The Best and Worst Run States in America: A Survey of All 50

How well run are America's 50 states? The answer depends a lot on where you live.

Every year, 24/7 Wall St. conducts an extensive survey of all fifty states in America. Based on a review of data on financial health, standard of living and government services by state we determine how well each state is managed. For the first time, North Dakota is the best run. California is the worst run for the second year in a row.

The successful management of a state is difficult to measure. Factors that affect its finances and population may be the result of decisions made years ago. A state's difficulties can be caused by poor governance or by external factors, such as extreme weather.

A state with abundant natural resources should have an easier time balancing its budget than one starved for resources. Regional problems or the national decline of certain industries can destroy local economies. The subprime mortgage crisis, for example, disproportionately affected states with strong construction and real estate markets. Such factors can be easily identified and noted as possible causes for a state's poverty levels, unemployment, or strained coffers.

Despite this, it is the responsibility of each state to deal with the resources at its disposal. Each government must anticipate economic shifts and diversify its industries and attract new business. A state should be able to raise enough revenue to ensure the safety of its citizens and minimize hardship without spending more than it can prudently afford. Some states have historically done this much better than others.

To determine how well the states are run, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed hundreds of data sets from dozens of sources. We looked at each state's debt, revenue, expenditure and deficit to determine how well it is managed fiscally. We reviewed taxes, exports, and GDP growth, including a breakdown by sector, to identify how each state is managing its resources. We looked at poverty, income, unemployment, high school graduation, violent crime and foreclosure rates to measure if residents are prospering.

The best-run states have certain characteristics in common, as do the worst run. The high-ranking states all have well-managed budgets. Each of the top ten has a perfect, or near-perfect, credit rating from Standard & Poor's, Moody's, or both. Of the ten worst-ranked, only three received top scores from one agency, and none from both. California is currently the only state rated A- by S&P, the lowest score given to any state. These poor-ranked states have high debt relative to both income and expenditure.

There is a strong correlation between well-educated populations and generally well-managed states. Of the ten best-scoring states on our list, nine have among the highest percentages of adults with high school diplomas.

Employment is also closely correlated to how well a state is managed. The unemployment rates of most of the poorly ranked states are among the highest in the country. Nine of the ten best-ranked states had an unemployment rate of less than 7% in 2011. This includes North Dakota, which had the lowest rate in the country in 2011, at just 3.6%. The average unemployment rate nationwide was 8.9% in 2011.

These are the best- and worst-run states in America.

1. North Dakota
> Debt per capita: $3,282 (22nd lowest)
> Budget deficit: None
> Unemployment: 3.5% (the lowest)
> Median household income: $51,704 (20th highest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 12.2% (13th lowest)

For the first time, North Dakota ranks as the best run state in the country. In recent years, North Dakota's oil boom has transformed its economy. Last year, crude oil production rose 35%. As of August, 2012, it was the second-largest oil producer in the country. This was due to the use of hydraulic fracturing in the state's Bakken shale formation. The oil and gas boom brought jobs to North Dakota, which had the nation's lowest unemployment rate in 2011 at 3.5%, and economic growth. Between 2010 and 2011, North Dakota's GDP jumped 7.6%, by far the largest increase in the nation. This growth has also increased home values, which rose a nation-leading 29% between 2006 and 2011. North Dakota and Montana are the only two states that have not reported a budget shortfall since fiscal 2009.

2. Wyoming
> Debt per capita: $2,694 (18th lowest)
> Budget deficit: 10.3% (32nd largest)
> Unemployment: 6.0% (7th lowest)
> Median household income: $56,322 (13th highest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 11.3% (6th lowest)

Wyoming is not the best-run state in the nation this year. The drop is largely due to the state's contracting economy. In 2011, GDP shrunk by 1.2%, more than any other state. As a whole, however, the state is a model of good management and a prospering population. The state is particularly efficient at managing its debt, owing the equivalent of just 20.4% of annual revenue in fiscal 2010. Wyoming also has a tax structure that, according to the Tax Foundation, is the nation's most-favorable for businesses - it does not have any corporate income taxes. The state has experienced an energy boom in recent years. The mining industry, which includes oil and gas extracting, accounted for 29.4% of the state's GDP in 2011 alone, more than in any other state. As of last year, Wyoming's poverty, home foreclosure, and unemployment rates were all among the lowest in the nation.

3. Nebraska
> Debt per capita: $1,279 (2nd lowest)
> Budget deficit: 9.7% (34th largest)
> Unemployment: 4.4% (2nd lowest)
> Median household income: $50,296 (22nd highest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 13.1% (tied-15th lowest)

Last year, Nebraska had the second-lowest unemployment rate in the nation at 4.4%. In Lincoln, the state capital, the unemployment rate was 4%, lower than all metropolitan areas in the country, except Bismarck and Fargo in North Dakota. Although far from the nation's wealthiest state - median income was slightly lower than the U.S. median of $50,502 - Nebraska's economy is strong relative to the rest of the U.S. The state is one of the leading agricultural producers, with the sector accounting for 8.3% of the state's GDP last year. The state also had the second-lowest debt per capita in the country in fiscal 2010, at $1,279, compared to an average of $3,614 for states nationwide.

4. Utah
> Debt per capita:
$2,356 (15th lowest)
> Budget deficit: 14.7% (25th largest)
> Unemployment: 6.7% (tied-11th lowest)
> Median household income: $55,869 (14th highest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 13.5% (tied-17th lowest)

In fiscal 2011, Utah had a budget deficit of $700 million, equal to 14.7% of the state's GDP. This debt-to-GDP ratio is worse than half the states in the U.S. Despite these problems, Utah has committed to reducing expenses in place of raising taxes or increasing debt. The state has also limited its borrowing. Its total debt was just under $6.5 billion in fiscal 2010, or $2,356 per capita - less than most states - and 40.4% of 2010 tax revenue. Both Moody's and S&P gave Utah their highest credit ratings because of the state's strong fiscal management. Moody's commented that Utah has a "tradition of conservative fiscal management; rebuilding of budgetary reserves after their use in the recession; [and] a closely managed debt portfolio."

