Special Report

The States With the Best and Worst Economies

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11. Virginia
> 5-yr. annualized GDP growth through Q4 2020: +1.2% (16th highest)
> 5-yr. annualized employment growth through March 2021: -0.2% (19th lowest)
> March 2021 unemployment rate: 5.1% (25th highest)
> Poverty rate: 9.9% (11th lowest)

Virginia’s economy ranks as the second best in the South and eleventh best among all states. The state benefits from a well-educated workforce and a relatively financially stable population. An estimated 39.6% of adults in Virginia have a bachelor’s degree or higher, a larger share than in all but five other states. Additionally, the state’s poverty rate of 9.9% is considerably lower than the 12.3% national average.

In recent years, economic growth in Virginia has outpaced that of much of the nation. State GDP expanded at an average annual rate of 1.2% over the last half decade — faster than most other states — even when factoring in a 1.5% contraction during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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12. Kansas
> 5-yr. annualized GDP growth through Q4 2020: +1.1% (19th highest)
> 5-yr. annualized employment growth through March 2021: +0.2% (21st highest)
> March 2021 unemployment rate: 3.7% (8th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 11.4% (24th lowest)

Kansas was hit harder than most states by the COVID-19 pandemic, reporting a higher than average number of confirmed coronavirus cases per capita. The state’s job market, however, has emerged stronger from the pandemic than most other states. As of March, 3.7% of the labor force in Kansas were unemployed, well below the 6.0% national jobless rate.

Kansas also reported stronger GDP growth in recent years than most states. Driven by strong growth in the agriculture, information, and manufacturing sectors, Kansas’ GDP expanded at an average rate of 1.1% per year since the end of 2015. The growth would have been far stronger if not for a 1.6% contraction during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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13. Montana
> 5-yr. annualized GDP growth through Q4 2020: +1.2% (18th highest)
> 5-yr. annualized employment growth through March 2021: +0.5% (16th highest)
> March 2021 unemployment rate: 3.8% (11th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 12.6% (20th highest)

Montana’s economy is healthier than that of most states. Despite having an economy more dependent than most on industries that faced the greatest level of disruption during the pandemic, only 3.8% of the state’s labor force were unemployed in March 2021, well below the 6.0% national jobless rate.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Montana’s economy contracted by 2.8% over the past year — a larger contraction than most states reported. Still, the setback was not enough to offset gains of the preceding years. Over the last half decade, Montana’s economy expanded at an average rate of 1.2% a year, more than most states.

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14. South Dakota
> 5-yr. annualized GDP growth through Q4 2020: +0.8% (24th lowest)
> 5-yr. annualized employment growth through March 2021: +0.6% (14th highest)
> March 2021 unemployment rate: 2.9% (4th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 11.9% (23rd highest)

South Dakota has a better economy than most states, due in large part to the strength of its job market. Only 2.9% of the labor force are out of work, less than half the 6.0% national unemployment rate.

South Dakota was also one of only five states to report economic growth from the end of 2019 through the end of 2020, a year in which the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a 2.4% economic contraction nationwide. Still, over the last half decade, South Dakota’s 0.8% average annual GDP growth rate was slower than most other states and well below the comparable 1.4% national GDP growth.

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15. Florida
> 5-yr. annualized GDP growth through Q4 2020: +2.2% (9th highest)
> 5-yr. annualized employment growth through March 2021: +0.9% (12th highest)
> March 2021 unemployment rate: 4.7% (20th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 12.7% (19th highest)

Florida’s economy is heavily dependent on tourism — one of the sectors hit hardest by the pandemic. Partially as a result, the state’s economy contracted by 2.1% from the end of 2019 through the end of 2020. Despite the setback, Florida’s economy still expanded by an annual average of 2.2% over the last five years, well above the comparable 1.4% national annualized growth rate.

One of the fastest growing industries in the last half decade in the Sunshine State was construction — a sector that often benefits from population growth. In Florida, the population grew by a net of nearly 2.7 million people between 2010 and 2020 from new residents moving in alone, the most of any state in the country.