Worst States to Make a Living 2011

Also see the most recent Worst States to Make a Living feature

Trying to get ahead financially but just not making headway?  Maybe it's not what you're doing, but where you live that's holding you back. 

While the economy is generally in bad shape, some states have been particularly hard hit.  If you're considering relocating, you want to make sure you don't simply trade one bad set of employment conditions for another. Also, what about other factors that will affect your standard of living, such as income levels, cost of living, and state tax rates?

MoneyRates.com has done a comprehensive analysis that takes into account the following factors that affect your ability to make a living:

  • Average state wages
  • State unemployment rate
  • State tax rate
  • State cost of living

Based on these factors, MoneyRates.com calculated an adjusted-average income for each state and ranked states against each other.

Here is the resulting list of the worst ten states for making a living:



10 worst states for making a living


1. Hawaii

 No wonder there's so much crime on Hawaii Five-0! This is undoubtedly a great place to live for many reasons, but it is a tough place for making a living. An extremely high cost of living, coupled with a fairly high tax rate, give Hawaii the lowest adjusted-average income at $22,107.96. With this adjusted average income, Hawaii residents don’t have much to put into their savings accounts.


2. Maine

A combination of relatively low wages and an above-average cost of living give Maine the second-worst adjusted-average income, at $29,159.19.


3. Montana

 With an adjusted-average income of $29,495.73, Montana makes the list primarily because of the state's low average wages.


4. California

 This state's fiscal woes are well-known, and high taxes, high unemployment, and a high cost of living drag its adjusted-average income down to $29,772.40.


5. Vermont

 With an adjusted-average income of $29,985.60, Vermont is only slightly better than California. The state does have a fairly low unemployment rate, but relatively high state taxes and cost of living drag down its ranking.


6. Oregon

 Oregon suffers from an above-average rate of unemployment, and once residents find a job they have to contend with a high cost of living and a high state tax rate. This combination gives Oregon the sixth-worst adjusted-average income in the country, at $30,343.10.

 Rhode Island

7. Rhode Island

 The cost of living, state taxes, and the unemployment rate are all higher than average in Rhode Island. Together, these factors are enough to drag above-average wage levels down to an adjusted-average income of $30,611.87.


8. Mississippi

 The cost of living in Mississippi is cheaper than the average for the country as a whole, but unfortunately, the state's average wage levels are among the lowest in the country. The latter is enough to put Mississippi into the eight slot on this list, with an adjusted-average income of $30,952.90.

 West Virginia

9. West Virginia

 West Virginia's characteristics are similar to those of Mississippi - a low cost of living is not enough to make up for very low wage levels in the state. Wages are a little higher in West Virginia than in Mississippi, helping West Virginia's adjusted-average income to come in at a slightly better level of $31,357.15.

 South Carolina

10. South Carolina

 Rounding out the ten worst states for making a living is South Carolina, which suffers from a combination of below-average wages, above-average state taxes, and above-average unemployment. The cost of living is slightly cheaper than average in South Carolina, but that's not enough to prevent the state from making this list with an adjusted-average income of $31,636.27.

One of the beauties of living in a large and diverse country is the opportunity to improve your lot by pulling up stakes and relocating somewhere else. This list may help you decide whether your state is unusually challenging for making a living, and if so, which places you might want to avoid if you are thinking of moving to improve your career. 

Or, if you decide to stay put, explore other ways of boosting your income – including moving your money to the best savings accounts, money market accounts and other deposit accounts.

Doing everything right, and still not having success? Take a look at the 10 best states for making a living.

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Lucy 9 August 2011 at 2:20 pm

I'm with 'C' - I also live in CT...unfortunately all my life. It's darn near impossible to survive here. Again, either have to be rich or destitute to survive. If you're poor, you can get pretty much everything for free. If you're middle class, we're paying for those who reap all the free rewards. I don't understand what it is we're getting for all the taxes we're paying...

Shane 28 July 2011 at 4:06 pm

No surprise CA is #4. I live in Northern, CA and love it. 1hr from the mountains and 2hrs from the ocean. The key is having a good education and getting into a field that has a skilled trade thats in demand, ie nurse, pharmacist, doctor etc. My thought process was to get into a field where you can get a good paying job in ANY major city and then find the most scenic city and set up camp there. Medicine and engineering will allow you to flourish in any city including those in CA. You can build a brand new home (for dirt cheap right now) and have an amazing amount things to do in this state. However, as the article warns: don't move here unless you have a good job that you're not going to be layed off from. Baby boomers are aging and our roads and infrastructure have to be replaced. You'll always have a job in medicine/PharmaBiotech or structural/civil engineering in this area of the country. Sacrificing you twenties getting an undergrad/masters/PhD is a small task compared to the rewards it reaps over a lifetime. Just a thought :) Best of luck to all no matter where you choose to set roots.

C 28 July 2011 at 11:52 am

We just moved to CT about 2 years ago, and I'm shocked that it didn't make it in the top 10 worst. What I keep seeing, I think, is that the statistics average in those people near the NY border, who make lots of money, probably in the millions, in with the rest of us, who barely make $60,000 or less; I'd like to see the numbers taking all that into consideration, even if it were based on those making $100,000 or less. This state is pretty, but it is like the comment above, work harder and get no where fast, AND they just raised taxes again!!

Patricia 27 July 2011 at 4:11 pm

I've lived in two of these states: Minnesota and Washington. Both of them are beautiful!! Trade rain and a perpetual spring like weather nearly year round in Washington for 4 actual and often extreme seasons in Minnesota as is with state taxes! Washington has no state tax, but then tax on nearly everything you buy. Minnesota has one of the nations highest taxes! Live in Minnesota and you will find the benefit of those taxes all around you. Great road ways and bountiful parks and recreations and yes many are Free for anyone to enjoy!! Our home in Minnesota had 5 parks within walking distance, not to mention our back yard!! Seems so many homes are on postage sized stamped yards in Seattle and most parks have a sign that reads "for Residents of ........ only". They both offer wonderful places to escape to and enjoy and an income that affords you the ability to.

ST 27 July 2011 at 2:58 pm

California is a wonderful place for jobs in abundance....if, 1) you are an illegal alien and 2) a native Spanish speaker

Martha 27 July 2011 at 2:09 pm

Where does Idaho fit in live next door to Oregon?

Eddie 18 July 2011 at 5:20 am

Ive lived in 2 states on this list Rhode Island and South Carolina and the statistics are accurate i wouldn't recommend anyone to live in either of them you will just be working harder and harder and get no where.