The Best and Worst Run States In America: A Survey of All Fifty
How well run are America's fifty states? 24/7 Wall St. has taken several months to consider that question. Our writers looked at hundreds of data sets ranging from debt rating agency reports to violent crime rates, unemployment trends and median income. Of those, we chose what we considered to be the 10 most important rankings of financial and overall government management. The best run state is Wyoming. The worst is Kentucky. The standing of each is supported by their ranking in the data sets we considered, as are the rankings of all fifty states.
24/7 Wall St. has completed one of the most comprehensive studies of state financial management ever performed by the mainstream media. It is based on evaluation principles used in the award-winning Best Run States In America ratings published by Financial World Magazine during the 1990s. These studies were used by state governments to evaluate the efficiency of their own operations. The new 24/7 Wall St. study is meant to help businesses and individuals examine state operations with an unbiased eye.
The work involved in comparing states is challenging. This is due to the volume of the data and the many ways it can be interpreted. A comparison is made even more difficult because state governments have advantages and disadvantages that may be decades old. These include the presence of natural resources, the decisions by large companies to locate or leave and the extent to which populations are rural or urban. Populations of some states have changed very little. Other states have added or lost hundreds of thousands of people in the last decade. Many border states accommodate large numbers of immigrants.
Ultimately, however, states can control their own destinies. Well-run states have a great deal in common with well-run corporations. Books are kept balanced. Investment is prudent. Debt is sustainable. Innovation is prized. Workers are well-chosen and well-trained. Executives are picked based on merit and not “politics.”
24/7 Wall Street identified surveys with complete data sets for each state. Using this data, our formula ranked each state, giving weight to metrics that are most important to prudent governance. In addition to traditional fiscal information, including GDP per capita, debt per capita, and credit rating, our analysis also showed the impact of state policies on its residents. Combined, this created a complete picture of the “state of each state.” A fuller accounting of our methodology can be found at the end of the article.
The 24/7 Wall St. State of the States is meant to be an analysis that will refocus the debate on state management and financial operations in a period when the future of all 50 is at stake, just as the future of the country is uncertain.
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Debt per Capita: $4,310 (2nd)
Unemployment Rate: 6.8% (8th)
Home Price Change (’06 – ’09): 23.6% (1st)
Median Household Income: $52,664 (19th)
Wyoming comes in first place in 24/7 Wall St.’s Best Run States. falling in the top fifteen in every metric, including sixth in debt per capita and second in percent below the poverty line. The only two flaws in the state’s record is median income, where it ranks 19th, and health insurance coverage, where it ranks 32nd. It also ranks first in high school completion. With just over half a million residents, it is the least populous state.
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2nd. North Dakota
Debt per Capita: $5,651 (10th)
Unemployment Rate: 3.7% (1st)
Home Price Change (’06 – ’09): 17.2% (4th)
Median Household Income: $48,827 (27th)
North Dakota, which ranks second on our list, owes much of its success to a well-managed state economy. It is one of only two states in the country with a budget surplus, and in 2008 its economy grew 7.3% – double that of any state other than Wyoming, which grew 4.4%. The state also has the tenth lowest debt per capita in the country and has the lowest unemployment rate in the U.S., at just 3.7%.
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Debt per Capita: $5,138 (6th)
Unemployment Rate: 6.8% (8th)
Home Price Change (’06 – ’09): 8.3% (22nd)
Median Household Income: $48,044 (26th)
Iowa ranks 7th in education, with more than 90.5% of 25-year-olds having completed high school or the state equivalent. It is also sixth in lowest debt per capita and has the third-lowest rate of citizens without health insurance, with only 8.6% without coverage.
While the Hawkeye State may be known for its corn fields, its economy is meaningfully supported by The University of Iowa, which accounts for one in every 30 jobs in the state. Iowa’s governors have been smart to invest heavily in the institution, and have reaped the benefits: the state ranks eighth lowest in the U.S. for unemployment, which stands at 6.8%.