15 Worst States in America to Make a Living

A man holding a white flag of surrender

The working man giving up | Thinkstock

We all want to make a good living, but the rat race doesn’t provide the same course obstacles in every state. America’s status quo now includes a painfully obvious split economy. Some citizens are experiencing a rebound in prosperity, while others are dumbfounded by the use of “recovery” in headlines. Either way, location plays a major part in your personal finances.

The United States is a collection of mini-economies. MoneyRates.com recently analyzed every state to find where workers have the best or worst shot to make a good living, based on employment statistics and living expenses. The financial site evaluated the five key factors listed below.

  • Median wages: Median annual wage data is from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • State tax rates: MoneyRates analyzed the state tax information collected by the research group Tax Foundation.
  • Cost of living: Data was sourced from the Council for Community and Economic Research’s Cost of Living Index.
  • The unemployment rate: Data sourced from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • Incidents of workplace illness, injuries, and fatalities: This workplace safety data is from the BLS, which sourced data from employer reports to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the BLS Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses.

After finishing second on the list in 2014 and first in 2015, Texas ranks as the fifth best state in 2016 to make a living. Wyoming steals the crown from the Lone Star State after finishing third in 2015. Washington and Virginia round out the top three. Wyoming and Washington both lack a state income tax, which boosts their rankings. Above average incomes and low cost of living is also a key component in the best ranking states. The worst states will have you reaching deep in your pockets.

Let’s take a closer look at the 15 worst states in America to make a living.

15. Connecticut

You’ll be seeing the northeast quite a bit on the list. Connecticut ranks as the No. 15 worst state to make a living. The state’s median income of $43,830 is the highest on the the list, but it’s quickly spent considering Connecticut’s cost of living index is 131.8. Furthermore, the state’s unemployment rate is relatively high. Overall, New Jersey and New Hampshire both rank better than Connecticut. On the positive, Connecticut’s work environment safety is inline with the national average.

14. Arkansas

800px-Block_Street_Fayetteville_Arkansas.jpg

Arkansas | iStock.com

The supposed “Land of Opportunity” does not rank favorable. Arkansas ranks as the No. 14 worst state to make a living. The state has a low cost of living, but salaries are also low. The average median income is only $29,420. In fact, Mississippi is the only state in the nation with a lower median income ($29,000). The state tax on median income comes in at $1,299, while Arkansas has a relatively low unemployment rate and a better-than-average workplace safety rating.

13. Nevada

The interchange at U.S. Route 95 and Rainbow Boulevard known as the Rainbow Curve is seen in an aerial view on February 20, 2014 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Nevada | Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Nevada is known for it’s dry climate and Sin City. However, it also ranks as the No. 13 worst state to make a living. Nevada doesn’t necessarily rank poorly on cost of living, taxes, or workplace safety, but the median income of $33,700 and a high unemployment rate holds Nevada back. Nevada was one of the hardest-hit states when the real estate bubble popped, and is still trying to make a full recovery. On the positive, Nevada doesn’t have a state income tax.

12. South Dakota

Mount Rushmore National Memorial from outside the park on October 1, 2013 in Keystone, South Dakota. Mount Rushmore and all other national parks were closed today after congress failed to pass a temporary funding bill, forcing about 800,000 federal workers off the job. A bulletin issued by the Department of Interior states, 'Effective immediately upon a lapse in appropriations, the National Park Service will take all necessary steps to close and secure national park facilities and grounds in order to suspend all activities ...Day use visitors will be instructed to leave the park immediately...' (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

South Dakota | Scott Olson/Getty Images

While it’s northern sibling ranks as one of the best states to make a living, South Dakota ranks as the No. 12 worst state to make a living. The biggest difference between North Dakota and South Dakota is income. South Dakota’s median income is only $30,780, compared to North Dakota’s median income of $38,170. South Dakota’s cost of living index is a reasonable 102.5, it’s unemployment rate is among the lowest in the nation, and there is no state tax on income.

11. New Mexico

Street sign

New Mexico | iStock.com

New Mexico ranks as the No. 11 worst state to make a living. The state has a low median income of $32,320 and a high unemployment rate. On the positive, taxes on the median income come in at a decent $1,304, and workplace safety is inline with the national average. Residents looking for more favorable conditions may want to check out neighboring states Texas and Colorado, which both rank in the top 10 best states to make a living.