5. Iowa
> Debt per capita: $1,690 (7th lowest)
> Budget deficit: 20.3% (18th largest)
> Unemployment: 5.9% (6th lowest)
> Median household income: $49,427 (24th highest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 12.8% (14th lowest)

Like many of the other well-run states, Iowa is one of the nation's top agricultural centers - the industry accounted for 6.6% of the state's GDP in 2011. The farm economy has contributed significantly to growth, with farm earnings rising rapidly and land values skyrocketing. State GDP rose by 1.9% between 2010 and 2011 - the 12th-highest increase in the country. Iowa's unemployment rate fell from 6.3% in 2010 to just 5.9% in 2011, the nation's sixth-lowest rate. The state has carried a low debt burden in recent years, averaging just $1,690 per capita in fiscal 2010, among the nation's lowest. The state currently has the best possible credit ratings both from Moody's and S&P.

6. Alaska
> Debt per capita: $9,032 (2nd highest)
> Budget deficit: None
> Unemployment: 7.6% (22nd lowest)
> Median household income: $67,825 (2nd highest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 10.5% (4th lowest)

Like North Dakota and Wyoming, Alaska benefits from the active extraction of its abundant energy resources. Last year, mining - including the extraction of oil and natural gas - accounted for nearly 25% of the state's GDP, trailing only Wyoming. Energy was not the state's only valuable resource and only its third-largest export behind fish, and minerals and ores. Only three states exported more goods, on a per capita basis, than Alaska's $7,248 in 2011. Alaska's $68,000 income per household is second highest after Maryland. In 2011, the state reported no budget deficit, despite the fact it had more than $9,000 in debt per capita in 2010, the second-highest debt burden in the country. The state also had among the nation's lowest tax burden, with state and local taxes equal to just 7% of income.

7. South Dakota
> Debt per capita: $4,291 (14th highest)
> Budget deficit: 8.8% (41st largest)
> Unemployment: 4.7% (3rd lowest)
> Median household income: $48,321 (23rd lowest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 13.9% (tied-21st lowest)

Unlike North Dakota, South Dakota is not a large producer of fossil fuels. Agriculture contributes roughly the same amount to both economies. Last year, no state in the country derived a larger percentage of its GDP from agriculture than North Dakota's 8.4% and South Dakota's 10.9%. South Dakota has very low taxes and is considered to have one of the nation's most business-friendly tax climates. In fiscal 2010 it had the second-lowest state and local tax burden, at 7.6% of income. Also in fiscal 2010, the state funded 96% of pension obligations to its employees. Although the state's governor, Dennis Daugaard, proposed to eliminate tenure for teachers, voters rejected the measure in November. More than 90% of South Dakota adults are at least high school graduates, the tenth-highest percentage in the country.

8. Vermont
> Debt per capita: $5,585 (10th highest)
> Budget deficit: 31.3% (6th largest)
> Unemployment: 5.6% (5th lowest)
> Median household income: $52,776 (19th highest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 11.5% (tied-7th lowest)

Despite its recent large debt burden, Vermont is one of the nation's best run states. The state has promoted education in its budgets - in fiscal 2010 it allocated 40% of its budgeted spending to education, more than any other state except Iowa. As of last year, 91.8% of adults had a high school diploma - one of the nation's highest percentages. Vermont also has several programs intended to make health care affordable and accessible for all residents. As of last year, just 6.6% of the population did not have health insurance, less than half the 15.1% nationwide and the second-lowest rate in the U.S.

9. Virginia
> Debt per capita: $3,131 (20th lowest)
> Budget deficit: 8.5% (43rd largest)
> Unemployment: 6.2% (8th lowest)
> Median household income: $61,882 (7th highest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 11.5% (tied-7th lowest)

Economically, Virginia has been in very good shape compared to many other states in the region. The state's poverty and unemployment rates are among the nation's lowest, while median household income is one of the nation's highest, at nearly $62,000. Given that the state is home to the Pentagon and large defense contractors, it could be hit with job cuts if the nation goes over the fiscal cliff. The automatic defense cuts set to take place if that happens mean Virginia could lose more than 207,000 jobs, an estimated 136,000 of which would be related to the Department of Defense. As of 2011, government spending accounted for 18.7% of Virginia's GDP, the fourth-highest percentage in the nation.

10. Minnesota
> Debt per capita: $2,206 (13th lowest)
> Budget deficit: 25.0% (14th largest)
> Unemployment: 6.4% (10th lowest)
> Median household income: $56,954 (11th highest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 11.9% (tied-10th lowest)

Minnesota ranks as one of the best-performing states in the nation by several measures. The state has the second-highest rate in the country - 92% - of adults with a high school diploma, while just 8.8% of the population lacks health insurance, the fourth-lowest figure in the U.S. Minnesota also has one of the nation's lowest poverty rates, as well as the eighth-lowest crime rate in the U.S. at 221.2 violent crimes per 100,000 residents. On the other hand, Minnesota had one of the highest state and local tax burdens in the nation, at 10.8% of income in fiscal 2010. Democrats recently won control of the state legislature, and are expected to attempt to reform the state's tax structure and possibly increase taxes on the wealthy.

