The United States is one of the world’s most prosperous economies, with a gross domestic product that exceeded that of any other country last year. However, a vibrant economy alone does not ensure all residents are well off. In a recent study from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), U.S. states underperformed their regional counterparts in other countries in a number of important metrics that gauge well-being.
The OECD’s newly released study, “How’s Life in Your Region?: Measuring Regional and Local Well-Being for Policy Making,” compares nine important factors that contribute to well-being. Applying an equal weight to each of these factors, 24/7 Wall St. rated Mississippi as the worst state for quality of life.
Monica Brezzi, author of the report and head of regional statistics at the OECD, told 24/7 Wall St. considering different dimensions of well-being at the regional level provides a way to identify “where are the major needs where policies can intervene.” Brezzi said that, in some cases, correcting one truly deficient measure can, in turn, lead to better results in others.
In order to review well-being at the regional level, the OECD used only objective data in its report, rather than existing survey data. Brezzi noted that current international studies that ask people for their opinion on important measures of well-being often do not have enough data to be broken down by region.
For example, one of the nine measures, health, is based on the mortality rate and life expectancy in each region, rather than on asking people if they feel well. Similarly, another determinant of well-being, safety, is measured by the homicide rate rather than personal responses as to whether people feel safe where they live.
Based on her analysis, Brezzi identified one area where American states are exceptionally strong. “All the American states rank in the top 20% of OECD regions in income,” Brezzi said. Mississippi– 24/7 Wall St.’s lowest-rated states — had the second-lowest per capita disposable household income in the nation, at $23,957. However, this still placed the state in the top 17% of of regions in all OECD countries.
However, the 50 states are also deficient in a number of key metrics for well-being. “With the exception of Hawaii, none of the American states are in the top 20% for health or for safety across the OECD regions,” Brezzi said. Alabama , for instance, was rated as the second worst state for health, with a mortality rate of 10.6 deaths per 1,000 residents and a life expectancy of 75.4 years. This was not just among the worst in America, but also in the bottom 13% of all OECD regions. Similarly, Louisiana — which was rated as the least state state in the nation — was the bottom 10% of OECD regions for safety.
Across most metrics the 50 states have improved considerably over time. Only one of the nine determinants of well-being, jobs, had worsened in most states between 2000 and 2013. Brezzi added that not only was the national unemployment rate higher in 2013 than in 2000, but “this worsening of unemployment has also come together with an increase in the disparities across states.”
Based on the OECD’s study, “How’s Life in Your Region?: Measuring Regional and Local Well-being for Policy Making,” 24/7 Wall St. identified the 10 states with the worst quality of life. We applied an equal weight to each of the nine determinants of well-being — education, jobs, income, safety, health, environment, civic engagement, accessibility to services and housing. Each determinant is constituted by one or more variables. Additional data on state GDP are from the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), and are current as of 2013. Further figures on industry composition, poverty, income inequality and health insurance coverage are from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2013 American Community Survey. Data on energy production come from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) and represent 2012 totals.
These are the 10 states with the worst quality of life.
> Employment rate: 64.7% (10th lowest)
> Household disposable income per capita: $26,426 (13th lowest)
> Homicide rate: 5.7 per 100,000 (13th highest)
> Voter turnout: 61.9% (tied-22nd lowest)
Georgia residents have among the worst quality of life, based on the nine well-being factors measured. The state fared particularly poorly on the OECD’s jobs metric, as more than 9% of working-age adults were unemployed last year, among the highest rates nationwide. The high unemployment rate may be due, in part, to poor educational attainment rates — as was the case with a majority of the states with the worst quality of life. Less than 85% of Georgia’s workforce had at least a high school diploma in 2013, among the lowest rates in the country. Many Georgians also struggled with poverty, as 19% of the state’s population lived below the poverty line last year, versus 15.8% of all Americans.
9. New Mexico
> Employment rate: 63.8% (7th lowest)
> Household disposable income per capita: $25,183 (7th lowest)
> Homicide rate: 6.7 per 100,000 (4th highest)
> Voter turnout: 61.6% (19th lowest)
New Mexico is bigger than many European countries. Yet, its population hovers around just 2 million because it has large portions of virtually uninhabitable terrain. A low population density likely partly explains the state’s poor infrastructure. For example, only 54% of households had broadband Internet last year, less than in all but one other state. New Mexico residents were also not particularly wealthy, compared with other Americans. An average New Mexican had slightly more than $25,000 in disposable income in 2013, among the lowest in the country. And nearly 21% of the population lived in poverty that year, second only to Mississippi.
> Employment rate: 62.3% (3rd lowest)
> Household disposable income per capita: $28,418 (24th lowest)
> Homicide rate: 10.9 per 100,000 (the highest)
> Voter turnout: 66.3% (14th highest)
A typical Louisiana resident is expected to live less than 76 years, a lower life expectancy than in all but three other states. Many Louisiana communities are also quite dangerous. There were nearly 11 murders per 100,000 people in the state in 2013, the highest homicide rate nationwide and in the worst 10% of all OECD regions. Nearly 20% of the population lived in poverty in 2013, more than in all but two other states. Louisiana boasts a highly productive natural gas industry, with more than 3,000 trillion BTUs produced in 2012, more than any other state except for Texas. However, this also exposes the state’s economy to fluctuations in energy prices.
