Delaware ranked first and Louisiana last in a University of Massachusetts study that tried to measure where workers are treated best, based on factors including job opportunities, job quality and workplace fairness.
Rounding out the top five best states for workers were, respectively, New Hampshire, Minnesota, Vermont and Iowa. After Louisiana, the next-lowest states were Texas and Arkansas, along with three states that fared slightly better in a tie: Mississippi, South Carolina and Utah.
Hawaii tied with Massachusetts for 18th. The 50th state scored high in job opportunities, ranking ninth, but lost points for job quality and workplace fairness.
Massachusetts was also hurt in part by its high cost of living and large pool of workers who wish to work full-time but are stuck with part-time jobs.
The "Decent Work in America" study, released Tuesday by UMass Amherst's Political Economy Research Institute, was based on a "work environment index" that compared states based on 2004 data. The data covered factors including average pay; job opportunities; employee benefits; percentage of low-income workers; fair treatment between genders; and ability for employees to unionize.
Those factors were used in ranking states on a scale of 1 to 100 for job opportunities, job quality and workplace fairness. Those three numbers were averaged to determine an overall score, with Delaware posting an 89 and Louisiana a 31.
Hawaii scored a 65 overall. The state scored a 48 for job quality, 81 for job opportunities and a 65 for workplace fairness.
Texas' next-to-last ranking drew criticism from the state's governor's office and from a Texas economic development official, who said the abundance of small states near the top of the rankings indicates the study criteria may be too narrow.
"The top five states represent states with fairly small state economies that are not nearly as broad and complex as ours," said Carlton Schwab, president and chief executive of the Texas Economic Development Council, a private nonprofit association of economic development professionals. "They have a fraction of the economic activity that we have in our state. Oftentimes, it may not be a fair comparison."
Schwab also said Texas typically ranks highly by other economic measures, including venture capital funding and business startups.
Kathy Walt, a spokeswoman for Texas Gov. Rick Perry, said, "This is a survey done by a university with a very strong liberal bias, that has driven a survey to fit its world view.
"Texas has created 200,000 net new jobs over the past two years because of its very strong tax climate, its strong business climate, model tort reform in the nation and its educated work force."
Brigitte Nieland, a spokeswoman at the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, declined to comment on her state's last-place ranking, and messages left with Louisiana Economic Development, the state's development agency, were not immediately returned Tuesday.
The study's authors, who expect to update the rankings annually, said their findings were based on the first index to evaluate states' treatment of workers rather than their business climates.
States ranking high for work environments generally enjoyed strong economic growth and low poverty rates, with the reverse true for those ranking low.
"This suggests that anti-poverty strategies focused on creating decent jobs is viable as well as desirable, a finding that is especially pertinent in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, whose impact was devastating on the poor in New Orleans," the authors said.