Special Report

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

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36. Pennsylvania
> 2019 unemployment: 4.4% (7th highest)
> Pension funded ratio: 54.8% (6th lowest)
> 1 yr. GDP growth: +2.4% (15th highest)
> Poverty rate: 12.0% (22nd highest)
> Moody’s credit rating and outlook: Aa3/Stable

Pennsylvania ranks among the bottom third of states on this list, thanks in large part to indicators related to the state’s financial obligations. Pennsylvania’s state pension fund remains one of the most underfunded, with enough assets to cover just 54.8% of its outstanding obligations. That is the sixth lowest pension funded ratio among states and well below the average of 70.7% across all states. The state’s rainy day fund of just $23 million is equivalent to just 0.1% of the state’s general expenditures, the third lowest share of any state.

Pennsylvania’s Aa3 credit rating from Moody’s ranks among the 10 lowest-rated states.

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37. Missouri
> 2019 unemployment: 3.3% (22nd lowest)
> Pension funded ratio: 77.8% (21st highest)
> 1 yr. GDP growth: +1.0% (14th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 12.9% (18th highest)
> Moody’s credit rating and outlook: Aaa/Stable

Missouri ranks 37th on this list in spite of its top tier triple-A credit rating. It is the lowest ranked state with such a rating. In other measures, Missouri ranks well below most states. For example the state’s median household income of $57,409 is well below the $65,712 nationwide median.

Missouri’s life expectancy at birth is 77.3 years, 1.8 years below the national average. The state also has one of the 10 highest violent crime rates in the country, reporting 495 murders, rapes, robberies, and aggravated assaults per 100,000 residents annually, well above the national violent crime rate of 367 per 100,000.

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38. Alabama
> 2019 unemployment: 3.0% (14th lowest)
> Pension funded ratio: 71.9% (25th highest)
> 1 yr. GDP growth: +1.4% (18th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 15.5% (7th highest)
> Moody’s credit rating and outlook: Aa1/Stable

Alabama has struggled to ensure that its population achieves at least a K-12 education — 87.1% of the state’s adult population has a high school diploma, the eighth-lowest share among states. Alabama also ranks as one of the least economically prosperous states, with one of the higher poverty rates in the country and one of the lowest GDPs per capita.

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39. New Jersey
> 2019 unemployment: 3.6% (20th highest)
> Pension funded ratio: 38.4% (the lowest)
> 1 yr. GDP growth: +1.4% (19th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 9.2% (5th lowest)
> Moody’s credit rating and outlook: A3/Negative

New Jersey is struggling with the worst pension crisis of any state. The state has an estimated $212.2 billion in pension obligations — and assets to cover only 38.4% of them. New Jersey is also not well positioned to weather a revenue shortfall, as its rainy day fund has only $421 million — enough to cover just 1.1% of its annual expenditures. Credit rating agency Moody’s has assigned New Jersey a credit rating of just A3 with a negative outlook — one of the lowest ratings among states.

Government coiffers in New Jersey would benefit from stronger economic growth and a broader tax base. However, last year, the state’s economy grew by just 1.4% — compared to the national GDP growth rate of 2.2% in 2019 — and nearly 28,000 more people left the state than moved in.

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40. Oklahoma
> 2019 unemployment: 3.3% (22nd lowest)
> Pension funded ratio: 81.3% (16th highest)
> 1 yr. GDP growth: +2.4% (16th highest)
> Poverty rate: 15.2% (8th highest)
> Moody’s credit rating and outlook: Aa2/Stable

Oklahoma’s population struggles financially more than the populations of most states. The state has the eighth highest poverty rate of any state, at 15.2%, and 14.3% lack health insurance, the second highest uninsured rate of any state and lower only than neighbor Texas.

As is often the case in states with low economic prosperity, the state’s median home value of $147,000 is the fourth lowest among states and about $93,000 below the national median home value.

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