Defining the Best States to Live in
According to the World Health Organization, quality of life refers to the level to which a person can obtain their needs, meet their goals and address their concerns. An individual's well-being is determined by material conditions, such as housing and income, and more abstract things like health, education, and security. Measuring these metrics across large populations helps researchers and policymakers understand how well programs and governments serve their residents.
The United States ranks 20th in the world for quality of life metrics, outperforming most countries. However, programs and policies make for vastly different qualities of life across states. U.S. News and World Reports publishes its "Best State Rankings" report annually to measure the quality of life in individual states. The best states to live in are those best attending to the needs of their people.
What's Being Measured
The rankings measure 71 metrics across eight categories. The eight categories measured are healthcare, education, economy, infrastructure, opportunity, fiscal stability, crime and corrections, and the natural environment. Further explanation of each category is provided below.
- Healthcare measures how well people can access quality healthcare. It also looks at the public's general health, including metrics like obesity rates, the prevalence of smoking, and levels of exercise and activity.
- Education measures how well public schools perform in terms of testing and graduation rates and tuition costs associated with higher education and college debt load.
- Economy has to do with economic potential, including metrics like job growth, population growth and how frequently new businesses open.
- Infrastructure includes transportation availability, road quality, communications, and internet access.
- Opportunity includes the cost of living, housing costs and gender and racial equality.
- Fiscal Stability considers the health of the government's finances, including how well the state balances its budget.
- Crime and Corrections includes rates of crime and incarceration.
- Natural Environment includes things like air and water quality and pollution levels.
When it comes to the best states in the United States, competition is fierce. The top-performing states tend to shift from year to year as progress is made in some areas and lost in others. The situation is quite different from the country's worst states, as the worst states to live in have remained mostly the same since 2017.
The Top Ten Best States to Live in 2022
Florida (#10 overall)
- Healthcare: 25
- Education: 3
- Economy: 8
- Infrastructure: 20
- Opportunity: 33
- Fiscal Stability: 7
- Crime & Corrections: 26
- Natural Environment: 18
U.S. & World News ranks Florida the tenth best state to live in in 2022. Florida has seen consistent gains in the rankings, having placed 13th in 2019 and 24th in 2017.
While Florida's K-12 Public schools perform about on par with national averages, the state's higher education system ranks first in the nation for access and affordability. There are no Ivy League schools in Florida, but the state has a vast network of colleges and universities serving hundreds of thousands of students each year. Florida leads the nation in offering low-cost schooling with high graduating rates and low post-school debt loads.
Florida's economy is also one of the strongest in the nation. In 2021, Florida's GDP was over $1.1 trillion. If it were a country, Florida would be the fifteen wealthiest nation in the world. And the state, and its economy, keep growing. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the state added over 500,000 jobs in 2021, a 6% increase overall, and ranks second in the nation for population growth.
Massachusetts (#9 overall)
- Healthcare: 2
- Education: 2
- Economy: 5
- Infrastructure: 42
- Opportunity: 36
- Fiscal Stability: 43
- Crime & Corrections: 4
- Natural Environment: 4
Massachusetts is the ninth-best state to live in, according to U.S. & World News. The state has seen success in healthcare and education, though its infrastructure ranks among the lowest in the nation.
Massachusetts leads the country in education. The state has some of the nation's best scores on the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) across all grade bands and subjects. It also has the highest college graduation attainment rate in the nation and is home to leading universities, including Harvard, MIT, and Boston College.
Healthcare in Massachusetts is also among the best in the nation, ranking first in access to care, with the greatest number of providers per capita for both primary care and mental health. The state's residents also have the highest level of insurance coverage, with only 3% of the populace reporting they do not have insurance. Massachusetts also does well across lifestyle metrics. The state has the most smoking regulation in the country and some of the lowest levels of tobacco use overall. The state also has one of the lowest levels of obesity (24%).
Infrastructure in Massachusetts, however, ranks among the worst in the nation. A quarter of the roads are in poor condition, and nine percent of its bridges are structurally deficient. Three-hundred and twenty-eight of its dams have high-hazard potential. Lead exposure risk is also among the worst in the nation.
Wisconsin (#8 overall)
- Healthcare: 15
- Education: 8
- Economy: 26
- Infrastructure: 24
- Opportunity: 9
- Fiscal Stability: 9
- Crime & Corrections: 25
- Natural Environment: 17
U.S. & World News ranks Wisconsin the eighth-best state to live in, primarily due to the education and opportunity it affords its people.
Wisconsin's schools outperform the nation in high school graduation rates, with 90% of students graduating high school (compared to the national average of 85%). Wisconsin also outperforms the nation in fourth-grade NAEP scores.
The cost of living in Wisconsin is lower than the national average, with a cost of living index of 93.5. Ten percent of Wisconsin residents are at or below the poverty rate, which is lower than the national average of 12%. Income inequality is low in the state, though racial disparity in homeownership is more prevalent in Wisconsin than in most other states.
Virginia (#7 overall)
- Healthcare: 12
- Education: 12
- Economy: 13
- Infrastructure: 39
- Opportunity: 8
- Fiscal Stability: 18
- Crime & Corrections: 9
- Natural Environment: 19
Virginia is the seventh-best state in the U.S. & World News ranking, a significant improvement from 2018, when the state was ranked 20th. Economic growth and falling crime rates have helped the state's overall ranking.
Virginia's economy is a powerhouse, consistently ranking among the top states for business. CNBC named Virginia the best state for business in 2021. The state's unemployment rate sits at 4.1%, slightly better than the national average. The state also has a low poverty level, with 9.8% of residents falling at or below the poverty line. Only 8.5% of residents experience food insecurity, making it the eighth most food-secure state in the country.
