Special Report

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

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21. Iowa
> 2019 unemployment: 2.7% (6th lowest)
> Pension funded ratio: 83.6% (12th highest)
> 1 yr. GDP growth: +0.4% (2nd lowest)
> Poverty rate: 11.2% (21st lowest)
> Moody’s credit rating and outlook: Aa2/Stable

Annual GDP growth in Iowa was slower than in nearly every other state in 2019. Iowa’s economy grew by just 0.4% last year, well below the 2.2% national GDP growth rate. Job growth in the state has also been lackluster in recent years. Overall employment climbed by just 1.6% in Iowa from 2015 to 2019. Meanwhile, the national employment growth rate was 6.4% over the same period.

Despite sluggish growth, Iowa’s job market is stronger than that of most other states. An average of just 2.7% of the state’s labor force was unemployed in 2019, a full percentage point below the comparable national jobless rate.

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22. Maryland
> 2019 unemployment: 3.6% (20th highest)
> Pension funded ratio: 70.4% (23rd lowest)
> 1 yr. GDP growth: +1.4% (22nd lowest)
> Poverty rate: 9.0% (4th lowest)
> Moody’s credit rating and outlook: Aaa/Stable

In many key indicators of fiscal and economic management, Maryland closely aligns with the overall average across states. For example, Maryland has enough assets to cover about 70% of its total pension obligations, compared to the 71% average across all states. Additionally, Maryland’s pre-COVID annual jobless rate of 3.6% is only a tenth of a point below the comparable 3.7% national unemployment rate.

In other ways, the state stands out from much of the rest of the country — in both good ways and bad. On one hand, Maryland is one of only 12 states with a perfect triple-A credit rating and a stable outlook from Moody’s. However, annual GDP growth in the state is a relatively sluggish 1.4%, compared to the 2.2% national economic growth rate.

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23. Hawaii
> 2019 unemployment: 2.7% (6th lowest)
> Pension funded ratio: 55.5% (8th lowest)
> 1 yr. GDP growth: +0.3% (the lowest)
> Poverty rate: 9.3% (7th lowest)
> Moody’s credit rating and outlook: Aa2/Stable

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Hawaii had one of the strongest labor markets in the United States. An average of just 2.7% of the state labor force was unemployed in 2019, compared to just 3.7% of the labor force nationwide. However, Hawaii’s economy, which is heavily dependent on tourism, was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and unemployment has since surged statewide. Economic growth has also been weak in Hawaii before the pandemic. The state’s GDP grew by just 0.3% in 2019, the smallest improvement of any state and well below the comparable 2.2% national GDP growth.

An educated population can be fundamental to economic vitality in a given region, and in Hawaii, 92.4% of adults have a high school diploma or higher, compared to just 88.6% of adults nationwide. Hawaii allocates about 28% of its annual expenditures to education, more than every other state except for Utah.

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24. Wyoming
> 2019 unemployment: 3.6% (20th highest)
> Pension funded ratio: 68.5% (21st lowest)
> 1 yr. GDP growth: +1.3% (17th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 10.1% (14th lowest)
> Moody’s credit rating and outlook: N/A

By several measures, Wyoming is in a more secure financial position than every other state. First, the state has enough saved in a rainy day fund to cover about 97% of its annual expenditures — more than any other state. On average, states have enough saved in rainy day funds to cover only about 9% of yearly spending. Additionally, Wyoming’s debt levels are equal to only about 11% of annual revenue, the smallest share of any state.

In other key measures, however, Wyoming lags behind much of the country. For example, employment fell by 2.5% in the state over the last five years. Over the same period, employment climbed 6.4% nationwide. Economic growth has also been lackluster, as Wyoming’s GDP expanded by just 1.3% in 2019, nearly a full percentage point below the 2.2% national economic growth rate.

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25. Maine
> 2019 unemployment: 3.0% (14th lowest)
> Pension funded ratio: 84.5% (11th highest)
> 1 yr. GDP growth: +2.6% (14th highest)
> Poverty rate: 10.9% (19th lowest)
> Moody’s credit rating and outlook: Aa2/Stable

Maine ranks as the safest state in the country. There were only 115 violent crimes for every 100,000 people in Maine in 2019, less than one-third the national violent crime rate of 367 incidents per 100,000 Americans. Maine residents are also relatively financially secure as they are less likely to be unemployed and less likely to live below the poverty line than most Americans.

For many Americans, homeownership is a practical way to build wealth — but in Maine, real estate investment has not been especially profitable in recent years. The typical home in Maine appreciated in value by just 11.2% in the last five years, while the typical home nationwide was worth 23.6% more in 2019 than in 2015.