Special Report

The States With the Best and Worst Economies

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21. Wisconsin
> 5 yr. annualized GDP growth rate through Q1 2020: +1.2% (24th lowest)
> 5 yr. annualized employment growth rate through June 2020: -1.0% (21st lowest)
> June 2020 unemployment rate: 8.5% (21st lowest)
> Poverty rate: 11.0% (16th lowest)

Due in large part to COVID-19, there are about 200,000 fewer people working in Wisconsin now than there were a year ago. Still, unemployment is lower than average in the state. As of June 2020, 8.5% of the labor force in Wisconsin was unemployed, well below the national unemployment rate of 11.1%.

While Wisconsin’s job market is healthier than most states’ amid the pandemic, the state’s economic growth has been relatively slow in recent years. From the beginning of 2015 through the first quarter of 2020, Wisconsin’s GDP climbed by just 6.4%, slower than the 9.8% national growth during that time. Economic expansion in the state was hampered by declining output in several industries, including accommodation and food services and finance and insurance.

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22. Kentucky
> 5 yr. annualized GDP growth rate through Q1 2020: +0.9% (13th lowest)
> 5 yr. annualized employment growth rate through June 2020: -0.4% (19th highest)
> June 2020 unemployment rate: 4.3% (the lowest)
> Poverty rate: 16.9% (6th highest)

Kentucky’s June 2020 unemployment rate of 4.3% is the lowest of all states. Yet the nation-lowest unemployment rate does not tell the whole story, as Kentucky is one of three states in which more than half of the state’s labor force filed for unemployment benefits since March 15, at 56%. One reason for the low jobless rate is that many unemployed workers stopped looking for a job, according to Kentucky’s Center for Business and Economic Research.

Still, Kentucky’s job market has recovered somewhat recently, with employment increasing in all nonfarm sectors in June

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23. Vermont
> 5 yr. annualized GDP growth rate through Q1 2020: +1.1% (19th lowest)
> 5 yr. annualized employment growth rate through June 2020: -1.4% (14th lowest)
> June 2020 unemployment rate: 9.4% (25th highest)
> Poverty rate: 11.0% (16th lowest)

Vermont’s GDP grew at an average of 1.1% annually from 2015 to 2020, well below the 1.9% annualized growth rate nationwide. Economic expansion was likely hampered by low population growth during that time. Vermont had the third lowest population increase due to natural change, at 0.3%, and there were more people who moved out of Vermont than moved to it during those years.

Vermont’s median household income of $60,782 is roughly $1,000 lower than that of the U.S. as a whole. Though Vermont had among the lowest unemployment rates in the years before the COVID-19 pandemic, a much higher share of the state’s workforce is now unemployed, at 9.4%, the 25th highest unemployment rate.

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24. Tennessee
> 5 yr. annualized GDP growth rate through Q1 2020: +2.0% (15th highest)
> 5 yr. annualized employment growth rate through June 2020: -0.1% (14th highest)
> June 2020 unemployment rate: 9.7% (23rd highest)
> Poverty rate: 15.3% (9th highest)

Economic growth has been strong in Tennessee over the last half decade. The state’s GDP increased by 10.3% since 2015, or an average of 2.0% annually. Only 14 states reported faster economic growth.

Despite the robust economic growth, poverty in Tennessee remains high. The state’s poverty rate of 15.3% is one of the highest in the country. For comparison, the national poverty rate stands at 13.1%.

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25. Missouri
> 5 yr. annualized GDP growth rate through Q1 2020: +0.9% (15th lowest)
> 5 yr. annualized employment growth rate through June 2020: -1.0% (23rd lowest)
> June 2020 unemployment rate: 7.9% (15th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 13.2% (19th highest)

From the start of 2015 through 2020’s first quarter, Missouri’s real GDP increased by an average of 0.9% per year, about half of the annual average increase nationwide. Pre-pandemic, Missouri’s median household income of $54,478 was about $7,500 below the U.S. median and it had one of the higher poverty rates among states.

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