11. Delaware
> Debt per capita: $6,157 (8th highest)
> Budget deficit: 11.4% (30th largest)
> Unemployment: 7.3% (tied-16th lowest)
> Median household income: $58,814 (9th highest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 11.9% (tied-10th lowest)

In many ways, Delaware is a very well run state. The unemployment rate, median household income and poverty rate are solidly better than national averages. In 2010, the state was one of just a handful to fund at least 90% of its pension obligation. Delaware has a perfect credit rating from both S&P and Moody's. But Delaware's debt load of $6,157 per capita is higher than all but seven states. Incumbent Governor Jack Markell, who took office in January 2009 with an $800 million budget deficit, has closed the deficit in the past four fiscal years through tax increases and spending cuts.

12. Tennessee
> Debt per capita: $922 (the lowest)
> Budget deficit: 9.4% (tied-35th largest)
> Unemployment: 9.2% (tied-16th highest)
> Median household income: $41,693 (6th lowest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 18.3% (11th highest)

Tennessee has a record of strong fiscal responsibility. For fiscal 2010, the state owed just $922 per capita, less than every other state in the nation. Additionally, 90% of the state's pension obligations are funded, one of the highest-funded ratios in the U.S. As of 2010, Tennessee had one of the lowest tax burdens in the nation, at just 7.7% of per capita income, well below the U.S. average rate of 9.9%. However, in many ways the state still lags behind the rest of the nation. Last year, just 84.2% of residents 25 and older were high school graduates, while 18.3% of the population lived below the poverty line - both among the worst rates in the nation. Worse yet, in 2011 Tennessee had the nation's highest violent crime rate, at 608.2 violent crimes per 100,000 people. Crime was even worse in Memphis, which had the nation's sixth-highest violent crime rate among large U.S. cities.

13. Texas
> Debt per capita: $1,679 (6th lowest)
> Budget deficit: 20.9% (16th largest)
> Unemployment: 7.9% (tied-23rd lowest)
> Median household income: $49,392 (25th highest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 18.5% (11th highest)

Texas' economy grew by 3.3% in 2011, an increase larger than all but three other states. Among the main drivers for the growth is the oil boom. Texas was the largest crude oil producer in the nation last year with 27% of the nation's total refinery capacity. It has also been able to grow its economy partially through exports, including petroleum products and chemicals, which totaled $250 billion in 2011, or $9,732 per capita - the second-most in the nation behind Louisiana. Outside of energy, the state also effectively manages its finances, owing just $1,679 per capita in fiscal 2010, less than all but a handful of states. Texas imposes low taxes - and no income taxes - on both individuals and businesses. The state has one of the most business-friendly tax climates, and it had one of the lowest tax burdens in the nation in 2010.

14. New Hampshire
> Debt per capita: $6,341 (7th highest)
> Budget deficit: 27.2% (10th largest)
> Unemployment: 5.4% (4th lowest)
> Median household income: $62,647 (6th highest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 8.8% (the lowest)

By many measures, New Hampshire is very well run. In 2011, the state had one of the highest median incomes in the nation and one of the country's lowest unemployment and poverty rates, at 5.4% and 8.8% respectively. The state had one of the nation's lowest tax burdens in 2010, with residents paying just 8.1% of income in taxes. New Hampshire's tax structure is rated by the Tax Foundation as one of the nation's most business friendly. However, the state still has difficulty managing its budget. New Hampshire had over $6,300 in debt per person in fiscal 2010, one of the highest rates in the country. The state's pension liabilities were just 59% funded that year, also one of the lowest rates in the nation.

15. Kansas
> Debt per capita: $2,276 (14th highest)
> Budget deficit: 10.1% (33rd largest)
> Unemployment: 6.7% (tied-11th lowest)
> Median household income: $48,964 (25th lowest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 13.8% (tied-19th lowest)

Kansas had one of the lowest unemployment rates in 2011 at 6.7%, more than two percentage points better than the nationwide rate. The state has also benefited from rising home prices. The median value of homes in the state rose 12.2% between 2006 and 2011 - one of the higher rates in the nation. In order to create new jobs and grow the economy, Kansas cut personal income taxes and eliminated most business taxes, spurring controversy after Governor Sam Brownback told state agencies to be prepared for 10% cuts to their budgets. The state received an average rating from the Tax Foundation for its business tax climate.

16. Washington
> Debt per capita: $4,098 (17th highest)
> Budget deficit: 29.6% (8th largest)
> Unemployment: 9.2% (tied-16th highest)
> Median household income: $56,835 (12th highest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 13.9% (tied-21st lowest)

Washington's recent fiscal record is mixed. Among the negatives, the state had a budget shortfall equal to nearly 30% of the state's general fund in fiscal 2011 - one of the largest in the nation. However, 95% of Washington's pension liabilities were funded as of fiscal 2010, more than all but three states. The state also has one of the best tax climates for business and was one of the U.S.'s leading exporters, with $9,463 in exports per capita last year, nearly twice the national average of $4,752. The state's largest export in 2011, transportation equipment, made up 43% of its exports, likely due in large part to Boeing's presence in the region.

17. Oregon
> Debt per capita: $3,533 (23rd highest)
> Budget deficit: N/A
> Unemployment: 9.5% (tied-13th highest)
> Median household income: $46,816 (22nd lowest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 17.5% (tied-15th highest)

In 2011, the manufacturing sector accounted for 28.8% of Oregon's economic output, more than in any other state. The sector is dominated by computer and electronic parts manufacturing, which provided nearly $40 billion in output to the state in 2010. Outside manufacturing, the state's economy faced several significant challenges last year, despite having one of the highest GDP growth rates in the country in 2011, at 4.7%, Oregon's unemployment rate was 9.5%, while 17.5% of the population lived in poverty, worse than the respective national rates of 8.9% and 15.9%. However, the state managed its finances well during the recession: 87% of its pension liabilities were funded in fiscal 2010, one of the highest percentages in the nation.

