Special Report

The States With the Best and Worst Economies

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36. Wyoming
> 5-yr. annualized GDP growth through Q4 2020: -1.6% (the lowest)
> 5-yr. annualized employment growth through March 2021: -0.4% (17th lowest)
> March 2021 unemployment rate: 5.3% (23rd highest)
> Poverty rate: 10.1% (14th lowest)

Wyoming’s economy is more dependent than most states’ economies on industries that were exposed to significant slowdown during the COVID-19 pandemic. These include mining and oil and gas extraction as well as transportation and warehousing. As a result, the state’s GDP declined by a near-nation leading 7.0% from the fourth quarter of 2019 to the fourth quarter of 2020. The economic toll of the pandemic weighed down Wyoming’s average annual GDP growth rate of the last five years to -1.6%, the steepest drop of any state in the country.

Employment growth in Wyoming has also been slower than average in the last five years. Still, the state’s unemployment rate of 5.3% is lower than the 6.0% U.S. jobless rate.

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37. Rhode Island
> 5-yr. annualized GDP growth through Q4 2020: -0.5% (6th lowest)
> 5-yr. annualized employment growth through March 2021: -0.8% (11th lowest)
> March 2021 unemployment rate: 7.1% (10th highest)
> Poverty rate: 10.8% (18th lowest)

Rhode Island is one of several Northeastern states with struggling economies. The coronavirus pandemic not only took a greater than average public health toll on the state, it also sent unemployment soaring. There are over 36,000 fewer people working in Rhode Island than there were a year ago, and the jobless rate stands at 7.1%, well above the 6.0% U.S. rate.

Economic growth in Rhode Island has also been sluggish relative to much of the country. Due in part to falling output in industries like arts and entertainment and accommodation and food services, Rhode Island’s economy has contracted at an average rate of 0.5% over the past half decade.

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38. Oklahoma
> 5-yr. annualized GDP growth through Q4 2020: -0.6% (3rd lowest)
> 5-yr. annualized employment growth through March 2021: +0.4% (18th highest)
> March 2021 unemployment rate: 4.2% (15th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 15.2% (8th highest)

In many key measures, including poverty and economic growth, Oklahoma ranks well below most U.S. states. An estimated 15.2% of the state population live below the poverty line, one of the larger shares in the country and well above the 12.3% national poverty rate.

Oklahoma’s GDP growth has been weaker than that of nearly every other state in recent years. Since the end of 2015, the state’s economy has contracted at an average rate of 0.6% a year, due in large to steep output declines in the state’s educational services, transportation and warehousing, and resource extraction industries. Despite a shrinking economy, Oklahoma is one of the few states to have weathered the COVID-19 pandemic and emerged with more people working today than were at the same time last year.

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39. Pennsylvania
> 5-yr. annualized GDP growth through Q4 2020: +0.6% (20th lowest)
> 5-yr. annualized employment growth through March 2021: -0.8% (7th lowest)
> March 2021 unemployment rate: 7.3% (8th highest)
> Poverty rate: 12.0% (22nd highest)

Over the course of the last 12 months, Pennsylvania shed some 319,000 jobs. Due almost entirely to those jobs lost during the pandemic, employment in the state fell at an average of 0.8% per year over the last half decade. Currently, Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate of 7.3% is among the highest of any state and well above the 6.0% national rate.

GDP growth in the Keystone State has also been weak. The state’s economy expanded at a rate of just 0.6% per year over the last half decade, slower than most states and well below the comparable 1.4% U.S. growth. As is the case in most states, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic lead to steep declines in output in Pennsylvania’s entertainment and accommodation and food services industries. The state also reported contraction in its agriculture sector between 2015 and 2020.

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40. Illinois
> 5-yr. annualized GDP growth through Q4 2020: +0.2% (11th lowest)
> 5-yr. annualized employment growth through March 2021: -1.6% (4th lowest)
> March 2021 unemployment rate: 7.1% (10th highest)
> Poverty rate: 11.5% (25th lowest)

People are moving out of Illinois far faster than they are coming in. Over the last 10 years, the state’s population declined by 5.7% due to net migration alone, the second largest decline of any state. In addition to the nearly 417,000 jobs the state lost during the pandemic, overall employment in Illinois has fallen at a near worst-in-the-nation average rate of 1.6% per year in the last half decade. Currently, the state’s 7.1% jobless rate is well above the comparable 6.0% national rate.

Economic growth in Illinois has also trailed much of the nation. The state’s economy expanded at a rate of just 0.2% per year over the last half decade, slower than most states and well below the comparable 1.4% U.S. annual average growth.