America’s Most (and Least) Livable States

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Published August 08, 2012

| 24/7 Wall St.

Media reports regularly rank the country’s states in terms of their current economic situation, health, jobs and even water quality. But what about their future? That’s what Gallup attempted to find out. On Tuesday, the national polling agency released a report identifying the “future livability” of every state in the country, or the best and worst states to live tomorrow.

Based on surveys conducted over 18 months measuring current sentiment, Gallup identified 13 metrics that can be used to gauge how livable states will be in the future. Some questions, which measure each state’s economy, job prospects and personal finances, are intended to predict the future economic prospects of a state. Others measure current quality-of-life components that can have an effect on long-term health, including rates of obesity, smoking and the availability of safe, clean water.

This content was originally published on 24/7 Wall St. 

24/7 Wall St. spoke to Dan Witters, Research Director of Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, about how Gallup chose the components that made up its future livability score. According to Witters, each metric “gives some sense of how livable that area, that state, that community is going to be down the road,”

Responses that reflect current conditions, Witters explained, can be used also to measure the future livability and prosperity of a region. “If you have high economic confidence and strong job creation and high full employment, does that guarantee that you will [have the same] 20 years from now? No, obviously not.” But what these factors do, he explained, is increase the probability that a region will have better economic vitality down the road.

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The health factors Gallup considered — obesity, smoking and dentist visits — are similarly predictive of long-term health. Obesity, for example, is one of the best predictors of diabetes. According to Witters, in states with high obesity, including West Virginia, Mississippi and Kentucky, “the probability that you’re going to have high levels of high blood pressure, high levels of cholesterol, high levels of physical pain” is higher.

In addition to the 13 metrics considered by Gallup, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed additional measures of economic and social well-being. While the states that score well or poorly for future livability appear to have little in common geographically, they have other factors in common.

Read: States With The Least Full-time Work

Unemployment rates, for example, appear to bear a strong relationship to the overall future livability rank. Eight of the 10 states with the best future livability scores have among the 15 lowest unemployment rates, as of June. This includes North Dakota and Nebraska, which have the lowest and second-lowest rates. Not surprisingly, the relationship between unemployment and economy-related measures of future livability score is stronger than questions that measure health.

The wealth of a state’s population also appears to be an indicator of the future livability of a state. Eight of the 10 states with the worst future livability scores are in the bottom third for median income. This includes Arkansas, West Virginia and Mississippi, which have the three lowest median household income figures as of 2010, the most recent available data.

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24/7 Wall St. reviewed the 13 measures Gallup included in its future livability report, all of which are for the most recent 18 months. At Gallup’s direction, we referenced earlier versions of some of these surveys in order to provide figures where current data is unavailable. We also considered poverty, income, food stamp recipiency and health insurance coverage from the U.S. Census Bureau for 2010, the most recent available year. We also reviewed June 2011 and June 2012 unemployment figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, as well as home price projections from Q1 2012 from Fiserv.

These are America’s most (and least) livable states.

America’s Most Livable States

10. Maryland
> Future livability score: 18.5
> Full-time employment: 3rd best
> Job creation index: 24th best
> Outlook on life in five years: 16th best

Maryland is the state with the 10th-best outlook in the country, according to Gallup’s Future Livability survey. The state has the wealthiest population in the nation based on median household income, according to recent Census data. Also, just 8.4% of Maryland households live below the poverty line, compared to the nearly 12% of households nationwide. In Gallup’s Economic Confidence Index survey, the state ranks the second-most optimistic about the economy in the country. It also has the third-highest percentage of residents reporting being employed full-time by an employer.

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9. South Dakota
> Future livability score: 18.1
> Full-time employment: 13th best
> Job creation index: 6th best
> Outlook on life in five years: 10th worst

South Dakota has a strong job market, scoring sixth best in Gallup’s Job Creation Index. And the state’s unemployment rate of 4.3% as of June is nearly 50% of the national figure for the month. It is not surprising then that South Dakota has the third-largest proportion of respondents feeling positive about the current economy and the seventh-largest proportion of respondents who felt their standard of living was getting better. But despite the rosy projections, South Dakotans are surprisingly pessimistic about their own future lives. When asked to evaluate their lives in five years, they scored 10th worst of all states.

8. Hawaii
> Future livability score: 17.5
> Full-time employment: 4th worst
> Job creation index: 20th worst
> Outlook on life in five years: 7th best

While most of the states on this list are near the top in terms of employees working full-time, Hawaii is the only state in the top 10 for future livability that is among the worst in this category. Nevertheless, Hawaii fares well economically otherwise. Its median household income of $63,030 is the fifth highest in the country and well higher than the U.S. average of $50,046. Hawaiians are healthier than the average American, too. As of 2011, the state has the third-lowest rate of smokers at 16% and the 10th-lowest rate of obese residents at 23.3%, besting the national rate of 21% and 26.1%, respectively.

Read: The 11 States with the Highest Gas Prices

7. Iowa
> Future livability score: 17.5
> Full-time employment: 6th best
> Job creation index: 3rd best
> Outlook on life in five years: 5th worst

A large part of why Iowa is a great place to live is the state’s relatively strong economy. The unemployment rate is the seventh lowest in the country at 5.2%, while the national rate is 8.2%. Iowa ranks third for job creation in the nation. Manufacturing added the most jobs of any nonfarm sector in Iowa in 2011. Meanwhile, the housing sector also seems to be rebounding in the state. While home prices declined almost 2% nationwide between the first quarter of 2011 and the first quarter of 2012, they increased by 5.7% in the Hawkeye state during that period — the most of any state in the country.

6. Virginia
> Future livability score: 16.8
> Full-time employment: 9th best
> Job creation index: 16th best
> Outlook on life in five years: 20th best

Virginia has one of the lowest poverty rates in the country, as well as one of the highest median incomes. The housing market is improving, as evidenced by the 4.8% increase in home prices between the first quarter of 2011 and the first quarter of 2012. While the state is not exceptional in any of the 13 metrics Gallup uses to create its Future Livability score, it is in the top 25 in every category but one — obesity, in which it ranks 26th. The state’s unemployment rate in June was just 5.7%, the 10th lowest in the country. The state also has the ninth-highest percentage of residents employed full-time.

5. North Dakota
> Future livability score: 14.5
> Full-time employment: The best
> Job creation index:  The best
> Outlook on life in five years: 14th worst

Like its southern neighbor, North Dakota has an extremely strong job outlook, with the nation’s best job creation score and a June unemployment rate of 2.9% — the nation’s lowest. In 2011, the proportion of employees who stated their employer was hiring was 34 percentage points higher than the proportion claiming their employer was shedding jobs — the largest disparity in the nation. Additionally, North Dakota residents have the fourth-highest economic confidence score, and few states have residents who are more optimistic about their future quality of life. But despite all these positive projections about the state, respondents are less enthusiastic about their own lives in five years, giving the 14th-worst projections for their futures lives.

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