America’s Most Miserable States

Americans are not any happier than they were last year. In fact, they are slightly more miserable. At least, that’s what the recent Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index shows. The annual index measures six areas of well-being, including life evaluation, physical health and work environment. In 2011, the national well-being score declined slightly from 2010 and was the lowest since the survey began in 2008.

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On top of calculating an overall national level of well-being, the index also calculates the well-being for each state, assigning scores from 0 to 100, with 100 representing ideal well-being. The national score dropped slightly in 2011 to 66.2 from 66.8 in 2010. Like the national score, the best-off and worst-off states are largely unchanged. Hawaii remains in first place and West Virginia is in last.

24/7 Wall St. reviewed Gallup’s findings in order to identify objective measures that appear to impact well-being. Many of the states where people report having the lowest levels of well-being suffer from many of the same financial, health and social ills. Eight of the 11 fall within the 15 states with the lowest median household incomes. Poverty is particularly high in many. Many of the worst-off states also have relatively low levels of education. Seven of the 11 have some of the lowest rates of residents with at least a high school diploma.

Well-being has not improved since the financial crisis began in 2008, reflecting the moribund U.S. economy. Most states have imposed austerity measures to combat budget shortfalls. Gallup notes that “reductions in public services, public-sector layoffs or salary cuts, and decreases in federal aid” have hindered improvements in well-being across the country.

According to Gallup, states in some areas of the country continue to do better than others. Of the 10 states with the highest levels of well-being, nine are either in the West or Midwest. Of the 10 states with the lowest well-being scores, five are located in the South — a reality since the survey began.

Perhaps the most common shared factor among the states that report the lowest well-being is poor health. Nine of the states on this list are among the 15 states with the lowest life expectancy. Obesity is exceptionally high in seven. Seven also fall within the top 10 states that have the highest rates of smoking. Rates of heart disease, cancer and diabetes are also all particularly high.

In addition to the information from Gallup, 24/7 Wall St. used data from the Census Bureau, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Social Science Research Council, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

These are America’s most miserable states.

11. Nevada > Well-being index score: 65 > Life expectancy: 77.6 (14th lowest) > Obesity: 22.4% (2nd lowest) > Median household income: $51,001 (19th highest) > Adult population with high school diploma or higher: 84.7% (15th lowest)

Nevada had the lowest score in the well-being basic access category, which measures how residents feel about access to basic necessities, such as access to a doctor, having enough money for food and satisfaction with one’s community or area. This may not be surprising when considering that Nevada currently has an unemployment rate of 12.6% — the highest in the country. The state was among the worst hit by the housing crisis, with home prices dropping 60% since their peak in the first quarter of 2006. Again, this is the worst in the country. An additional burden on those living in Nevada is the violent crime rate. In 2010, there were 660.6 incidents of violent crime per 100,000 residents, the highest rate in the nation.

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10. Tennessee > Well-being index score: 65 > Life expectancy: 76.2 (8th lowest) > Obesity: 30.8% (9th highest) > Median household income: $41,461 (6th lowest) > Adult population with high school diploma or higher: 83.6% (21st lowest)

Since last year, Tennessee residents feel their situation has gotten significantly worse. The state’s already-poor scores in the well-being categories that measure life evaluation, emotional health and physical health have all declined in 2011 compared to 2010. The state’s economy is in very poor shape. Unemployment is above the national average, the poverty rate is the 10th highest in the country and median income is the sixth-lowest in the country. Physical health and healthy behavior, two categories measured by the index, are among the poorest. Tennessee residents have the 14th-highest rate of smoking in the country. The obesity rate is ninth-highest rate in the country with 30.8% of residents considered obese. The state also has the fifth-highest rate of heart disease in the country.

9. Florida > Well-being index score: 64.9 > Life expectancy: 79.7 (12th highest) > Obesity: 26.6% (23rd lowest) > Median household income: $44,409 (15th lowest) > Adult population with high school diploma or higher: 85.5% (17th lowest)

Florida’s state of well-being dropped significantly from last year, moving the state’s rank from 12th worst to ninth worst. The state had among the lowest scores in the well-being category that measures the work environment. Many Floridians do not have any work, as the state has the sixth-highest unemployment rate — currently 9.9%. State residents also are relatively unhealthy in many aspects when compared to other states. Florida has the eighth-highest rates of both heart disease and diabetes. The state also has one of the highest rates of violent crime in the U.S.

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8. Missouri > Well-being index score: 64.8 > Life expectancy: 77.4 (12th lowest) > Obesity: 30.5% (10th highest) > Median household income: $44,301 (14th lowest) > Adult population with high school diploma or higher: 86.9% (22nd lowest)

Between 2010 and 2011, Missouri’s well-being score went from 17th worst in the country to eighth worst. Conditions in the state declined in every category Gallup measured. Missouri residents polled rated their emotional health as 14th worst in the country, down from 25th worst last year. The state also declined from 18th worst in life evaluation to third worst in the country. The state has the 11th-highest rate of smokers in the country at 21.1%. Heart disease, cancer and diabetes rates are all among the top 20, and life expectancy in the state is 77.4 years, the 12th lowest in the U.S.

7. Arkansas > Well-being index score: 64.7 > Life expectancy: 76.1 (6th lowest) > Obesity: 30.1% (12th highest) > Median household income: $38,307 (3rd lowest) > Adult population with high school diploma or higher: 82.9% (7th lowest)

Arkansan median household income is $38,307, the third lowest amount in the country. The share of residents living below the poverty line is 18.45%, the third highest in the country. Residents have a particularly low life expectancy of 76.1 years. The state has the fourth highest rate of smokers at 22.9% of adults, and it has the has the sixth-highest rate of cancer. Arkansas also has among the 10 lowest rates of adults with at least a high school diploma, and it is in the top 10 for violent crime.

6. Alabama > Well-being index score: 64.6 > Life expectancy: 75.2 (3rd lowest) > Obesity: 32.2% (3rd highest) > Median household income: $40,474 (5th lowest) > Adult population with high school diploma or higher: 82.1% (6th lowest)

Alabama is one of the poorest states in the U.S. In 2010, median income was just $40,474, the fifth lowest in the country, and 17.4% of the population lives below the poverty line. And state residents asked in the poll certainly feel it. The state is among the 20 worst for every category measured in Gallup’s well-being index, and is among the 10 worst for physical health, healthy behavior and work environment. This is easily explained when considering that Alabama has the third-highest rate of obesity in the country, with just under a third of the population considered overweight. The state also has the seventh-highest rate of heart disease, the seventh-highest rate of cancer, and the highest rate of heart disease. Alabama also has the third-lowest life expectancy in the U.S., at just 75.2 years.

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