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 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 New Hampshire as the best state for quality of life.
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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 U.S. states are exceptionally strong.
“All the American states rank in the top 20% of OECD regions in income,” Brezzi said. Massachusetts -- one of 24/7 Wall St.’s highest-rated states -- had the second-highest per capita disposable household income in the nation, at $38,620. This also placed the state among the top 4% 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. Minnesota, for instance, was rated as the third best state for health, with a mortality rate of 7.5 deaths per 1,000 residents and a life expectancy of 81.1 years. However, this only barely placed Minnesota among the top third of all regions in the OECD. Similarly, New Hampshire -- which was rated as the safest state in the U.S., and was 24/7 Wall St.’s top state for quality of life -- was outside the top third of all regions for safety.
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Across most metrics the 50 states have improved considerably over time. Only one of the nine determinants of well-being, jobs, had regressed 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 best 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.
Calculating well-being for U.S. states and other regions across OECD nations is an ongoing project. To make the study’s methodology more comprehensive, new measures harmonized for cross-country comparisons will be included in the future.
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 best quality of life.
> Employment rate: 74.8% (9th highest)
> Household disposable income per capita: $29,536 (23rd highest)
> Homicide rate: 2.72 per 100,000 people (15th lowest)
> Voter turnout: 73.6% (2nd highest)
Based on nine distinct well-being measures, Wisconsin is one of the top states in the U.S. for quality of life. Like nearly all top-ranked states, Wisconsin’s housing score was quite high. A typical home had 2.7 rooms per person. Additionally, nearly three-quarters of households had broadband Internet access, both among the higher rates nationwide. Residents are also more politically active than people in a majority of states. The state reported a 74% voter turnout rate, better than almost every other state.
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> Employment rate: 67.8% (21st lowest)
> Household disposable income per capita: $31,307 (16th highest)
> Homicide rate: 2.55 per 100,000 people (11th lowest)
> Voter turnout: 65.6% (16th highest)
Nearly four in five Washington residents had broadband Internet access last year, tied with New Hampshire for the highest rate in the country. Washingtonians also enjoy exceptional air quality and a relatively healthy environment. Just 4.1mg of airborne dangerous particulate matter per cubic meter was recorded in the state, nearly the lowest level of pollution measured. Washington also leads the nation for renewable energy production, with more than 1,012 trillion BTU’s produced in 2012, far more than any other state.
> Employment rate: 72.7% (11th highest)
> Household disposable income per capita: $28,333 (22nd lowest)
> Homicide rate: 1.88 per 100,000 people (8th lowest)
> Voter turnout: 68.6% (9th highest)
Based on OECD metrics, Maine -- which advertises itself as “Vacationland” -- is far more than merely a tourist destination. Like more than half of the best states for quality of life, Maine received a nearly perfect score for its housing. Maine homes had an average of nearly three rooms per person, more than all but one other state. Spacious households are likely favored by Maine residents as the state’s long winter can keep people indoors for long periods of time. And while heating costs can be a burden, falling U.S. crude oil prices have considerably reduced the financial strain of buying home heating oil, which is more-widely used in Maine than in any other state.
> Employment rate: 71.3% (14th highest)
> Household disposable income per capita: $38,620 (2nd highest)
> Homicide rate: 2.62 per 100,000 people (12th lowest)
> Voter turnout: 70.8% (4th highest)
Only one state received a higher income score than Massachusetts. Last year, the state’s per capita disposable income was $38,620, more than anywhere else in the U.S. except Connecticut and among the top 4% of regions reviewed by the OECD across 28 countries. Massachusetts was also a top state for health, with one of the lowest mortality rates, as well as one of the highest life expectancies, at 80.5 years, in the U.S. However, compared to all country regions measured by the OECD, Massachusetts’ score is barely in the top 40% for health.
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> Employment rate: 71.2% (15th highest)
> Household disposable income per capita: $30,999 (18th highest)
> Homicide rate: 2.90 per 100,000 people (17th lowest)
> Voter turnout: 70.4% (5th highest)
Colorado residents are active participants in local and state politics, and have among the best accessibility to services. More than 70% of eligible Coloradans participated in elections last year, among the higher rates in the nation. While Colorado’s unemployment rate of 7.7% was not particularly good, its economy has been growing relatively rapidly in the last two years. A report released earlier this year by the Colorado Secretary of State showed strong numbers of new business filings and predicted future employment gains.
