Special Report

The States With the Best and Worst Economies

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26. Missouri
> 5-yr. annualized GDP growth through Q4 2020: +0.7% (21st lowest)
> 5-yr. annualized employment growth through March 2021: +0.0% (23rd lowest)
> March 2021 unemployment rate: 4.2% (15th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 12.9% (18th highest)

Due in part to damage inflicted by the COVID-19 pandemic, economic growth has been relatively slow in Missouri. Average annual GDP growth in the state has been just 0.7% over the last five years, below the comparable 1.4% national average.

In other ways, however, Missouri’s economy compares favorably to much of the rest of the nation. For example, despite significant job losses during the pandemic, the state unemployment rate of 4.2% is lower than the rate in most other states and well below the 6.0% national rate.

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27. New Jersey
> 5-yr. annualized GDP growth through Q4 2020: +0.3% (13th lowest)
> 5-yr. annualized employment growth through March 2021: -0.9% (6th lowest)
> March 2021 unemployment rate: 7.7% (7th highest)
> Poverty rate: 9.2% (5th lowest)

With a higher than average per capita infection rate and a nation-leading death rate, New Jersey has been hit hard by COVID-19. The pandemic has also had devastating consequences for the state’s economy. Due to job losses during the pandemic, there are about 320,600 fewer jobs in the state than there were at this time last year. Currently, New Jersey’s unemployment rate of 7.7% is seventh highest among states and well above the 6.0% national rate.

Despite the economic damage wrought by the pandemic, other aspects of New Jersey’s economy are signs of strength. Home to one of the best-educated workforces in the country, New Jersey is one of only four states where more than 40% of adults have a bachelor’s degree. Additionally, only 9.2% of New Jersey residents live below the poverty line, well below the 12.3% national poverty rate.

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28. Iowa
> 5-yr. annualized GDP growth through Q4 2020: +0.3% (14th lowest)
> 5-yr. annualized employment growth through March 2021: -0.9% (5th lowest)
> March 2021 unemployment rate: 3.7% (8th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 11.2% (20th lowest)

Job growth has been sluggish in Iowa in recent years. Due primarily to massive layoffs during the pandemic, overall employment in the state has fallen by an average of 0.9% annually over the last half decade. There are nearly 100,000 fewer people working in Iowa today than there were last year at this time. Still, unemployment has historically been low in the state, and despite the shock of the pandemic to Iowa’s job market, the state’s unemployment rate of 3.7% is lower than that of most of the rest of the country.

Despite steep job losses, Iowa is one of only a handful of states to report economic growth during the pandemic. From the end of 2019 through the end of 2020, Iowa’s economy expanded by 0.5%. Meanwhile, the U.S. economy contracted by 2.4% over the same period.

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29. Ohio
> 5-yr. annualized GDP growth through Q4 2020: +0.7% (22nd lowest)
> 5-yr. annualized employment growth through March 2021: +0.0% (24th lowest)
> March 2021 unemployment rate: 4.7% (20th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 13.1% (15th highest)

There are about 70,000 fewer people working in Ohio today than there were one year ago. Despite job losses precipitated by the pandemic, the 4.7% unemployment rate in the state is lower than it was a year ago when it stood at 4.9%, and is well below the 6.0% national jobless rate.

GDP growth has been lackluster in Ohio in recent years. Due in part to a 2.4% contraction in 2020, Ohio’s economy expanded at an average annual rate of 0.7% over the last half decade — half the comparable national growth rate of 1.4%.

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30. North Dakota
> 5-yr. annualized GDP growth through Q4 2020: -0.4% (7th lowest)
> 5-yr. annualized employment growth through March 2021: -0.6% (15th lowest)
> March 2021 unemployment rate: 4.4% (17th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 10.6% (17th lowest)

Resource extraction is one of the largest industries in North Dakota, and demand for those resources plummeted during the pandemic. Due in part to declining output in mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction during the pandemic, which resulted in considerable GDP contraction over the past year, North Dakota’s economy contracted at a rate of 0.4% a year over the last half decade.

The pandemic also triggered mass job losses in the state. Though North Dakota’s unemployment rate of 4.4% is below the 6.0% national rate, it is nearly double what it was this time last year.