15 Worst States in America for Young Adults

sad woman grasping her head, states hard for young adults
Struggling young woman | iStock.com

The Great Recession struck at precisely the wrong time for young adults trying to secure their economic futures. People in their early 20s suffered unemployment rates far above the national level while shouldering record amounts of student debt. More than seven years after the recession technically ended, the struggles continue and are more evident in certain states.

Which states leave young adults suffering the most? A recent report from MoneyRates.com seeks to answer that question by evaluating all 50 states and the District of Columbia on the following factors:

  • Youth unemployment
  • Youthfulness of the population
  • Tuition costs
  • Rental costs
  • Rental availability
  • Access to high-speed broadband
  • Number of bars and other nightspots per capita
  • Number of fitness facilities per capita

“Obviously, different people have different tastes and different opinions on what makes a state attractive. However, some of the factors identified in the above list might just help you steer clear of states that are a little tougher on young adults,” said Richard Barrington, a MoneyRates.com senior financial analyst, in a prior update. “Or, if you are already in one of those states, seeing it rank as one of the worst for young people might just get you thinking about trying your luck elsewhere. There could be a better life waiting for you in a state where conditions are more welcoming to people like yourself.”

Let’s take a look at the 15 worst states for young adults.

15. Hawaii

Hawaii beach
Don’t let Hawaii’s beauty fool you | Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Though it may look like paradise, Hawaii ranks as the No. 15 worst state in America for young adults. The state’s high cost of living is certainly a major factor. Hawaii ranks near the bottom in terms of rental affordability and education affordability. Its number of fitness clubs ranks No. 45 in the nation. On the positive, Hawaii’s young adult employment ranks No. 11.

14. Georgia

Georgia team
There’s always next year, or a different state | Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

Georgia ranks as the No. 14 worst state for young adults. In the MoneyRates study, Georgia doesn’t rank well in any particular area. The state’s young adult employment rank is No. 45, while its nightlife concentration ranks No. 48. However, Georgia’s population of young adults ranks decent at No. 20, the same as its education affordability rank.

13. North Carolina

North Carolina
Both Carolinas make the list | iStock.com/Bryan Pollard

Both Carolinas find themselves on the list. North Carolina ranks poorly for high-speed connectivity (No. 39), nightlife concentration (No. 42), and young adult employment (No. 45). The state’s concentration of fitness clubs ranks No. 34, while rental affordability is about average at No. 25. North Carolina’s best showing in the study is its education affordability, which ranks No. 9 in the nation.

12. Vermont

Vermont scenery
Plenty of trees in Vermont, but not young people | Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images

Vermont ranks as the No. 12 worst state for young adults. The Green Mountain States works well for fitness clubs (No. 3) and young adult employment (No. 8), but that’s not enough to attract a young population or save it from the list. Vermont’s youth population ranks No. 42 in nation, and its rental availability and education affordability rank No. 44 and No. 50, respectively. Vermont also ranks at the bottom for high-speed connectivity (No. 49).

11. Maine

Maine diner
Not a lot of young people around | Becky’s Diner via Facebook

Maine ranks dead last for its population of young adults. The state also ranks poorly for its nightlife concentration (No. 33), high-speed connectivity (No. 41), and rental availability ( No. 48). Education affordability is also nothing to brag about at No. 31. On the positive, it’s easy to stay fit in Maine as it has the No. 4 highest concentration of fitness clubs in the country.

10. California

The OC, Rich, wealthy, young
It helps to already be rich if you want to live in California | Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Another perfect-weather destination makes the list. Except, unlike Hawaii, young people are flocking to California. The state ranks No. 7 for its young adult population. Good luck finding an apartment for your budget, though. California ranks last for rental availability and No. 49 for rental affordability. Nightlife concentration ranks No. 40, while fitness club concentration ranks No. 32. California’s education affordability and young adult employment is decent at No. 27 and No. 24, respectively.

