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The Best and Worst States to Make a Living 2015: State by State

June 26, 2015

Living costs and local taxation can vary widely, making a dollar earned here not the same as one earned there. Yet we all seek the same goal: Finding the best possible environments for ourselves and for our families to thrive.

With this in mind, MoneyRates evaluated several factors to determine where workers had the best shot at a healthy paycheck, a decent cost of living and safe workplaces. 

Top 10 Best States to Make a Living

1. Texas

Texas
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Texas was the best state to make a living for 2015, moving up from 2nd place last year. Although average wages in Texas was only slightly above the national average, workers in Texas get good value from those wages.

  • Cost of living index: 94.4
  • Average wage: $45,330
  • State tax on average income: $0
  • Unemployment rate: 4.2 percent
  • Workplace illness, injuries and fatalities per 100 workers: 2.7

2. Washington

Washington
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Unlike Texas, which was above average across the board, Washington scored well because it has one of the highest average wages in the country and workers in the state get to keep more of their pay because there is no state income tax. 

  • Cost of living index: 104.1
  • Average wage: $52,540
  • State tax on average income: $0
  • Unemployment rate: 5.5 percent
  • Workplace illness, injuries and fatalities per 100 workers: 4.9

3. Wyoming

Wyoming
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Wyoming scored near the top because the cost of living and unemployment are well below the levels in most states.

  • Cost of living index: 92.7
  • Average wage: $44,930
  • State tax on average income: $0
  • Unemployment rate: 4.1 percent
  • Workplace illness, injuries and fatalities per 100 workers: 3.5

4. Virginia

Virginia
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Moving up from last year's seventh-place ranking, Virginia has one of the highest average wages in the nation. Virginia also scored very well in terms of workplace safety, tying for the third-lowest rate of reported incidents. 

  • Cost of living index: 99.7
  • Average wage: $50,750
  • State tax on average income: $2,660.63
  • Unemployment rate: 4.8 percent
  • Workplace illness, injuries and fatalities per 100 workers: 2.9

5. Illinois

Illinois
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The key to its high ranking is that Illinois has relatively high wages combined with a reasonable tax rate and cost of living. 

  • Cost of living index: 96.3
  • Average wage: $48,780
  • State tax on average income: $1,749.56
  • Unemployment rate: 6 percent
  • Workplace illness, injuries and fatalities per 100 workers: 3.5

6. Michigan

Michigan
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This year, Michigan improved all the way from 32nd to 6th in this study, and the most obvious reason is that the unemployment rate dropped from 7.4 percent to 5.4 percent. 

  • Cost of living index: 90.9
  • Average wage: $45,140
  • State tax on average income: $1,918.45
  • Unemployment rate: 5.4 percent
  • Workplace illness, injuries and fatalities per 100 workers: 3.8

7. Colorado

Colorado
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Despite slipping from No. 4 to No. 7 this year, Colorado still ranks well for high wages and low unemployment. Colorado made significant improvement in unemployment over the past year, dropping from 6 percent to 4.2 percent.

  • Cost of living index: 102.2
  • Average wage: $49,860
  • State tax on average income: $2,308.52
  • Unemployment rate: 4.2 percent
  • Workplace illness, injuries and fatalities per 100 workers: 3.7

8. Delaware

Delaware
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In addition to having relatively high wages and low unemployment, Delaware also has one of the lowest rates of workplace safety incidents.

  • Cost of living index: 103.1
  • Average wage: $49,520
  • State tax on average income: $2,361.86
  • Unemployment rate: 4.5 percent
  • Workplace illness, injuries and fatalities per 100 workers: 3

9. Ohio

Ohio
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With a low cost of living and low state income tax rate, workers in Ohio actually come out well ahead of their counterparts in most other states. Ohio also ranked high for workplace safety.

  • Cost of living index: 93.0
  • Average wage: $43,900
  • State tax on average income: $1,072.57
  • Unemployment rate: 5.2 percent
  • Workplace illness, injuries and fatalities per 100 workers: 3

10. Utah

Utah
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Utah hung on to just make the top 10 in 2015. Utah's 3.4 percent unemployment rate is well below the national average, and the cost of living in the state is also very low.