18. Montana
> Debt per capita: $4,430 (13th highest)
> Budget deficit: None
> Unemployment: 6.8% (14th lowest)
> Median household income: $44,222 (13th lowest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 14.8% (25th lowest)

Montana has benefited from a strong real estate market in recent years, with home prices rising 18.4% between 2006 and 2011, the fifth-highest increase during that period. Along with rising home prices, homeowners have been able to afford their mortgages. Last year, the state's foreclosure rate was one of the nation's lowest. Montana has one of the strongest business tax climates, according to the Tax Foundation, and has a capital gains tax credit of 2% as of the last tax season. Although Montana is not a high-tax state - its state and local tax burden of 8.6% in fiscal 2010 was well below the U.S. average of 9.9% - it did not face budget shortfalls in any year between fiscal 2009 and 2011.

19. Massachusetts
> Debt per capita: $11,310 (the highest)
> Budget deficit: 8.6% (42nd largest)
> Unemployment: 7.4% (tied-18th lowest)
> Median household income: $62,859 (5th highest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 11.6% (9th lowest)

Relative to its income, there is no state that overspends more than Massachusetts. In fiscal year 2010, state revenue was $50.4 billion, the 11th-highest in the country, while state debt was $73.9 billion, the third-highest in the country. That debt to revenue ratio of nearly 1.5 to 1 was by far the worst in the U.S. State debt per resident was more than $11,000, the highest in the nation. The state's high debt comes from its spending on social programs. Total state expenditure per capita in 2010 was $7,900 per person, which was among the highest in the nation. Thanks to Massachusetts' largely mandated health care system, introduced by former Governor Mitt Romney, just 4.3% of state residents were without health insurance coverage, the lowest in the nation.

20. Pennsylvania
> Debt per capita: $3,526 (24th highest)
> Budget deficit: 16.2% (tied-20th largest)
> Unemployment: 7.9% (tied-23rd lowest)
> Median household income: $50,228 (23rd highest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 13.8% (tied-19th lowest)

Pennsylvania weathered the recession and its aftermath better than most states. Home prices rose 13.5% between 2006 and 2011 in Pennsylvania, while they declined 6.3% nationwide during that time. Although the state does not have the best job market, the 7.9% unemployment rate through 2011 was a full percentage point lower than the national rate. The state also had a generous welfare budget - it spent 25.8% of its budget in 2010 on public welfare, the ninth-highest percentage in the country. But some of these expenditures have been pared back recently. For instance, the most recent state budget cut $160 million from the Department of Public Welfare, ending emergency funds for nearly 69,000 residents.

21. Wisconsin
> Debt per capita: $3,929 (19th highest)
> Budget deficit: 24.9% (15th largest)
> Unemployment: 7.5% (tied-20th lowest)
> Median household income: $50,395 (21st highest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 13.1% (tied-15th lowest)

Perhaps no state budget has generated as much controversy in recent years as Wisconsin's. In early 2011, Governor Scott Walker proposed a budget repair bill, requiring state employees to contribute 50% of their annual pension payment, while eliminating the collective bargaining rights of most state workers. Prior to its passage, Wisconsin faced multi-billion dollar budget deficits, including a $3.5 billion shortfall in fiscal 2011, or 24.9% of the state's budget - one of the larger deficits in the country in that year. These deficits occurred every year, despite one of the nation's highest income tax burdens of 11.1%. In fiscal 2010, the state had the nation's only fully funded pension program, although all contributions were paid for by the state.

22. Idaho
> Debt per capita: $2,478 (16th lowest)
> Budget deficit: 3.5% (45th largest)
> Unemployment: 8.7% (20th highest)
> Median household income: $43,341 (11th lowest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 16.5% (19th highest)

An estimated 16.5% of Idaho residents did not have health insurance last year, one of the higher rates in the country. This is particularly problematic in a state with one of the nation's highest doctor shortages. In 2010, Idaho had just 172.5 active patient care physicians per 100,000 residents, fewer than all but three states. Last year, the state made major cuts to its Medicaid program, the effect of which was compounded by the loss of matching funds from the federal government. Despite it's problems with health care, the state appears to budget conservatively. In fiscal 2011, it had a budget shortfall of only 3.5%, one of the smallest in the country.

23. Indiana
> Debt per capita: $3,650 (22nd highest)
> Budget deficit: 9.4% (tied-35th largest)
> Unemployment: 9.0% (tied-18th highest)
> Median household income: $46,438 (20th lowest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 16.0% (tied-22nd highest)

Indiana has a strong manufacturing sector, accounting for 27.6% of the state's total GDP, the second-highest percentage of any state in the nation, trailing only Oregon. The state is also a strong exporter, with $4,941 in exports per capita, the 11th highest in the nation. The sectors that contributed most to Indiana's manufacturing output in 2010 - motor vehicles and chemicals - produced the state's two leading exports last year, namely transportation equipment and chemicals. Although the state has had some financial difficulties - it had large amounts of debt as a percentage of revenue and unfunded pension obligations in fiscal 2010 - it currently has top credit ratings from both Moody's and S&P. The state is also able to court businesses with one of the nation's most business-friendly tax climates.

24. West Virginia
> Debt per capita: $3,860 (21st highest)
> Budget deficit: 3.6% (44th largest)
> Unemployment: 8.0% (tied-25th lowest)
> Median household income: $38,482 (2nd lowest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 18.6% (10th highest)

West Virginia is one of the poorest states in the country. Median income in the state was just $38,482 in 2011, lower than any state but Mississippi. The state also had the tenth-highest poverty rate in the U.S., as well as one of the lowest proportions of adults with a high school diploma. Several indicators suggest conditions may be improving in the state. West Virginia's GDP grew by 4.5% between 2010 and 2011, three times the national rate and more than every state but North Dakota and Oregon. This was fueled primarily by growth in the state's mining industry, which expanded by 54% to a $9.4 billion industry last year. West Virginia also had the third-lowest foreclosure rate in the country in 2011.

