Special Report

The States With the Best and Worst Economies

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46. Hawaii
> 5-yr. annualized GDP growth through Q4 2020: -0.5% (5th lowest)
> 5-yr. annualized employment growth through March 2021: -2.1% (2nd lowest)
> March 2021 unemployment rate: 9.0% (the highest)
> Poverty rate: 9.3% (6th lowest)

Hawaii has reported fewer COVID-19 cases per capita than every other state. While the public health toll of the pandemic has been minimal, the economic toll has been devastating. Tourism, an industry that all but ground to a halt for much of 2020, is an economic pillar in Hawaii. Due in large part to the tens of thousands of jobs that were lost in the state during the pandemic, total employment in Hawaii declined by 10% between 2016 and 2021. Nationwide, employment rose 0.3% over the same period.

Joblessness in Hawaii is widespread. Unemployment in the state stands at a national-high 9.0% — 50% higher than the 6.0% U.S. unemployment rate.

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47. West Virginia
> 5-yr. annualized GDP growth through Q4 2020: -0.2% (8th lowest)
> 5-yr. annualized employment growth through March 2021: +0.3% (19th highest)
> March 2021 unemployment rate: 5.9% (21st highest)
> Poverty rate: 16.0% (6th highest)

West Virginia has some of the weakest economic conditions of any state. Over the last five years, the state’s GDP has fallen at an average annual rate of 0.2%. For context, the U.S. economy expanded by an average of 1.4% annually over the same period. Economic contraction is likely due in part to long-term population decline, as there are over 68,000 fewer people living in West Virginia now than there were in 2010.

Because of economic conditions in West Virginia, a relatively large share of its population remains vulnerable to serious financial hardship. The state’s poverty rate of 16.0% is among the highest in the U.S. and well above the 12.3% national poverty rate.

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48. New Mexico
> 5-yr. annualized GDP growth through Q4 2020: +1.1% (22nd highest)
> 5-yr. annualized employment growth through March 2021: -0.1% (22nd lowest)
> March 2021 unemployment rate: 8.3% (3rd highest)
> Poverty rate: 18.2% (3rd highest)

Residents of New Mexico are far less likely to be financially secure than most Americans. An estimated 18.2% of state residents live below the poverty line, the third largest share of any state and well above the 12.3% share of Americans nationwide.

The poverty rate in New Mexico would likely be reduced with a stronger job market. Currently, unemployment in the state stands at 8.3%, one of the highest jobless rates of any state. Due largely to job losses during the pandemic, there are nearly 33,600 fewer jobs in New Mexico now than there were in 2016.

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49. Mississippi
> 5-yr. annualized GDP growth through Q4 2020: +0.5% (16th lowest)
> 5-yr. annualized employment growth through March 2021: +0.1% (25th highest)
> March 2021 unemployment rate: 6.3% (18th highest)
> Poverty rate: 19.6% (the highest)

Economic conditions in Mississippi have resulted in the poorest population in the United States. An estimated 19.6% of the state’s population — or nearly one in every five residents — live below the poverty line, the highest poverty rate in the country and well above the 12.3% national rate.

Due in part to declines in the arts and entertainment and resource extraction sectors, Mississippi’s economy has grown at an average annual rate of just 0.5% — roughly one-third of the comparable national growth rate. At 6.3%, the unemployment rate in Mississippi is slightly higher than the U.S. rate, and nearly 9.0% of all workers living in Mississippi work in jobs in other states.

50. Louisiana
> 5-yr. annualized GDP growth through Q4 2020: +0.3% (12th lowest)
> 5-yr. annualized employment growth through March 2021: -0.8% (8th lowest)
> March 2021 unemployment rate: 7.3% (8th highest)
> Poverty rate: 19.0% (2nd highest)

Louisiana’s economy ranks as the worst in the United States. The state shed nearly 114,000 jobs during the pandemic, and partially as a result, employment is down 4.1% from where it was five years ago. Currently, 7.3% of the labor force in Louisiana are out of work, one of the higher jobless rates among states and well above the 6.0% national unemployment rate.

An estimated 19.0% of the state’s population live below the poverty line, the second largest share of any state and well above the 12.3% national poverty rate. The widespread financial hardship in Louisiana is indicative of deeply seated economic problems.