  • Cost of living index: 91.2
  • Average wage: $43,550
  • State tax on average income: $2,177.50
  • Unemployment rate:  3.4 percent
  • Workplace illness, injuries and fatalities per 100 workers: 3.4

Top 10 Worst States to Make a Living

50. Hawaii

Hawaii
Photo by iStock

Hawaii ranks as the worst of all states for making a living. The state has the highest cost of living of any state. 

  • Cost of living index: 170.8
  • Average wage: $46,230
  • State tax on average income: $3,073.77
  • Unemployment rate:  4.1 percent
  • Workplace illness, injuries and fatalities per 100 workers: 3.8

49. Oregon

Oregon
Photo by iStock

The cost of living in Oregon is not as high as in Hawaii, but it is 28.5 percent higher than the national average. 

  • Cost of living index: 128.5
  • Average wage: $46,850
  • State tax on average income: $3,981.50
  • Unemployment rate:  5.2 percent
  • Workplace illness, injuries and fatalities per 100 workers: 4.1

48. Maine

Maine
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Maine is tied for the highest frequency of workplace illness, injuries and fatalities. The state had 5.3 workplace incidents per 100 workers. 

  • Cost of living index: 115.8
  • Average wage: $42,140
  • State tax on average income: $2,709.16
  • Unemployment rate:  4.7 percent
  • Workplace illness, injuries and fatalities per 100 workers: 5.3

47. West Virginia

West Virginia
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Unemployment remains a big problem in West Virginia, where the 7 percent rate of joblessness is second highest in the nation.

  • Cost of living index: 104.8
  • Average wage: $37,880
  • State tax on average income: $1,479.60
  • Unemployment rate:  7 percent
  • Workplace illness, injuries and fatalities per 100 workers: 3.8

46. Vermont

Vermont
Photo by iStock

Vermont suffers from a combination of below-average wages and an above-average cost of living. It also has a high frequency of workplace safety incidents. 

  • Cost of living index: 123.6
  • Average wage: $44,540
  • State tax on average income: $1,829.47
  • Unemployment rate:  3.6 percent
  • Workplace illness, injuries and fatalities per 100 workers: 5.3

45. California

California
Photo by iStock

The unemployment rate and the frequency of workplace safety incidents are both higher in California than the national average.

  • Cost of living index: 138.2
  • Average wage: $53,890
  • State tax on average income: $2,523.00
  • Unemployment rate:  6.3 percent
  • Workplace illness, injuries and fatalities per 100 workers: 4

44. Montana

Montana
Photo by iStock

Average wages in Montana are well below the national standard. Montana is also among the worst states for workplace safety.

  • Cost of living index: 102.1
  • Average wage: $39,880
  • State tax on average income: $2,208.72
  • Unemployment rate:  4 percent
  • Workplace illness, injuries and fatalities per 100 workers: 4.8

43. South Dakota

South Dakota
Photo by iStock

Having no state income tax and a better record for workplace safety allow South Dakota to fare slightly better in these rankings than Montana.

  • Cost of living index: 101.3
  • Average wage: $37,300
  • State tax on average income: $0
  • Unemployment rate:  3.6 percent
  • Workplace illness, injuries and fatalities per 100 workers: 3.7

42. Rhode Island

Rhode Island
Photo by iStock

Rhode Island's biggest problem is high unemployment, and even its above-average wages are not enough to make up for the high cost of living.

  • Cost of living index: 123.3
  • Average wage: $49,570
  • State tax on average income: $1,858.88
  • Unemployment rate:  6.1 percent
  • Workplace illness, injuries and fatalities per 100 workers:  3.7

41. Connecticut

Connecticut
Photo by iStock

High unemployment is a problem in Connecticut and workplace safety is also a concern in the state.

  • Cost of living index: 134.7
  • Average wage: $55,060
  • State tax on average income: $2,578.30
  • Unemployment rate:  6.3 percent
  • Workplace illness, injuries and fatalities per 100 workers: 4.1

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