10. Rhode Island

Providence downtown Rhode Island

Rhode Island | iStock.com

Rhode Island continues to find itself as one of the worst states in America to make a living, ranking No. 10 on the list. The state has a high cost of living that is typical for the northeast. Rhode Island also has a higher-than-average unemployment rate. On a positive note, the median income of $39,050 is one of the higher amounts on the list, and the state tax on median income totals $1,464, which is significantly lower than New York and Maine.

9. South Carolina

Myrtle Beach South Carolina

South Carolina | iStock.com

South Carolina managed to stay off the 10 worst list in 2015, but ranks No. 9 in 2016. The state suffers from low median income and high unemployment, two dangerous financial situations for any household. State income taxes are also on the high side compared to other states. However, residents can take comfort in a lower than average cost of living, and a safer work environment. South Carolina only has three workplace incidents per year per 100 workers. The national average is 3.6 workplace incidents.

8. Montana

Montana

Montana | iStock.com

Montana ranks as the No. 8 worst state in America to make a living. Residents enjoy an average cost of living and a relatively low unemployment rate. However, the great outdoors comes at a steep price. The state median income is only $31,970, one of the lowest on the list. Furthermore, Montana has the fourth-highest workplace accident incidents, with 4.6 per year per 100 workers. In comparison, Wyoming ranks as the No. 1 best state to make a living in 2016. It has a median income of $38,280, no state income tax, and only 3.7 workplace incidents per year pear 100 workers.

7. New York

New York City, central park

New York City | iStock.com

After avoiding the list in 2015, New York ranks as the No. 7 worst state to make a living. The median income of $41,600 is one of the highest in the country. Unfortunately, New York has the second highest cost of living in the country, too. Taxes are also high as the state tax on median income totals $2,346. On the positive, workplace incidents are below the national average, and the vast amount of job opportunities and energetic environment still makes New York City one of the best cities in the world.

6. Vermont

Vermont

Vermont | Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Vermont ranks as the No. 6 worst state to make a living. The state’s median income of $37,040 is respectable, but like most of the northeastern states, its cost of living erodes the value of a dollar. Vermont’s cost of living index is 123.8, compared to 118.2 in New Hampshire and 114.7 in Maine. Vermont also has the second highest rate of work-related illnesses and injuries in the nation (5.1 per year per 100 workers). The silver lining is that Vermont has a low unemployment rate, and cheaper state income taxes than most of the states on this list.

5. California

A foreclosed house in San Bernardino

San Bernardino | ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

California ranks as the No. 5 worst state to make a living. The state merely switched places with Vermont compared to 2015. While California has a median income of $39,830, its cost of living index is a whopping 134.3, the third highest in the country. Making matters worse, California has relatively high unemployment, and workplace incidents are about average.

4. Maine

Maine coastline

Maine | Thinkstock

Maine ranks as the No. 4 worst state to make a living, which is one spot better than in 2015. The state is a challenging place to live. Maine has the highest rate of work-related illnesses and injuries in the nation (5.3 per year per 100 workers), and the fourth highest income tax burden. The median income is only $34,710, while the cost of living is above average. On the positive, Maine has a low unemployment rate.

3. West Virginia

West Virginia at night

West Virginia | Thinkstock

West Virginia ranks as the No. 3 worst state to make a living. The state initially ranks decent in terms of cost of living and income taxes, yet its median income of $30,240 is the third lowest in the nation — if you can find a job. West Virginia also has a high unemployment rate and an above average rate of workplace incidents. By comparison, Virginia ranks as the No. 3 best state to make a living, with affordable living and an impressive median income of $38,180.

2. Oregon

Aerial view of Oregon

Oregon | City of Bend Official Facebook Page

Once again, Oregon finds itself as the No. 2 worst state to make a living. The state’s cost of living index is almost 30% above the national average at 129.5 (slightly higher than 2015). Oregon’s median income of $37,808 does little to ease the pain of income taxes at $3,102, the highest in the nation. Residents can take comfort in a relatively average unemployment rate.

1. Hawaii

Source: https://www.facebook.com/LavaLavaBeachClub/

Hawaii | Lava Beach Club

Paradise is not cheap. In fact, it comes with the biggest price tag. Hawaii ranks as the worst state in America to make a living. The state’s cost of living index is a staggering 168.6, easily the highest in the country and 68.6% above the national average. That quickly erodes the median income of $38,750, while income taxes of $2,482 on the median income only adds to the financial pressure. Aside from the beautiful surroundings, residents enjoy a low unemployment rate and an average safe workplace.

Follow Eric on Twitter @Mr_Eric_WSCS

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