25. Missouri
> Debt per capita: $3,416 (25th lowest)
> Budget deficit: 9.4% (tied-35th largest)
> Unemployment: 8.6% (tied-22nd highest)
> Median household income: $45,247 (15th lowest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 15.8% (24th highest)

The state's financial situation is mixed. Missouri is one of ten states to receive a perfect credit rating from both S&P and Moody's. Its fiscal 2011 budget gap was 9.4%, better than the national average of 19.9%. However, debt as a percentage of revenue was 60.2%, higher than a majority of states. State spending has been reduced in areas such as public higher education, where funds were cut for the third year in a row. But residents have resisted efforts to change course. Earlier this month, Missouri voters narrowly rejected a ballot initiative to raise the state's cigarette tax to 90 cents a pack, up from a nation-low 17 cents a pack.

26. Maryland
> Debt per capita: $4,250 (16th highest)
> Budget deficit: 15.3% (24th largest)
> Unemployment: 7.0% (15th lowest)
> Median household income: $70,004 (the highest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 10.1% (2nd lowest)

Maryland has the nation's highest median household income at just over $70,000, well above the national median of $50,502. Residents paid 10.2% of their income in state and local taxes in fiscal 2010 - one of the higher rates in the nation. The state's tax climate is also one of the worst for businesses, according to the Tax Foundation. Maryland was also one of the nation's smallest exporters, shipping just $1,867 in goods abroad per resident in 2011, well below half the national figure of $4,752. As of August, tax revenue collections had exceeded the state's Board of Revenue Estimates projections by about $225 million. This may help the state avoid a budget shortfall like the one it had in fiscal 2011, when it faced a $2 billion budget deficit, equal to 15.3% of that year's budget.

27. North Carolina
> Debt per capita: $1,983 (9th lowest)
> Budget deficit: 30.6% (7th largest)
> Unemployment: 10.5% (tied-6th highest)
> Median household income: $43,916 (12th lowest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 17.9% (13th highest)

In recent years, North Carolina has had a mixed track record. In fiscal 2010, the state had one of the nation's lowest debts per capita, and 96% of employees' pension plans were funded - the second-highest percentage in the nation. But in fiscal 2011, North Carolina's budget shortfall reached nearly one-third of the 2011 budget, higher than most states. The state has struggled with especially high unemployment rates, which at 10.5% in 2011 is tied for the sixth-highest in the nation. Despite these problems, North Carolina maintains perfect credit ratings from both Moody's and S&P. Additionally, Site Selection, a magazine covering corporate real estate strategy, ranked North Carolina's business climate as the nation's best.

28. Alabama
> Debt per capita: $1,841 (8th lowest)
> Budget deficit: 12.3% (29th largest)
> Unemployment: 9.0% (tied-18th highest)
> Median household income: $41,415 (5th lowest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 19.0% (tied-8th highest)

In fiscal 2010, few states had lower debt per capita than Alabama's $1,841. And while the state did face a budget shortfall in fiscal 2011, it was smaller than most states', at just 12.3%. Because the state faces difficult times ahead, Alabama has approved the use of state trust funds to help support certain operations, such as Medicaid and prisons. Matters are especially bad in Alabama's Jefferson County, which entered bankruptcy in November 2011 after losing money on complicated debt and interest rate contracts.

29. Colorado
> Debt per capita: $3,335 (24th lowest)
> Budget deficit: 25.1% (13th largest)
> Unemployment: 8.3% (23rd highest)
> Median household income: $55,387 (15th highest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 13.5% (tied-17th lowest)

Colorado's finances were not well-managed in recent years. In fiscal 2010, the state's ratio of debt-to-revenues and the percentage of pension liabilities funded were worse than most states. Few states spent less of their fiscal 2010 budget on public welfare than Colorado's 18.4%. In fiscal 2011, the state's budget shortfall equaled one-quarter of its budget, among the nation's higher rates. Still, according to Governor John Hickenlooper, "The overwhelming approval of Colorado's most recent budget indicates the state is a place where people get work done, and they get it done collaboratively and pragmatically." Colorado's economy faces several major challenges. Homeowners are struggling - the state had one of the nation's highest foreclosure rates - and the state was one of the nation's weakest exporters, at just $1,433 in exports per capita.

30. Ohio
> Debt per capita: $2,703 (19th lowest)
> Budget deficit: 11.0% (31st largest)
> Unemployment: 8.6% (tied-22nd highest)
> Median household income: $45,749 (16th lowest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 16.4% (20th highest)

Ohio relies heavily on the manufacturing industry, but a national decline in the sector has hurt the state economy. In the most recent years, the economy has been stagnant. Unemployment is near the national average. GDP grew by 1.1% in 2011, less than the national GDP growth of 1.5%. Ohio's potential for new business is limited by what the Tax Foundation defines as one of the more unfavorable business tax climates in the country. Moreover, around this time last year, Ohio voters repealed a law curtailing collective bargaining in the state, which many leaders argue will hinder the state's ability to attract new businesses. The state appears to be managing its finances well, with a respectable 12th-lowest debt-to-revenue ratio in fiscal 2010.

31. Michigan
> Debt per capita: $3,251 (21st lowest)
> Budget deficit: 9.3% (38th largest)
> Unemployment: 10.3% (tied-8th highest)
> Median household income: $45,981 (17th lowest)
> Pct. below poverty line:  17.5% (tied-15th highest)

Even though Michigan's GDP grew by 2.3% in 2011 - more than all but five states - the state's economy continued to struggle by many measures. Michigan's unemployment rate was 10.3%, among the highest in the nation, though definitely an improvement from the year before when 12.7% of the workforce was unemployed. Additionally, between 2006 and 2011, the median home value in Michigan fell by 23% - only four other states saw larger decreases. As of last year, one in every 45 homes was in foreclosure, among the highest rates in the nation.

