Deciding on a place to call home can be a tough process. You’ll need to balance things like the cost of living with job opportunities, quality of education and safety. Personal preference also comes into the equation, as you’ll want to live somewhere with the types of attractions, recreational opportunities and weather that suit you. Luckily, there’s 50 states to choose from, from frigid Alaska to sunny Florida. Each has its own benefits and drawbacks.
If you do the math, some states clearly outshine others in various categories. To find out the best states to live, WalletHub compared the 50 states based on 52 key indicators of livability. They range from housing costs and income growth to education rate and quality of hospitals.
Top States to Live in
Education & Health
Quality of Life
Note: With the exception of “Total Score,” all of the columns in the table above depict the relative rank of that state, where a rank of 1 represents the best conditions for that metric category.
Finding a good place to live requires looking at many different factors. For advice on the selection process and how states can make themselves a more attractive place to live, we turned to a panel of experts. You can click on the experts below to read their bios and responses to the following key questions:
- Taking into consideration the challenges faced by some states during the pandemic, what steps should a person take to determine if an area is right for him/her to move to?
- What states will gain popularity after the pandemic?
- What are the most important financial factors to consider when deciding where to live?
- What can state policymakers do to attract and retain new residents?
- In evaluating the best states to live in, what are the top five indicators?
Ask the Experts
In order to determine the best and worst states to live in, WalletHub compared the 50 states across five key dimensions: 1) Affordability, 2) Economy, 3) Education & Health, 4) Quality of Life, and 5) Safety.
We evaluated those dimensions using 52 relevant metrics, which are listed below with their corresponding weights. Each metric was graded on a 100-point scale, with a score of 100 representing the most favorable living conditions. For metrics marked with an asterisk (*), the square root of the population was used to calculate the population size in order to avoid overcompensating for minor differences across states.
Finally, we determined each state’s weighted average across all metrics to calculate its overall score and used the resulting scores to rank-order the states.
Affordability - Total Points: 20
- Housing Affordability: Full Weight (~2.22 Points)
Note: This composite metric comprises the following calculations: Median Home Price / Median Annual Household Income and Median Rent Price / Median Annual Household Income.
- Median Annual Property Taxes: Double Weight (~4.44 Points)
Note: This metric was calculated as follows: Median Real Estate Tax / Median House Price.
- Cost of Living: Quadruple Weight (~8.89 Points)
- Median Annual Household Income: Full Weight (~2.22 Points)
- Homeownership Rate: Full Weight (~2.22 Points)
Economy - Total Points: 20
- States that are Recovering the Quickest from COVID-19: Triple Weight (~2.73 Points)
Note: This metric is based on WalletHub’s “States that are Recovering the Quickest from COVID-19” ranking.
- Unemployment Rate: Full Weight (~0.91 Points)
- Underemployment Rate: Full Weight (~0.91 Points)
- Economic Confidence Index: Full Weight (~0.91 Points)
Note: Gallup's U.S. Economic Confidence Index is the average of two components: 1) how Americans rate current economic conditions and 2) whether they feel the economy is improving or getting worse. The index has a theoretical maximum of +100 if all Americans were to say the economy is doing well and improving, and a theoretical minimum of -100 if all were to say the economy is doing poorly and getting worse.
- Share of Population Living in Poverty: Full Weight (~0.91 Points)
- Median Debt per Median Earnings: Triple Weight (~2.73 Points)
- Population Growth: Full Weight (~0.91 Points)
Note: “Growth” compares the population size in 2019 versus in 2015.
- Income Growth: Full Weight (~0.91 Points)
Note: “Growth” compares the median annual household income figure in 2019 versus in 2015.
- Building-Permit Growth: Full Weight (~0.91 Points)
Note: This metric compares the number of annual new, privately owned residential building permits issued between 2018 and 2020.
- Wealth Gap: Full Weight (~0.91 Points)
Note: This metric measures the difference between the highest quintile and the lowest quintile of mean household income.
- General Tax-Friendliness: Full Weight (~0.91 Points)
Note: This metric is based on WalletHub’s “Tax Rates by State” report.
- Entrepreneurial Activity: Double Weight (~1.82 Points)
Note: This metric is based on the Kauffman early-stage entrepreneurship (KESE) index, which is an equally weighted index of four normalized measures of startup activity, as defined by the Kauffman Foundation: the Rate of New Entrepreneurs (percentage of adults becoming entrepreneurs in a given month); the Opportunity Share of New Entrepreneurs (percentage of new entrepreneurs driven primarily by “opportunity” vs. “necessity”); the Startup Early Job Creation (the number of jobs created in the first year of business per capita); and the Startup Early Survival Rate (the rate of survival in the first year of business).
