent years. Driven in part by rapid growth in the information industry, as well as professional, scientific, and technical services, average annual economic growth in Colorado from Q1 2015 through Q1 2020 was 2.9%, higher than in all but five states. Cities in the state, including Boulder, Colorado Springs, and Denver, have attracted new offices and second headquarters of tech giants like Apple, Facebook, and Netflix in recent years.

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5. Maryland
> 5 yr. annualized GDP growth rate through Q1 2020: +1.6% (18th highest)
> 5 yr. annualized employment growth rate through June 2020: -0.3% (15th highest)
> June 2020 unemployment rate: 8.0% (18th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 9.0% (4th lowest)

Maryland has the best economy of any state on the East Coast or in the South, and the fifth best economy nationwide. Unlike the other states that rank in the top five on this list, Maryland has fewer people working in it today than it did five years ago. Still, its June unemployment rate of 8.0% is well below the comparable national rate of 11.1%. Additionally, Maryland’s economy has grown at an annual rate of 1.6% since 2015, driven in part by rapid growth in industries like information and mining.

Jobs in Maryland are also more likely to be well paying than those in most of the country. The median annual household income in the state is $83,242, the most of any state and over $20,000 more than the national median. Additionally, only 9.0% of Maryland’s population lives below the poverty line, compared to 13.1% of Americans nationwide.