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Economic Opportunity Rankings

Determining which states have the least poverty

Downtown Des Moines, Iowa with the Pioneers of the Territory statue in the foreground.  The statue was made by Karl Gerhardt in 1892.

Browse Photos of the 50 States

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Forty percent of the weighting given to measurements of opportunity address the question of economic opportunity. This involves the percentage of households living below the federal poverty line – with Mississippi ranking lowest in this area. The metrics include food insecurity, a count of children and adults alike who don’t get adequate nutrition – Mississippi ranking lowest, North Dakota best in this measure. It takes into account the median household income in it gauges the disparity of income between the lowest-income households and the highest – with Alaska showing the smallest disparity between rich and poor. These four comprehensive metrics are indicators of more than just economic opportunity in a given state – they intersect with employment, stability and health and affect the quality of life of a state's population.

New Hampshire is the No. 1 state for economic opportunity, followed by Alaska, Maryland, Hawaii and North Dakota. The overall Best State, Iowa, ranked 15th in this subcategory. The bottom-15 states for economic opportunity are all in the Southeast and Southwest, including Arkansas, Alabama, Louisiana and No. 50 Mississippi.

Best States for Economic Opportunity

Economic Opportunity Rank State Gini Index Household Income Low Food Insecurity Low Poverty Rate
#1 New Hampshire NH 3 7 2 1
#2 Alaska AK 1 2 28 6
#3 Maryland MD 11 1 8 3
#4 Hawaii HI 5 5 21 2
#5 North Dakota ND 16 17 1 10
#6 Minnesota MN 9 13 3 5
#7 Utah UT 2 11 24 7
#8 Massachusetts MA 37 4 4 8
#9 Wyoming WY 4 19 16 14
#10 New Jersey NJ 41 3 5 9
#11 Wisconsin WI 10 24 6 17
#12 Colorado CO 21 12 14 12
#13 Virginia VA 29 8 7 11
#14 Delaware DE 14 15 12 16
#15 Iowa IA 6 26 11 18
#16 Washington WA 22 10 21 13
#17 Nebraska NE 7 22 16 15
#18 Vermont VT 17 20 10 19
#19 Connecticut CT 48 6 14 4
#20 South Dakota SD 8 29 12 25
#21 Kansas KS 18 28 26 20
#22 Illinois IL 40 16 9 24
#23 Rhode Island RI 36 18 18 22
#24 Oregon OR 20 21 30 27
#25 Maine ME 13 32 32 21
#26 Pennsylvania PA 27 23 24 23
#27 Nevada NV 19 27 27 28
#28 Idaho ID 12 36 29 32
#29 Indiana IN 15 35 31 30
#30 California CA 47 9 18 31
#31 Montana MT 25 40 23 26
#32 Missouri MO 24 37 38 29
#33 Michigan MI 28 33 34 36
#34 Ohio OH 26 34 42 33
#35 New York NY 50 14 20 35
#36 South Carolina SC 33 41 36 37
#37 Texas TX 39 25 39 39
#38 Arizona AZ 31 31 40 43
#39 Oklahoma OK 23 42 44 42
#40 Florida FL 46 38 34 34
#41 Tennessee TN 38 43 37 40
#42 Georgia GA 41 30 44 41
#43 North Carolina NC 35 39 46 38
#44 West Virginia WV 30 49 33 46
#45 Kentucky KY 41 45 40 47
#46 New Mexico NM 34 44 42 48
#47 Arkansas AR 32 48 49 45
#48 Alabama AL 45 46 48 44
#49 Louisiana LA 49 47 47 49
#50 Mississippi MS 44 50 50 50

Gini Index

The Gini index, developed more than a century ago, is the most common measure of income inequality among households, with zero representing total income equality and 1 representing total inequality. In tracking the index, the U.S. Census Bureau reported its most recent findings from its 2016 surveys. Alaska stood out as the state with the lowest Gini index – 0.4081 – which made the state’s households closer to income equality than other states. New York had the highest index – 0.5129 – and, therefore, the greatest income inequality. The Rocky Mountain states generally ranked closest to equality – 0.4487 – and Middle Atlantic states most unequal – 0.4864.

Household Income

The median annual household income in the United States in 2016 was $58,552. The 2016 Census found Maryland ranking No. 1, with a median household income of $78,945. Mississippi had the lowest, $41,754. The calculations used in the evaluation of household income show that, regionally, New England enjoyed the highest median household income – $70,501 – and the Southeast the lowest median income – $51,050.

Low Food Insecurity

More than one in eight Americans suffered from food insecurity – children and adults alike who don’t get adequate nutrition, according to the organization Feeding America, in 2015. More than half of the top-10 rated states for economic opportunity in America also had among the lowest rates of food insecurity. North Dakota ranked No. 1, with a rate of 7.7 percent, and New Hampshire No. 2, with a rate of 9.7 percent. Mississippi ranked lowest, with 21.5 percent of households experiencing food insecurity. Regionally, New England on average had the lowest rate – 11.3 percent – and the Southwest the highest – 15.8 percent.

Low Poverty Rate

In 2016, the Census Bureau reported, there were 40.6 million people living in poverty in the United States– about 12.7 percent of the population. In the metrics evaluating poverty in the rankings for opportunity, the state with the lowest percentage of households living beneath the poverty line in 2016 was New Hampshire: 7.3 percent. Another state highly ranked for its opportunity for citizens, Maryland, ranked third, with a rate of 9.7 percent. The states with the highest percentages of people living in poverty were Mississippi – 20.8 percent – and Louisiana – 20.2 percent. Regionally, New England states had the lowest rates – 10.4 percent on average – and Southeastern states the highest rates – 16 percent on average.