32. Arkansas
> Debt per capita: $1,464 (4th lowest)
> Budget deficit: None
> Unemployment: 8.0% (tied-25th lowest)
> Median household income: $38,758 (3rd lowest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 19.5% (4th highest)

In fiscal 2010, Arkansas owed just under $1,500 per capita, one of the smallest amounts in the nation. That year, the state faced a budget shortfall equal to just 9.1% of its budget, lower than most other states. In fiscal 2011, Arkansas was one of just four states with no budget shortfall. Although the state's finances were well handled, Arkansas remains poor compared to the rest of the U.S. The state has one of the highest poverty rates in the nation. And at only 83.8%, it also has one of the lowest percentages of adults with a high school diploma, more than two percentage points below the national rate. Despite strong finances, Moody's cited "low wealth levels" as a factor in not awarding the state its highest credit rating.

33. Oklahoma
> Debt per capita: $2,664 (17th lowest)
> Budget deficit: 13.7% (27th largest)
> Unemployment: 6.2% (8th lowest)
> Median household income: $43,225 (10th lowest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 17.2% (16th highest)

Between 2006 and 2011, Oklahoma's median home value rose 19.2%, the fourth-highest increase in the country during that time. In fiscal 2010, Oklahoma had one of the nation's largest pension gaps, with just 56% of pension liabilities funded. Earlier this year, the State Senate's Minority Leader Sean Burrage told The Oklahoman that the state has cut education funding too deeply in recent years. Last year, 86.3% of Oklahoma's adults had a high school diploma, slightly better than the 85.9% rate nationally.

34. Georgia
> Debt per capita: $1,426 (3rd lowest)
> Budget deficit: 25.4% (12th largest)
> Unemployment: 9.8% (tied-10th highest)
> Median household income: $46,007 (18th lowest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 19.1% (tied-6th highest)

Georgia was one of the 10 states given the highest credit rating by both Moody's and the S&P, with Moody's noting the state's "conservative fiscal management, moderate debt burden and relatively well-funded pensions" as well as its "history of rapid reserve building" as reasons for the rating. The state had one of the nation's larger budget shortfalls in fiscal 2011 and was also hit hard by the housing crisis. Between 2006 and 2011, the median home value declined by more than 6%, among the country's largest declines. The impact of the housing crisis was still felt last year, when the state had one of the nation's highest foreclosure rates, with 1 in every 37 homes in foreclosure.

35. Maine
> Debt per capita: $4,542 (12th highest)
> Budget deficit: 34.7% (5th largest)
> Unemployment: 7.5% (tied-20th lowest)
> Median household income: $46,033 (19th lowest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 14.1% (23rd lowest)

In fiscal 2011, Maine had one of the nation's largest budget shortfalls, equal to nearly 35% of its budget. The state is still slashing programs, including Medicaid, which accounted for the majority of the cuts in May's budget-balancing bill. Maine's residents do not earn as much as residents of other New England states. The state's median household income was just $46,000, more than $15,000 below Massachusetts and Connecticut. Maine's economic output has also lagged recently, with GDP contracting by 0.4% - a bigger decline than all but five states.

36. Connecticut
> Debt per capita: $8,465 (4th highest)
> Budget deficit: 28.8% (9th largest)
> Unemployment: 8.8% (19th highest)
> Median household income: $65,753 (4th highest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 10.9% (5th lowest)

Connecticut had one of the nation's highest median household incomes in 2011, more than $15,000 above the national median. The state is also a hub for high-paying financial jobs. The finance and insurance industry accounted for for 19.4% of GDP, more than nearly every other state. Few states, however, have a higher tax burden than Connecticut; state and local taxes reached 12.8% of income in fiscal 2010. Despite these tax payments, the state had a large budget shortfall in fiscal 2011 and again faces revenue shortfalls this year. The state has struggled with debt and owed the equivalent of 112.8% of its budget during fiscal 2010, the second-highest percentage in the nation.

37. Kentucky
> Debt per capita: $3,323 (23th lowest)
> Budget deficit: 9.1% (tied-39th largest)
> Unemployment: 9.5% (tied-13th highest)
> Median household income: $41,141 (4th lowest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 19.1% (tied-6th highest)

Kentucky is one of the most-improved states on our list. When we first ranked the states in 2010, it was rated as the worst-run state in the country. Two years later, following our inclusion of GDP growth rate, tax burden, and exports, it has jumped 13 slots. While the state is not in the top ten in any of the new measures, it ranks average or above average for much of the new data considered. According to the Courier-Journal, tax revenues have risen 2.1% in the first quarter of the 2012-2013 fiscal year from last year. In 2011, the state had one of the lowest foreclosure rates in the country, the tenth-lowest violent crime rate, and a relatively minor budget shortfall of just 9.1%. Despite these positives, residents of the state continue to face some serious obstacles. In 2011, close to one in five Kentucky residents, or 19.1% of its population, were living below the poverty line. This was one of the highest rates in the country. Median income in the state last year was lower than all but three states - more than $9,000 less than the U.S. median.

38. Hawaii
> Debt per capita: $5,682 (9th highest)
> Budget deficit: 16.2% (tied-20th largest)
> Unemployment: 6.7% (tied-11th lowest)
> Median household income: $61,821 (8th highest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 12.0% (12th lowest)

With a median household income of $61,821, more than $10,000 over the national median, Hawaii was one of America's highest-earning states in 2011. Last year, Hawaii had proportionally fewer residents without health insurance than almost every other state. Still, the state did have significant economic and financial troubles. Hawaii's economy contracted by 0.2%, making it one of just six states to have GDP shrink in 2011. Hawaii also exported less per capita than any other state. The state also depended on the government for economic growth - government spending accounted for a larger percentage of GDP than in any other state. Also, according to the Council for Community and Economic research, the cost of living in Hawaii was 170% that of the U.S. as a whole, more than any other state.