Crime is also low in Virgina, with property and violent crime rates significantly lower than the national average. The state's incarceration rates are higher than the country as a whole, with 422 out of 100,000 individuals imprisoned in the state.
Nebraska (#6 overall)
- Healthcare: 28
- Education: 9
- Economy: 20
- Infrastructure: 6
- Opportunity: 10
- Fiscal Stability: 17
- Crime & Corrections: 31
- Natural Environment: 6
U.S. & World News ranks Nebraska the sixth-best state in the nation to live in, slightly higher than in previous years.
Nebraska's infrastructure is some of the strongest in the nation. The state has one of the highest levels of renewable energy use. 21% of its energy comes from renewable sources. The state's roads are relatively well maintained, with 11% needing repair. High-speed internet access is also widely available, with 90% of residents having access.
The state scores highly in terms of its natural environment. Nebraska has among the most stringent non-smoking regulations and some of the best air quality ratings in the nation. However, the state's water quality is negatively impacted by the state's high level of agricultural activity, with concerns about herbicide runoff into the groundwater.
- Healthcare: 24
- Education: 29
- Economy: 3
- Infrastructure: 10
- Opportunity: 24
- Fiscal Stability: 4
- Crime & Corrections: 10
- Natural Environment: 12
Idaho ranks fifth-best state in the nation, according to U.S. & World News rankings, a huge jump from its 32nd spot in 2017. The state has especially benefited from its recent economic boom.
Idaho has the fastest-growing economy in the nation and the nation's second-highest 5-year GDP growth rate at 17%. The unemployment rate sits at 2.8%, significantly lower than the national average.
Beyond reaping the benefits of the current economic boom, Idaho also enjoys high short- and long-term financial stability levels. Barron's rated Idaho number one state in the nation for creditworthiness. This may be in large part due to the state's budget, which ended 2021 with a $1.6 billion surplus.
New Hampshire (#4 Overall)
- Healthcare: 13
- Education: 13
- Economy: 11
- Infrastructure: 34
- Opportunity: 3
- Fiscal Stability: 33
- Crime & Corrections: 1
- Natural Environment: 2
U.S. & World News ranks New Hampshire the fourth-best state to live in in 2022. The state is no stranger to being in the top five states, as it has been every year since 2017.
New Hampshire leads the nation in crime and corrections. The state has one of the country's lowest incarceration rates, with 197 out of 100,000 individuals imprisoned, significantly lower than the national average of 359 per 100,000. Violent crime in New Hampshire is the second-lowest in the nation. The average rate of property crime in the United States is twice that of New Hampshire.
New Hampshire has some of the highest air quality in the country. While the nation's average is 104 unhealthy air quality days annually, New Hampshire experiences just 14 days of poor air quality a year. The state also produces industrial toxins at a much lower rate than the rest of the country. Furthermore, New Hampshire has the nation's most stringent climate change policies and has one of the highest rates of renewable energy consumption.
Utah (#3 overall)
- Healthcare: 11
- Education: 10
- Economy: 1
- Infrastructure: 5
- Opportunity: 30
- Fiscal Stability: 5
- Crime & Corrections: 8
- Natural Environment: 47
Utah ranks 3rd best state in the nation according to the U.S. & World News report, mainly due to the economy and lifestyle habits of its populace.
Utah's 2.1% unemployment rate is the lowest in the nation, tying with Nebraska. The state leads the country with a job growth rate of 3.6%. Those gains are primarily in the trade, transportation, utilities, professional and business services sectors, and construction and manufacturing.
The state leads the nation in several other metrics as well, including income equality, volunteerism, and activity levels. The state also has the lowest levels of smoking and excessive alcohol consumption.
Minnesota (#2 overall)
- Healthcare: 16
- Education: 17
- Economy: 15
- Infrastructure: 9
- Opportunity: 2
- Fiscal Stability: 21
- Crime & Corrections: 15
- Natural Environment: 10
Minnesota ranks second-best state in the U.S. & World News report, a familiar spot for the state.
Minnesota ranks second in the nation for opportunity metrics. The state has one of the lowest poverty levels in the country, with nine percent of residents living at or below the poverty line. Minnesota also has one of the lowest levels of unemployment and food insecurity and one of the country's highest levels of homeownership. However, while income inequality is low, Minnesota ranks last in the nation for racial disparity in homeownership.
Wallethub ranks Minnesota the fourth-best state to raise a family, citing the high median family salary and low levels of separation and divorce. The state provides excellent early-education opportunities and ranks fifth in the nation for K-12 performance. Higher education, however, is expensive, and the state's poverty gap is one of the widest in the country.
Washington (#1 overall)
- Healthcare: 8
- Education: 4
- Economy: 47
- Infrastructure: 3
- Opportunity: 25
- Fiscal Stability: 6
- Crime & Corrections: 19
- Natural Environment: 15
U.S. & World News ranks Washington State the best state to live in in 2022, a position its held since 2019.
Washington leads the country in renewable energy levels, with nearly half of its energy coming from renewable sources. Hydroelectric and wind power make up the bulk of the state's power supply.
Washington has one of the nation's lowest levels of premature death and a life expectancy of 80 years. The state's long lifespan is likely due to the healthy habits of its people, who are among the best rested and most active in the country.
The U.S. & World News Best State Rankings bring together several sources of information to paint a picture of how well states are meeting their residents' needs. While the top ten states frequently change, the worst-performing states tend to be the same from year to year. Head here to read about the worst states to live in in 2022..