When President Thomas Jefferson sealed the deal on the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, he probably wasn’t predicting that in about 200 years time, the U.S would not only be 50 states wide, but that the “best state to live in” would be a thing.
But here we are in 2019, and the “best state to live in” is indeed a thing, and according to WalletHub’s report on the topic, this year that state is Massachusetts. Coming in second place was Minnesota, followed by New Hampshire, respectively.
Slumping in at the bottom of the list, as the least best places to live in, if you will, were Mississippi, Louisiana and New Mexico, all states that Jill Gonzalez, analyst at WalletHub points out “suffer from things like high food insecurity rates, high premature death rates and struggling economies."
These kinds of reports have a knack for rousing our competitive spirits — a dynamic we see often between U.S states in the realm of sports — but the core intention of this report is not to rile up anybody; instead it’s meant to serve as a resource for those thinking about relocating.
"The purpose of this report is to help consumers make an informed decision if they're looking to relocate,” says Gonzalez. “Finding a new place to live can be a tough process. Each state has its own advantages and drawbacks, and we wanted to paint a clear picture of how each of them fare in terms of affordability, education, healthcare, quality of life and safety."
Massachusetts' strong economy and education trump its affordability problem
It’s worth noting that just because Massachusetts shaped up to be the best state to live in, it didn’t exactly hit a home run in every category; in affordability, for instance, it slumped in at number 43.
A CNBC study issued around this time last year found that Massachusetts was in fact the third most expensive place to live in the United States, but there are other areas in which the Bay State shines. It ranks number two in economy, as well as in education and health. In the quality of life category, it sailed in at number three. It also did well in safety, ranking at number four.
For Michelle Abdow, president of Market Mentors in Springfield, Massachusetts, the news that her home state is in the top is no surprise.
“While our state is geographically small, it has an abundance of colleges and universities, hospitals and healthcare systems, including many that rank among the best in the country and even the world,” Abdow says. “We also boast an incredible diversity of industries, from manufacturing and technology to banking, financial and insurance. Job and career opportunities abound due to a low unemployment rate combined with robust economic growth.”
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As of last month, the unemployment rate in Massachusetts was at 2.9 percent, nearly a full percentage point lower than the national average of 3.8 percent.
Christine Perkett, a marketing executive who’s lived in Massachusetts for more than two decades, finds the entrepreneurial spirit of the state to be unparallelled.
“I have started three companies here, and always feel energized and supported by the entrepreneurial community that is Boston,” Perkett says.
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The momentum of job creation is also going strong. In April, the state added 4,100 payroll jobs — a boost of .11 percent.
Susan Fournier, the dean of Boston University’s Questrom School of Business, gave us a more in-depth feel for what these numbers mean.
“You have industries that are attracting all of this energy and investment and then you have activity, startups [and] expansion,” Fournier says. “The talent pool is critical in all of this and Massachusetts has countless advantages on the education front; we have 114 colleges in Massachusetts and 35 right in Boston. Our state has been very busy building at least five ecosystems: Biotech (we’re #1 in the world in biotech); Biopharma (global trend in decline, but not in Massachusetts — you look across the river to Kendall Square and it’s thriving); We’re tied with California as #1 in clean tech, another emerging industry; Medical with hospital service is the 4th. There are only six NIH hospitals and we have five of them, not to mention they all have thriving R&D arms. These hospitals aren’t just providing services, but they also have research facilities. Another [growing] industry is finance; our state has Fidelity and Liberty Mutual.”
Another key factor driving the allure of Massachusetts, quite simply, is the nature.
“If you drive two hours in any direction, you’re in amazing places,” says Fournier. “There’s tons of green space for biking and hiking as well as the ocean.”
Minnesota shines with its nature and relatively low cost of living
Minnesota swooped in at number two on WalletHub’s “Best States To Live In”, and though I’ve yet to visit the North Star State, I wasn’t at all surprised to see it rank so highly, given that it came in at number one as the “Least Stressed State” in a similar report from WalletHub issued last April.
Also not surprised was Shep Harris, mayor of Golden Valley, Minnesota (who grew up in Louisiana, the second “worst” state).
Harris speaks to the laid-back yet persevering attitude of the state’s people.
“For more than a century, Minnesotans have had a can-do attitude and have invested in ourselves — in education, our infrastructure, our arts and culture and natural resources, our healthcare,” he says. “We've also believed that government, the private sector, the non-profit sector and individuals can all work together to find solutions to our challenges.”
Harris notes that Minnesota “recently approved $60 million in housing infrastructure bonds, made some changes to be more efficient with its use of federal housing dollars, made permanent $3.5 million annually in funding for students of rental families who are homeless and/or highly mobile and established a state commission on housing affordability to maintain our competitiveness.”
Ever the humble Minnesotan, Harris adds that “of course, it doesn't mean that we don't have challenges: seniors on fixed incomes, young adults coming out of college with large college loans and housing that's too small for some large ethnic families. But there's an acknowledgement of it and efforts at the state and local levels to make housing even more affordable.”
Coming in at number six in affordability, Minnesota is actually already doing pretty darn good here. I’d wager that if the Land of 10,000 Lakes were to just slightly improve its performance in economy (it’s at number 11) and in quality of life (where it hovers at 10), it could beat out Massachusetts as the “the best state to live in”. Again, this isn’t a competition, but if these reports really are supposed to help inform our decision of where we should or shouldn’t move, affordability must be a leading component: you can get a three-bedroom house in Saint Paul for well under $300k. In Boston, Massachusetts, that same square footage will cost you a couple hundred grand more or so.
New Hampshire lives up to its ‘live free or die’ motto
The third best state to live in, according to WalletHub’s report is New Hampshire. Like the other list-toppers, it performs well in economy and education, but it staggers substantially in both affordability (ranking at number 42) and in quality of life (number 35).
Why is New Hampshire so great if it’s doing so poorly in these pretty important areas. Could it be because it has the lowest percentage of people living beneath the poverty level? Or that it ranks third in safety?
Taylor Caswell, Commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Business and Economic Affairs, suggests it goes deeper than that.
“New Hampshire has no income or sales tax, and we see our state government as an enabler of a fiscally solid, pro-growth environment that benefits employers and residents,” Caswell says. “Our small government is very collaborative, transparent, accessible and supportive.”
So, your dollar can go farther in New Hampshire than it would in say, Arkansas, where the state income tax rate is 6.5 percent. There’s also a kind of closeness between state government and state residents — a dynamic that Israel F. Piedra, an attorney and member of the NH House of Representatives, discusses with passion.
“The NH House of Representatives is unique because it has so many members representing a relatively small population,” Piedra says. “We have 400 representatives for just 1.3 million residents. Each representative is paid $100 per year, so the average legislator is not really a politician, but someone’s neighbor or friend or family member. We call it a ‘citizen legislature’ for that reason. That makes our state representatives more accessible and more responsive to the general public. A concerned citizen cannot only reach their representative easily and quickly, they can even run for office themselves and have a realistic chance to be elected.”
On top of reduced taxes and accessible legislation, New Hampshire, like Minnesota and even Massachusetts (which as Perkett reminded me, has both beautiful beaches and wonderful lakes), is a treasure for nature lovers.
“New Hampshire is a small state, which makes it easy to access ski mountains, hiking, the beach and the lakes — all while staying within an hour from Boston,” says Piedra. “It simply has natural beauty in all seasons.”
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