Special Report

The States With the Best and Worst Economies

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1. Utah
> 5-yr. annualized GDP growth through Q4 2020: +3.9% (2nd highest)
> 5-yr. annualized employment growth through March 2021: +2.0% (2nd highest)
> March 2021 unemployment rate: 2.9% (4th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 8.9% (2nd lowest)

Despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, economic conditions in Utah remain relatively strong. As of March 2021, only 2.9% of the state’s labor force were out of work, nearly the smallest share of any state and less than half the 6.0% national unemployment rate.

Utah’s GDP has also grown by 3.9% over the five years ending in the fourth quarter of 2020, the second highest growth of any state. A near 6% decline in output in the state’s arts, entertainment, and recreation industry — precipitated in large part by efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus — was offset by strong growth in the state’s real estate, construction, and information sectors. Economic growth is often attributable to population growth, and partially due to the state’s high birth rate, there are nearly half a million more people in Utah today than there were in 2010.

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2. Idaho
> 5-yr. annualized GDP growth through Q4 2020: +3.9% (3rd highest)
> 5-yr. annualized employment growth through March 2021: +2.3% (the highest)
> March 2021 unemployment rate: 3.2% (6th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 11.2% (21st lowest)

No state reported stronger job growth over the last five years than Idaho. Employment in the state grew at an average of 2.3% annual pace since early 2016, while nationwide, due in large part to the COVID-19 pandemic, employment only grew at an average of 0.1% annually over the same period. Partially as a result, only 3.2% of the labor force are unemployed in Idaho, well below the 6.0% national jobless rate.

GDP growth has also been strong in Idaho, averaging nearly 4% in each of the last five years. Like many states with rapid economic growth, Idaho’s population growth is also strong. Idaho ranks in the top five states for population growth due to migration and in the top 10 for population growth due to its birth rate.

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3. Washington
> 5-yr. annualized GDP growth through Q4 2020: +4.3% (the highest)
> 5-yr. annualized employment growth through March 2021: +1.2% (9th highest)
> March 2021 unemployment rate: 5.4% (22nd highest)
> Poverty rate: 9.8% (9th lowest)

Washington’s economy grew at a faster rate than that of any other state in the country. Over the last half decade, Washington’s GDP grew at an average of 4.3% a year. For context, the annual growth rate for the U.S. as whole was 1.4% over the same period. Economic growth was hampered in much of the country during the COVID-19 pandemic, but Washington is one of only five states that reported an increase in GDP from the end of 2019 to the end of 2020.

Economic growth in Washington was driven by the information sector. The state is home to the headquarters of some of the world’s largest technology companies, like Amazon and Microsoft, and since the fourth quarter of 2015, economic output in Washington’s information sector climbed at an average rate of 15.1% a year.

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4. Colorado
> 5-yr. annualized GDP growth through Q4 2020: +2.8% (5th highest)
> 5-yr. annualized employment growth through March 2021: +1.4% (6th highest)
> March 2021 unemployment rate: 6.4% (17th highest)
> Poverty rate: 9.3% (7th lowest)

Colorado has a strong socioeconomic foundation with a well-educated workforce and a financially secure tax base. Nearly 43% of adults in the state have a bachelor’s degree, the second largest share in the country. The state is also one of less than a dozen with a poverty rate below 10%. Additionally, the typical Colorado household earns $77,127 a year, well above the national median of $65,712.

Though the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in an economic downturn in Colorado, the state still reported far faster than average longer-term GDP growth. Over the last five years, Colorado’s GDP grew at an average rate of 2.8% a year, faster than all but four other states.

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5. New Hampshire
> 5-yr. annualized GDP growth through Q4 2020: +0.6% (18th lowest)
> 5-yr. annualized employment growth through March 2021: +0.2% (22nd highest)
> March 2021 unemployment rate: 3.0% (5th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 7.3% (the lowest)

New Hampshire’s economy is the strongest of any state in the Northeast. In New Hampshire, 37.6% of the 25 and older population have a bachelor’s degree or higher, well above the 33.1% share of adults nationwide. Better-educated Americans are generally less susceptible to job loss during an economic downturn, and unemployment in the state is just 3.0%, half the comparable 6.0% jobless rate nationwide.

New Hampshire’s economic growth was hit harder than in most of the country during the COVID-19 pandemic, and partially as a result, annual GDP growth in the state averaged just 0.6% over the last half decade. Still, state residents are generally better positioned than most Americans to weather weak growth. The typical household in the state earns nearly $78,000 a year, about $12,000 more than the national median, and just 7.3% of the state population live below the poverty line, the lowest poverty rate of any state.