39. New York
> Debt per capita: $6,694 (6th highest)
> Budget deficit: 15.9% (tied-22nd largest)
> Unemployment: 8.2% (24th highest)
> Median household income: $55,246 (16th highest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 16.0% (tied-22nd highest)

New York's 2012 ranking was weakened by a per capita debt of $6,694, one of the highest in the country. State coffers were boosted in part by fines collected from financial institutions, including a fine of $340 million levied on Standard Chartered, the largest fine ever collected by a single regulator, and $150 million fine levied against ING. But changes to Wall Street compensation could work against the state budget. The state comptroller predicts that bonuses will fall by 14% in 2012 compared to the prior year, while banks are offering more deferred compensation, which can't be taxed immediately. Given that taxes on Wall Street employees' income and real estate deals counted for nearly 14% of the state's total tax revenue in 2011, trying times for Wall Street bankers could mean problems ahead for New York's budget.

40. Mississippi
> Debt per capita: $2,182 (11th lowest)
> Budget deficit: 15.9% (tied-22nd largest)
> Unemployment: 10.7% (4th highest)
> Median household income: $36,919 (the lowest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 22.6% (the highest)

Last year, Mississippi had the nation's lowest median income. At just under $37,000, it was more than $13,500 below the national median income. Along with that distinction, no state had a higher poverty rate than Mississippi's 22.6%, which was double the rate of six states. Mississippi has also fallen behind the rest of the nation in recovering from the financial crisis. The state's GDP shrank by 0.8% in 2011, the second largest decline in the country, and 10.7% of the state's workforce was unemployed, the fourth-highest figure in the U.S. According to The Commercial Appeal, there are currently as many residents employed as in the mid-1990s, though the state's population has risen from 2.7 million to nearly 3 million.

41. Louisiana
> Debt per capita: $3,861 (20th highest)
> Budget deficit: 14.3% (26th largest)
> Unemployment: 7.3% (tied-16th lowest)
> Median household income: $41,734 (7th lowest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 20.4% (3rd highest)

A very large part of Louisiana's economy relies on its role as a hub for the Gulf of Mexico oil extraction and refining sector. The state's mining industry, which includes oil extraction, contributed $27.4 billion last year to the state's GDP, second only to Texas. While it has been more than seven years since Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, the state is in many ways still dealing with the consequences of the storm. The state had one of the highest violent crime rates in the country in 2011. New Orleans, itself, had the highest murder rate in the country in 2011. Due in part to a lack of tax revenue, the state now spends the tenth-smallest proportion of its budget on social welfare. The state has recently made further cuts to its programs, including Medicaid.

42. Florida
> Debt per capita: $2,155 (10th lowest)
> Budget deficit: 19.5% (19th largest)
> Unemployment: 10.5% (tied-6th highest)
> Median household income: $44,299 (14th lowest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 17.0% (17th highest)

Florida was easily the state most affected on the East Coast by the housing collapse. As of 2011, 15.6% of the state's GDP came from the real estate, more than all but two states.The still-foundering housing industry is a major sourceof Florida's problems. Between 2006 and 2011, median home value in Florida plunged by 34.5%, from $230,600 to $151,000. Last year, more than one in every 50 homes were in foreclosure, one of the highest rates in the country. Florida's GDP grew by just 0.5% in 2011, at just a third of national GDP growth. The state's unemployment rate last year, at 10.4%, was the sixth-highest in the country. According to a report by the Orlando Sentinel, the state is expected to have a budget surplus in 2012, but these gains will not be enough to restore funding to some of the areas that have seen major budget cuts during the recession, such as education, roads, and environmental programs.

43. South Carolina

> Debt per capita: $3,419 (25th highest)
> Budget deficit: 26.1% (11th largest)
> Unemployment: 10.3% (tied-8th highest)
> Median household income: $42,367 (9th lowest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 18.9% (9th highest)

South Carolina's economy has struggled in recent years. Last year, the state had one of the nation's highest unemployment rates, as well as among the lowest median household income in the country. In recent years, South Carolina's finances have been strained, with the state having proportionally larger budget shortfalls and unfunded pension liabilities than most other states. In January, the state instituted a controversial policy requiring adults who have collected unemployment benefits for at least five months to accept a job that pays minimum wage.

44. New Mexico
> Debt per capita: $4,261 (15th highest)
> Budget deficit: 9.1% (tied-39th largest)
> Unemployment: 7.4% (tied-18th lowest)
> Median household income: $41,963 (8th lowest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 21.5% (2nd highest)

While New Mexico's unemployment rate of 7.4% was 1.5 percentage points below the national figure, the average citizen isn't that well off. New Mexico had the second-highest poverty rate in the country in 2011, with 21.5% of residents living below the poverty line. The state exported just $1,003 worth of goods per capita in 2011, the second lowest amount of all states. The state currently has some challenges, much of which are beyond its control. It has spent significant resources putting out a massive outbreak of wildfires this summer. Another concern for New Mexico is the fiscal cliff, which could hit the state especially hard due to its heavy reliance - compared to most states - on federal spending.

45. Nevada
> Debt per capita: $1,646 (5th lowest)
> Budget deficit: 54.5% (the largest)
> Unemployment: 13.5% (the highest)
> Median household income: $48,927 (24th lowest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 15.9% (23rd highest)

Perhaps no other state has suffered from the housing crisis as much as Nevada. Between 2006 and 2011, the median home value plummeted 49.9%, from $315,200 to $158,000, the largest decline in the nation. As of last year, one in every 16 homes was in foreclosure, the highest rate in the nation. In fiscal 2011, no state had a larger budget shortfall than Nevada. Last year, Nevada also had the second-highest rate of workers without full-time jobs, at 22.7%, and the highest unemployment rate of any state, at 13.5%. This was 4.6 percentage points above the nationwide unemployment rate of 8.9%.