- Job Opportunities: Full Weight (~0.91 Points)
- Foreclosure Rate: Double Weight (~1.82 Points)
- Bankruptcy Rate: Full Weight (~0.91 Points)
- Food Insecurity: Full Weight (~0.91 Points)
Education & Health - Total Points: 20
- Quality of Public School System: Full Weight (~1.74 Points)
Note: This metric is based on WalletHub’s "States with the Best & Worst School Systems" ranking.
- High School Graduation Rate: Double Weight (~3.48 Points)
- Share of Population Aged 25 & Older with a High School Diploma or Higher: Full Weight (~1.74 Points)
- Share of Insured Population: Full Weight (~1.74 Points)
- Quality of Public Hospital System: Full Weight (~1.74 Points)
Note: This metric is based on the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ ranking of public hospital systems.
- Premature-Death Rate: Half Weight (~0.87 Points)
Note: This metric measures the “Average Years of Potential Life Lost” rate. In other words, it refers to the average number of years a person dies before the age of 75.
- Poor or Fair Health: Half Weight (~0.87 Points)
- Life Expectancy: Full Weight (~1.74 Points)
- Share of Live Births with Low Birthweight: Half Weight (~0.87 Points)
- Share of Obese Adults: Double Weight (~3.48 Points)
- Share of Physically Inactive Adults: Full Weight (~1.74 Points)
Quality of Life - Total Points: 20
- Average Hours Worked per Week: Full Weight (~0.93 Points)
- Average Commute Time (in Minutes): Full Weight (~0.93 Points)
- Miles of Trails for Bicycling & Walking per Total State Land Area: Full Weight (~0.93 Points)
- “Bicycle Friendly State” Ranking (proxy for Bike Score): Full Weight (~0.93 Points)
Note: The ranking for each state is based upon a weighted score based upon the state’s score in each of the six categories listed on the Report Card. The weighted category scores are supplemented by discretionary scoring that accounts for 10% of each state’s potential score. They include discretionary scoring to account for erroneous survey data, states with missing data, and other factors that do not easily fit within the survey data and public data used for the category scores.
o Infrastructure & Funding – 20%
o Education & Encouragement – 15%
o Legislation & Enforcement – 15%
o Policies & Programs – 20%
o Evaluation & Planning – 20%
o Discretionary Scoring – 10%
- Access to Public Transportation: Double Weight (~1.86 Points)
Note: This metric measures the share of commuters who use public transit.
- Quality of Roads: Full Weight (~0.93 Points)
Note: This metric measures the share of pavement in poor condition.
- Traffic Congestion: Double Weight (~1.86 Points)
- Restaurants per Capita*: Double Weight (~1.86 Points)
- Bars per Capita*: Full Weight (~0.93 Points)
- Museums per Capita*: Full Weight (~0.93 Points)
- Performing Arts Centers per Capita*: Full Weight (~0.93 Points)
- Movie Theaters per Capita*: Half Weight (~0.47 Points)
- Fitness Centers per Capita*: Double Weight (~1.86 Points)
- Accessibility of Beaches: Full Weight (~0.93 Points)
Note: Composed metric: includes number of beaches per capita (sqrt of pop) and average length of beaches.
- Weather: Triple Weight (~2.79 Points)
Note: This metric is based on WalletHub’s “Cities with the Best & Worst Weather” ranking.
- Air Quality: Full Weight (~0.93 Points)
Safety - Total Points: 20
- Violent-Crime Rate: Full Weight (~3.64 Points)
- Property-Crime Rate: Double Weight (~7.27 Points)
- Traffic-related Fatalities per Capita: Half Weight (~1.82 Points)
- Total Law-Enforcement Employees per Capita: Double Weight (~7.27 Points)
Sources: Data used to create this ranking were obtained from the U.S. Census Bureau, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Council for Community and Economic Research, Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, United Health Foundation, National Center for Education Statistics, American Medical Association, TransUnion, Indeed, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Highway Loss Data Institute, The Road Information Program, Gallup, Inc., Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, Feeding America, Environmental Protection Agency, League of American Bicyclists, Renwood RealtyTrac and WalletHub research.