7. South Carolina
> Employment rate: 62.5% (4th lowest)
> Household disposable income per capita: $25,055 (6th lowest)
> Homicide rate: 6.5 per 100,000 (6th highest)
> Voter turnout: 64.7% (18th highest)
South Carolina residents earned considerably less than other Americans. Households had $25,055 in disposable income per capita last year, among the lowest income levels nationwide. It also tends to be more difficult to find a job in the state than elsewhere in the nation, as South Carolina was one of only a few states with an unemployment rate greater than 9% last year. And like all of the states with the worst quality of life, South Carolina residents were far more likely to live in poverty than most Americans. While 15.8% of Americans lived in poverty in 2013, 18.6% did so in South Carolina, more than in all but a handful of other states.
> Employment rate: 67.9% (22nd lowest)
> Household disposable income per capita: $27,384 (19th lowest)
> Homicide rate: 5.5 per 100,000 (14th highest)
> Voter turnout: 62.4% (3rd lowest)
While some of the states with the worst quality of life reported exceptionally high voter turnout rates, Oklahoma residents were among the nation’s least likely to make it to the ballot box. Less than 53% of eligible Oklahomans voted last year, worse than in all but two other states. This also placed Oklahoma in the bottom 16% of OECD regions for civic engagement. It may be difficult for many residents to stay engaged with politics, as high-speed Internet access was somewhat of a luxury in the state. Less than 60% of households had broadband Internet access as of last year, among the lowest rates in the country.
> Employment rate: 66.5% (17th lowest)
> Household disposable income per capita: $27,734 (20th lowest)
> Homicide rate: 5.9 per 100,000 (10th highest)
> Voter turnout: 55.7% (6th lowest)
With a voter turnout rate of just 55.7%, Tennessee had among the lowest levels of political engagement in the country. Like most other states with low voter turnout, less than 60% of Tennessee’s population had access to broadband Internet. Such poor access to services was common among the states with the worst quality of life. Also, just 85% of Tennessee workers had completed at least high school as of last year, worse than in many states. However, Tennessee has made substantial efforts to improve statewide education levels. Most notably, state officials recently approved an initiative to make all Tennessee community colleges tuition free, the only state in the U.S. to do so.
4. West Virginia
> Employment rate: 60.5% (the lowest)
> Household disposable income per capita: $25,199 (8th lowest)
> Homicide rate: 3.9 per 100,000 (22nd lowest)
> Voter turnout: 47.8% (the lowest)
West Virginia received nearly the worst score in the U.S. for the health of its residents. The mortality rate was 10.5 deaths per 1,000 people, a higher rate than in all but two other state. Additionally, nearly 19% of the state’s population lived in poverty last year, well above a national poverty rate of 15.8%, and one of the highest rates nationwide. West Virginians were also the least likely to engage in politics, as less than 48% of eligible residents chose to vote last year, less than in any other state. While West Virginia’s homicide rate of 3.9 murders per 100,000 state residents was better than the homicide rate of many other states, it was still in the worst 20% of OECD regions.
> Employment rate: 65.1% (12th lowest)
> Household disposable income per capita: $24,150 (3rd lowest)
> Homicide rate: 5.3 per 100,000 (15th highest)
> Voter turnout: 53.3% (4th lowest)
Like a majority of the states with the worst quality of life, Arkansas residents were relatively poor compared to other Americans. Per capita household disposable income was less than $25,000 last year, nearly the lowest in the nation. Also, nearly one in five state residents lived below the poverty line in 2013, more than in all but three other states. Perhaps due in part to financial burdens, many residents did not participate in politics. Just 53.3% of eligible state residents chose to vote last year, nearly the lowest voter turnout rate nationwide. Arkansas voters may turn out in greater force this election season, as the state’s popular long-time Democratic governor is set to step down due to term limits.
> Employment rate: 62.7% (5th lowest)
> Household disposable income per capita: $25,584 (10th lowest)
> Homicide rate: 6.4 per 100,000 (8th highest)
> Voter turnout: 61.9% (tied-22nd lowest)
Alabama was one of just a few states to adopt additional requirements for voter registration earlier this year, and these requirements’ impact on voter turnout remains to be seen. With nearly 62% of eligible residents voting last year, Alabama’s voter turnout was considerably better than several other states on this list. In terms of access to services, the state was rated nearly the worst, as just 56% of the population had access to broadband Internet last year, less than in all but two other states. Also, like many of the states with the worst quality of life, Alabama residents struggled with poverty. Nearly 19% of people lived in poverty in 2013, versus a national poverty rate of 15.8%.
> Employment rate: 61.6% (2nd lowest)
> Household disposable income per capita: $23,957 (2nd lowest)
> Homicide rate: 7.3 per 100,000 (2nd highest)
> Voter turnout: 74.5% (the highest)
Mississippi had the worst quality of life in the nation. With the exception of civic engagement — nearly three-quarters of eligible residents voted during the last general election, by far the highest rate nationwide — the state fared very poorly in nearly every OECD measure. Less than 82% of Mississippi’s workforce had completed at least high school as of 2013, lower than in every state except for Texas. Low educational attainment rates likely make it more difficult for unemployed residents to find a job. Nearly 9.5% of workers in the state were unemployed last year, among the highest rates in the country. Residents also struggled with poverty as 24% of Mississippians lived in poverty in 2013, the highest rate nationwide. Similarly, crime was a problem as there were 7.3 murders per 100,000 residents, the second-highest homicide rate in the country.