46. New Jersey
> Debt per capita: $6,944 (5th highest)
> Budget deficit: 38.2% (4th largest)
> Unemployment: 9.3% (14th highest)
> Median household income: $67,458 (3rd highest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 10.4% (3rd lowest)

Between 2010 and 2011, New Jersey's GDP contracted by 0.5%, more than all but three other states. The state's median household income and poverty rate were both third best in the nation. On the other hand, the state's tax burden on its residents was second highest in the U.S. in 2010. Residents paid 12.4% of their income in state and local taxes, higher than any other state except New York. The state has many budget problems, as well. New Jersey's debt as a percentage of revenue was 91.6%, the fifth-highest of all states.

47. Arizona
> Debt per capita: $2,188 (12th lowest)
> Budget deficit: 39.0% (3rd largest)
> Unemployment: 9.5% (tied-13th highest)
> Median household income: $46,709 (21st lowest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 19.0% (tied-8th highest)

Between 2006 and 2011, the value of homes in Arizona tumbled by 35%, more than every state except for Nevada. The state also had the nation's second-highest foreclosure rate in 2011, with one in every 24 homes in foreclosure. In the aftermath of the financial crisis, Arizona had some of the nation's largest budget shortfalls. In fiscal 2010, the state had a shortfall of $5.1 billion, equal to 65% of its general fund. In fiscal 2011, Arizona's budget deficit was 39.0% of its general fund, the third-highest in the nation. In the recent state elections, residents voted on several measures intended to shore up the state's finances. Voters rejected the continuation of a sales tax hike, while approving the restructuring of the state's property tax assessment system.

48. Illinois
> Debt per capita: $4,790 (11th highest)
> Budget deficit: 40.2% (2nd largest)
> Unemployment: 9.8% (tied-10th highest)
> Median household income: $53,234 (18th highest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 15.0% (25th highest)

Although many states have budget issues, Illinois' faces among the biggest problems. In 2010, the state's budget shortfall was more than 40% of its general fund, the second-highest of any state. Both S&P and Moody's gave Illinois credit ratings that were the second-worst of all states. In addition, the state only funded 45% of its pension liability in 2010, the lowest percentage of any state. Governor Patrick Quinn has made the now-$85 billion pension gap a top priority for the new legislative session beginning in January.

49. Rhode Island
> Debt per capita: $9,018 (3rd highest)
> Budget deficit: 13.4% (28th largest)
> Unemployment: 11.3% (3rd highest)
> Median household income: $53,636 (17th highest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 14.7% (24th lowest)

Rhode Island's finances were a mess in fiscal 2010. The state had $9.5 billion in unpaid debts, which came to 107.2% of that year's revenues.At more than $9,000 per person, it's one of the largest debt burdens in the country. The state also funded less than half of its pension obligations, worse than all states except for Illinois. In 2010, in a spectacular example of fiscal mismanagement, the state guaranteed a $75 million loan to a video game company, which has since defaulted. With one of the nation's slowest growth rates and the third-highest unemployment rate in the U.S., at 11.3%, Rhode Island's economy performed poorly overall..

50. California
> Debt per capita: $4,008 (18th highest)
> Budget deficit: 20.7% (17th largest)
> Unemployment: 11.7% (2nd highest)
> Median household income: $57,287 (10th highest)
> Pct. below poverty line: 16.6% (18th highest)

California is 24/7 Wall St.'s "Worst Run State" for the second year in a row. Due to high levels of debt, the state's S&P credit rating is the worst of all states, while its Moody's credit rating is the second-worst. Much of California's fiscal woes involve the economic downturn. Home prices plunged by 33.6% between 2006 and 2011, worse than all states except for three. The state's foreclosure rate and unemployment rate were the third- and second-highest in the country, respectively. But efforts to get finances on track are moving forward. State voters passed a ballot initiative to raise sales taxes as well as income taxes for people who make at least $250,000 a year. While median income is the 10th-highest in the country, the state also has one of the highest tax burdens on income. According to the Tax Foundation, the state also has the third-worst business tax climate in the country.

- Michael B. Sauter, Alexander E. M. Hess, Samuel Weigley and Ashley C. Allen

Methodology

24/7 Wall St. considered data from a number of sources, including Standard & Poor's, the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the U.S. Census Bureau, the Tax Foundation, RealtyTrac, The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Conference of State Legislators.

Unemployment data was taken from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Credit ratings were from ratings agencies S&P and Moody's. We relied on the FBI's Uniform Crime Report for violent crime rate by state and large metropolitan areas. RealtyTrac provided foreclosure rates.

A significant amount of the data we used came from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey. Data from ACS included percentage of residents below the poverty line, high school completion for those 25 and older, median household income, percentage of the population without health insurance and the change in median home values from 2006 to 2011. These are the values we used in our ranking.

Once we reviewed the sources and compiled the final metrics, we ranked each state based on its performance in all the categories. All data are for the full year 2011, with the exception of debt per capita, obtained from the Tax Foundation, and state budgetary data, which came from the U.S. Census Bureau, and is for fiscal year 2010. New to this year's study was our more detailed review of state industry for 2011, from the the Bureau of Economic Analysis, exports per capita for 2011, from the Census Bureau, and the 2010 tax burden and the current tax business climate, from the Tax Foundation.


Filed under: 24/7 Wall St. Wire, Economy, Housing, Jobs, Politics Tagged: featured

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