Defining Quality of Life
Quality of life is a measure of comfort, health, and happiness by a person or a group of people. Quality of life is determined by both material factors, such as income and housing, and broader considerations like health, education, and freedom. Each year, US & World News releases its “Best States to Live in” report, which ranks states on the quality of life each state provides its residents.
What's Being Measured
In order to determine rankings, U.S. News & World Report considers a wide range of factors, including healthcare, education, economy, infrastructure, opportunity, fiscal stability, crime and corrections, and natural environment. More information on these categories and what is measured in each can be found below:
- Healthcare includes access, quality and affordability of healthcare, as well as health measurements, such as obesity rates and rates of smoking.
- Education measures how well public schools perform in terms of testing and graduation rates, as well as tuition costs associated with higher education and college debt load.
- Economy looks at GDP growth, migration to the state, and new business.
- Infrastructure includes transportation availability, road quality, communications, and internet access.
- Opportunity includes poverty rates, 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 ranks a state’s public safety and measures prison systems and their populations.
- Natural Environment looks at the quality of air and water and exposure to pollution.
Ten States with the Best Quality of Life in 2022
Washington state has the highest quality of life in all 50 states. The state has no income tax, a thriving job market, and great international business opportunities. Residents enjoy one of the nation’s longest life expectancies, likely in part of their strong healthcare system and lifestyle habits. The state is also a leader in renewable energy, with half of the state’s power supply coming from sustainable sources, primarily hydroelectric and wind.
Minnesota ranks second best quality of life in the United States. Residents enjoy the fourth longest life expectancy in the nation, with an average of 80.9 years. The state also has one of the lowest levels of poverty in the nation, with 91% of residents living above the poverty level. Food security and employment levels are also high, as are K-12 performance metrics. WalletHub ranks Minnesota the fourth-best state to raise a family, due in part to high median family income and low levels of separation and divorce in the state. Crime rates are low, the air is clean, and the population is healthy.
Utah has the third-best quality of life in the United States. Utah’s economy is thriving and ties Nebraska for lowest rate of unemployment in the nation. Job growth is also high, as is the state’s fiscal stability. Utahns are also among the healthiest people in the country, with the lowest levels of alcohol and tobacco consumption and physical inactivity. Rates of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and high blood pressure are also among the lowest in the nation.
New Hampshire has the fourth-highest quality of life in the U.S. The state has the least economic hardship and lowest levels of poverty and food insecurity in the nation. New Hampshire also has the country’s lowest levels of crime and incarceration. The state enjoys some of the best air quality in the country. It also has one of the highest rates of renewable energy, along with some of the most stringent climate change policies.
Idaho’s recent economic boom has rocketed the state to the fifth-highest for quality of life in the nation. The state has the fastest-growing economy in the country and ranks second in 5-year GDP growth. Unemployment is among the lowest in the state at 2.8%. Residents also enjoy high levels of homeownership, food security and income equality. Air quality is also among the best in the nation.
Nebraska ranks sixth for the best quality of life. The state ties with Utah for lowest unemployment rate, at 2.1%. Life expectancy is also higher than the national average, 79.5 years versus 79.1. Nebraska residents are generally healthy, active and well-rested. They also have the nation’s lowest incidence of drug death.
Virginia has the seventh-best quality of life in the United States. Virginia’s economy is one of the top in the nation, with CNBC ranking Virginia the best state for business. The state has an unemployment rate below the national average and low levels of poverty and food insecurity. The median household income, at $81,500, is among the highest in the nation.
Wisconsin has the eighth-highest quality of living in the United States. The state’s schools are among the best performing in the nation and lead the country in high school graduation rates. The cost of living is lower than the national average, and levels of poverty are low. Unemployment sits at 2.9% in the state, much lower than the national average. However, Wisconsin also leads the nation in excessive drinking.
Massachusetts has the ninth-best quality of living in the country. The state offers some of the best education on offer in the nation. It is home to some of the world's most prestigious universities, such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Harvard, and Boston College, and residents are among the most educated in the nation. The median household income is one of the highest in the nation, at $86,000. Massachusetts also has some of the best healthcare in the nation, ranking first for access to care and insurance coverage.
Florida has the tenth-best quality of living in the country. Florida’s economy is one of the strongest in the nation, with a GDP of over $1.1 trillion. If it were a country, Florida would be the fifteenth richest nation in the world. The economy also continues to grow, with over 500,000 jobs added last year.
States with the Worst Quality of Life in 2022
Louisiana has ranked the worst state in the nationsince 2017 due to low performance across all metrics, especially crime and education concerns. Louisiana leads the nation in homicide and has the country's highest rate of incarceration. Poverty levels in the state are also high, with nearly a fifth of residents living at or below the poverty line. Troubles in Louisiana have been compounded in recent years by a number of natural disasters that have taken an additional toll on the state's financial and infrastructure systems.
Mississippi ranks the second-worst state in the country according to the U.S. & World News report. The state has been in the bottom of rankings since 2017 due to low levels of healthcare access, poor health outcomes, high poverty rates, and an educational system in crisis. Nearly a fifth of residents have no access to healthcare. Meanwhile, the state has the nation's highest prevalence of obesity, at 38.7%. Per capita income is the country's lowest, at $25,300 a year.
New Mexico is another state that has a long history at the bottom of quality of life rankings. New Mexico's educational outcomes are the lowest in the nation, with a quarter of students failing to graduate from high school. Poverty levels are high, with 17% of residents living at or below the poverty level. Poverty metrics are worse for children, of whom a quarter experience poverty, the highest rate in the nation.
West Virginia ranks fourth lowest in the nation on quality of life metrics due to poor infrastructure and low economic oppoortunity. Nearly a third of the state's roads are in need of repair and much of the critical infrastructure is nearing the end of its lifespan. Educational attainment in West Virginia is some of the lowest in the country, with less than a quarter of residents holding a Bachelor's degree or higher. Fourteen percent of residents live in poverty, one of the nation's highest rates.
Alabama ranks fifth in the nation for quality of living metrics due to trouble in its education, healthcare, and infrastructure systems. Education Weekly's Quality Counts analysis gave the state a D+ due to low levels of student performance and slow rate of improvement. Alabama's residents have the lowest level of access to providers in the country, while rates of depression, obesity, and diabetes are some of the nation's highest.