Special Report

The States With the Best and Worst Economies

Source: Davel5957 / Getty Images

16. Maryland
> 5-yr. annualized GDP growth through Q4 2020: +1.0% (24th highest)
> 5-yr. annualized employment growth through March 2021: -0.6% (14th lowest)
> March 2021 unemployment rate: 6.2% (19th highest)
> Poverty rate: 9.0% (4th lowest)

Economic conditions are better in Maryland than they are in most other states. The state benefits from a well-educated workforce and a relatively financially stable population. An estimated 40.9% of adults in Maryland have a bachelor’s degree or higher, a larger share than in all but three other states. Additionally, the state’s poverty rate of 9.0% is considerably lower than the 12.3% national average. The median household income in Maryland of $86,738 is also the highest of any state in the country.

Maryland’s economy was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the last year, economic output in the state fell by 1.7%. Additionally, job losses in the last year have more than erased the gains of the previous four years.

Source: Davel5957 / Getty Images

17. Arizona
> 5-yr. annualized GDP growth through Q4 2020: +2.9% (4th highest)
> 5-yr. annualized employment growth through March 2021: +1.9% (3rd highest)
> March 2021 unemployment rate: 6.7% (14th highest)
> Poverty rate: 13.5% (13th highest)

Few states have reported stronger GDP growth than Arizona in recent years. Over the last half decade, Arizona’s economy has expanded at an average rate of 2.9% annually, more than double the comparable 1.4% national growth rate. GDP growth in Arizona was driven in part by construction — a sector that typically benefits from population growth. Between 2010 and 2020, Arizona’s population grew by 11.3% from new residents moving in alone, faster growth due to net migration than all but two other states.

Still, Arizona is struggling with high unemployment in the wake of the pandemic. As of March, 6.7% of its labor force were out of work, well above the 6.0% national unemployment rate.

Source: Ron_Thomas / Getty Images

18. Wisconsin
> 5-yr. annualized GDP growth through Q4 2020: +0.8% (23rd lowest)
> 5-yr. annualized employment growth through March 2021: -0.2% (18th lowest)
> March 2021 unemployment rate: 3.8% (11th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 10.4% (16th lowest)

Like many other parts of the Midwest, Wisconsin suffered a greater than average public health toll during the COVID-19 pandemic, with a high concentration of infections per capita. Still, the state’s job market has emerged in better shape than most other states, as unemployment stands at 3.8%, well below the national rate of 6.0%. However, the number of people working in the state has fallen by an average of 0.2% annually over the last half decade.

Due in part to relatively strong economic conditions in the state, Wisconsin residents are less likely to face serious financial hardship than most other Americans. The state’s poverty rate of 10.4% is considerably lower than the 12.3% national rate.

Source: Sean Pavone / Getty Images

19. Vermont
> 5-yr. annualized GDP growth through Q4 2020: -0.1% (9th lowest)
> 5-yr. annualized employment growth through March 2021: -1.9% (3rd lowest)
> March 2021 unemployment rate: 2.9% (4th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 10.2% (15th lowest)

Even though Vermont’s job market was hit hard by the pandemic, the state has a better economy than most states and one of the best economies in the Northeast. Due largely to job losses in 2020 and 2021, the number of people working in Vermont fell by 9.2% from March 2016 to March 2021, nearly the largest such decline of any state. Still, Vermont’s 2.9% unemployment rate is nearly the lowest in the country and less than half the 6.0% national jobless rate.

Vermonters are also more likely to be financially secure than most Americans, as the state’s poverty rate of 10.2% is considerably lower than the 12.3% national rate.

Source: Sean Pavone / Getty Images

20. North Carolina
> 5-yr. annualized GDP growth through Q4 2020: +1.7% (13th highest)
> 5-yr. annualized employment growth through March 2021: +0.8% (13th highest)
> March 2021 unemployment rate: 5.2% (24th highest)
> Poverty rate: 13.6% (12th highest)

Unemployment in North Carolina was driven higher by the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, unlike most of the country, the state’s March 2021 jobless rate of 5.2% is in line with what it was five years ago and well below the 6.0% U.S. unemployment rate.

North Carolina has also reported relatively strong economic growth in recent years. Over the last half decade, the state GDP grew at an average rate of 1.7% a year — more than the 1.4% national rate and higher than in all but 12 other states — even after weathering a 1.2% contraction during the pandemic.