9. Kentucky

It’s tough for young people to get ahead in Kentucky | Rob Carr/Getty Images

Kentucky ranks as the No. 9 worst state for young adults. Despite ranking No. 4 for rental affordability, young adults are staying away. Kentucky’s youth population ranks No. 38, while high speed connectivity and nightlife concentration both rank No. 39. The state’s concentration of fitness clubs, ranking at No. 47, is Kentucky’s worst-ranking criteria. Education affordability is also below average at No. 33.

8. New Jersey

Jersey Shore group
At least you’ll have plenty of fitness clubs | MTV

New Jersey has a devastating combo of high costs and poor job opportunities. The Garden State ranks at the bottom for rental affordability (No. 47) and education affordability (No. 48), while also suffering from a young adult employment ranking of No. 43. Young people appear to be doing a good job of staying away, as New Jersey ranks No. 40 for its youth population. On the positive, the state ranks as the best in the nation for high speed connectivity, and No. 6 for fitness club concentration.

7. South Carolina

South Carolina
The ocean is not enough for some young people | iStock.com

South Carolina ranks as the No. 7 worst state for young adults. The state ranks poorly in several areas. The concentration of fitness clubs (No. 30), young adult employment (No. 37), and nightlife concentration (No. 38) all rank below average. Meanwhile, education affordability (No. 43) is among the worst in the country. A youth population ranking No. 47 confirms many young people should look elsewhere if possible.

6. Oregon

Good luck finding a job and an apartment in Oregon if you’re young | Craig Mitchelldyer/Getty Images

Young people aren’t being fooled by Oregon’s high concentration of fitness clubs (No. 18) and nightlife (No. 12). The state’s youth population ranks No. 39. Oregon ranks well-below average in youth employment (No. 39), rental availability (No. 45), rental affordability (No. 35), and high speed connectivity (No. 36). Education affordability ranks No. 32.

5. Tennessee

Chattanooga, Tennessee, USA downtown skyline
Proceed with caution if you’re thinking about Tennessee | iStock.com/Sean Pavone

It’s relatively easy to find an affordable apartment in Tennessee, but the rest of the factors in the study make Tennessee a less than desirable state for young people. The youth population ranks No. 32, while youth employment and high speed connectivity rank No. 34 and No. 36, respectively. The concentration of fitness clubs (No. 41) and nightlife (No. 44) rank at the bottom.

4. Washington

Dead cockroach
You’ll probably need roommates to afford an apartment in Washington | iStock.com/tenra

Since young people are more likely to rent than own homes, Washington’s youth feels extra pain. The state’s rental availability ranks No. 49, with rental affordability ranking No. 40. Washington’s youth employment and high speed connectivity both rank below average at No. 36, and the youth population ranks No. 34. The concentration of fitness clubs is the state’s best factor in the study at only No. 20.

3. Virginia (tie)

What nightlife? | HBO

Virginia is tied with one other state for the No. 2 worst state for young adults. While it ranks above average for youth employment (No. 15) and concentration of fitness clubs (No. 22), all other criteria in the report rank below average. The state’s nightlife scene ranks last, while high speed connectivity (No. 41), rental affordability (No. 43), and education affordability (No. 45) are all near the bottom. Virginia’s youth population ranks No. 29.

2. New Hampshire (tie)

now hiring sign
At least you’ll have a job in New Hampshire | Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Tied with Virginia, New Hampshire appears to be the state to get a job but not the state to attend college. Surprisingly, New Hampshire ranks as the best state in the nation for youth employment. However, it ranks as the worst state for education affordability, and No. 37 for rental affordability and No. 43 for rental availability. It’s also second to last for nightlife activities (only beating Virginia). Overall, the state’s youth population ranks a dismal No. 41.

1. Arizona

Phoenix Arizona with its downtown lit
Worst states for young adults is Arizona | iStock.com/Dreamframer

Arizona ranks as the worst state in America for young adults. On the positive, Arizona avoids being dead last for any one thing, but the concentration of fitness clubs and high speed connectivity rank No. 43 and No. 45, respectively. Youth employment ranks No. 40. Rental affordability ranks No. 32, while education affordability ranks No. 39. Young people will be in good company. Arizona’s youth population ranks No. 13, the only factor above average in the report.

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