5. North Dakota
> Employment rate: 81.8% (the highest)
> Household disposable income per capita: $31,844 (12th highest)
> Homicide rate: 2.99 per 100,000 people (18th lowest)
> Voter turnout: 63.9% (19th highest)
Large economic windfalls, like the recent oil boom in North Dakota, do not necessarily improve a state’s well-being. A strong economy, of course, still has many benefits. North Dakota had the lowest unemployment rate nationwide, at just 3.3%. And 9.0% of the state’s workforce was employed in the agriculture and mining industries, more than all but one other state. The energy boom has also led to exceptional growth rates. North Dakota’s economic output has grown faster than that of any other state for several years. In addition to benefiting from an economic boom, North Dakota residents are relatively well educated. More than 91% of the state’s labor force had completed at least secondary school last year, among the highest rates in the country.
> Employment rate: 78.1% (5th highest)
> Household disposable income per capita: $30,164 (20th highest)
> Homicide rate: 1.38 per 100,000 people (2nd lowest)
> Voter turnout: 69.4% (tied-6th highest)
The OECD rated Iowa better than all but a few states for its jobs climate and safety. Just 5.2% of the workforce was unemployed last year, and the homicide rate -- 1.4 per 100,000 -- was lower than every state except New Hampshire. Iowa residents also had the benefit of a productive renewable energy sector, with greater production of renewable energy than all but two other states as of 2012. The majority of renewable energy output came from 476 trillion BTU’s of biodiesel produced that year, which was more than any other state.
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> Employment rate: 79.0% (3rd highest)
> Household disposable income per capita: $30,102 (21st highest)
> Homicide rate: 1.39 per 100,000 people (3rd lowest)
> Voter turnout: 63.3% (22nd highest)
Vermont is among the nation’s leaders in several well-being measures. State residents are exceptionally well-educated. Nearly 92% of Vermont’s workforce had completed at least secondary school last year, nearly the highest rate nationwide. Vermont was one of a handful of states to receive a close-to perfect score for housing. With more than three rooms per person, homes tend to be more spacious than those in any other state. Additionally, just 7.2% of residents lacked health care last year, less than half the rate for all Americans, and lower than all but one other state. Based on a recent survey by Gallup, Vermonters are also the most likely Americans to exercise regularly and consume fresh produce daily, which further contributes to the population’s good health.
> Employment rate: 77.3% (6th highest)
> Household disposable income per capita: $32,256 (9th highest)
> Homicide rate: 1.68 per 100,000 people (4th lowest)
> Voter turnout: 73.2% (3rd highest)
Minnesota is one of the top states in the nation by a range of well-being metrics. Notably, the state was tied for second best with Vermont for education, as nearly 92% of the labor force had at least a high school diploma. Minnesota was also a top state for health, with a mortality rate of 7.5 per 1,000 residents and a life expectancy of over 81 years, both among the best nationwide. Per capita household disposable income was also quite high at $32,257, ninth-best nationwide. Census Bureau figures also indicate Minnesota compares favorably with other states in ensuring residents are living well. The state’s poverty rate of 11.2% was among the lowest nationwide in 2013.
1. New Hampshire
> Employment rate: 77.0% (7th highest)
> Household disposable income per capita: $34,208 (7th highest)
> Homicide rate: 1.11 per 100,000 people (the lowest)
> Voter turnout: 69.4% (tied-6th highest)
New Hampshire scored better than any other state for quality of life. No state had a lower homicide rate than New Hampshire, where there was just barely a single murder per 100,000 residents. Additionally, New Hampshire was also the top-ranked state for accessibility of services, with 79% of households reporting they had access to broadband, the highest in the U.S. Further, New Hampshire ranked among the best states in most other measures considered by the OECD. The Granite State also had the nation’s lowest poverty rate in 2013, according to the Census Bureau, at just 8.7% of all residents.
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To read the 50 Best Cities to Live, visit 24/7 Wall St.