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America's most (and least) livable states of the future

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Salt Lake City is the capital of Utah, which could be the most livable state of the future.

Media reports regularly rank the country’s states in terms of their current economic situation, health, jobs and even water quality. But what about their future? That’s what Gallup attempted to find out. The national polling agency recently released a report identifying the “future livability” of every state in the country, or the best and worst states to live in the future.

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Based on surveys conducted over 18 months that measured current sentiment, Gallup identified 13 metrics that can be used to gauge how livable states will be in the future. Some questions, which measure each state’s economy, job prospects and personal finances, are designed to predict the future economic prospects of a state. Others measure current quality-of-life components that can have an effect on long-term health. These include rates of obesity, smoking and the availability of safe, clean water.

24/7 Wall St. spoke to Dan Witters, research director of Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, about how Gallup chose the components that made up its future livability score. According to Witters, each metric “gives some sense of how livable that area, that state, that community is going to be down the road.”

Responses that reflect current conditions, Witters explained, can also be used to measure the future livability and prosperity of a region. “If you have high economic confidence and strong job creation and high full employment, does that guarantee that you will [have the same] 20 years from now? No, obviously not,” he said. But what these factors do, Witters said, is increase the probability that a region will have improved economic vitality down the road.

The health factors Gallup considered — obesity, smoking and dentist visits — are similarly predictive of long-term health. Obesity, for example, is one of the best predictors of diabetes. According to Witters, in states with high obesity, including West Virginia, Mississippi and Kentucky, “the probability that you’re going to have high levels of high blood pressure, high levels of cholesterol, high levels of physical pain” is higher.

In addition to the 13 metrics considered by Gallup, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed additional measures of economic and social well-being. While the states that score well or poorly for future livability appear to have little in common geographically, they have other factors in common.

Unemployment rates, for example, appear to have a strong relationship to the overall future livability rank. Eight of the 10 states with the best future livability scores have among the 15 lowest unemployment rates as of June. Included are North Dakota and Nebraska, which have the lowest and second-lowest rates.

The wealth of a state’s population also appears to be an indicator of the future livability of a state. Eight of the 10 states with the worst future livability scores are in the bottom third for median income. This includes Arkansas, West Virginia and Mississippi, which have the three lowest median household income figures as of 2010, the most recent available data.

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24/7 Wall St. reviewed the 13 measures Gallup included in its future livability report, all of which are for the most recent 18 months. At Gallup’s direction, we checked earlier versions of some of these surveys in order to provide figures where current data is unavailable. We also considered poverty, income, food stamp recipient rates and health insurance coverage from the U.S. Census Bureau for 2010, the most recent available year. We also reviewed June 2011 and June 2012 unemployment figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, as well as home price projections from Q1 2012 from Fiserv.

These are America’s most (and least) livable states of the future.                      

America's most livable states

1. Utah

  •  Future livability score: 7.5
  •  Full-time employment: 21st best
  •  Job creation index: fifth best
  •  Outlook on life in five years: 21st worst

Job creation has been booming in Utah. The state ranks sixth highest in Gallup’s job creation index and has the 10th-lowest unemployment rate of any state in the country as of June. In 2011, the proportion of respondents stating that their employers were hiring was 20 percentage points higher than the proportion stating their employers were letting people go. Positive attitudes go well beyond just the number of jobs. In the past 18 months, residents of Utah were more likely than those of any other state to claim they felt treated like a partner at work and to claim they had easy access to clean water. People in Utah not only like where they live, but they are also very healthy. No state has fewer smokers and just four states have lower obesity rates.

2. Minnesota

  •  Future livability score: 10.5
  •  Full-time employment: eighth best
  •  Job creation index: 10th best
  •  Outlook on life in five years: third worst

The Gopher State ranks first in economic confidence and the ease of finding a safe place to exercise. The Land of 10,000 Lakes also comes in second for the ease in finding clean, safe drinking water. With the seventh-lowest rate of smoking, the fifth-highest rate of regular visits to the dentist and the proportion of the population insured, Minnesotans are a healthy bunch compared to their fellow Americans. Despite all of this, the state is projected to have the fourth-worst change in home prices between the first quarter of 2012 and the first quarter of 2013, with an almost 5 percent drop compared to a national average projected decrease of 1 percent.

3. Colorado

  •  Future livability score: 12.8
  •  Full-time employment: 10th best
  •  Job creation index: 18th worst
  •  Outlook on life in five years: 18th worst

Colorado residents are among the healthiest in the United States. With an obesity rate of 18.5 percent, Colorado is the only state to have an obesity rate below 20 percent as of 2011. The state also ranks third in terms of finding a safe place to exercise. Colorado’s 20 percent smoking rate, while not as impressive as its low obesity rate, is below the national average of 21 percent. The state’s unemployment rate is the same as the national average at 8.2 percent. But of all states, Colorado has the fifth-lowest decline in unemployment from 2011 to 2012, dropping only 0.2 percentage points compared to 0.9 percentage points in the U.S. as a whole. However, for those who have jobs, the state ranks third in managers who treat their employees like partners.

Click here to read the rest of 24/7 Wall St.'s America's Most Livable States

America’s least livable states

1. West Virginia

  •  Future livability score: 43.3
  •  Full-time employment: second worst
  •  Job creation index: 20th best
  •  Outlook on life in five years: 23rd best

While West Virginia has an unemployment rate of 7 percent, well below the 8.2 percent national unemployment rate, it ranks second-worst in terms of people employed full-time. The state also has the second-lowest median household income of $38,218 and the eighth-highest percentage of people below the poverty line, at 17.62 percent. West Virginia also can lay claim to the dubious title of unhealthiest state. It has the highest rate of smokers in the nation with a quarter of residents smoking as of 2011. The state also has the highest obesity rate (35.3 percent), the highest rate of people with high blood pressure (38.9 percent) and the highest rate of people with diabetes (15.7 percent) as of 2011. Options for those looking to stay in shape are limited as the state ranks dead last in ease of finding a safe place to exercise.

2. Mississippi

  •  Future livability score: 37.8
  •  Full-time employment: the worst
  •  Job creation index: 11th best
  •  Outlook on life in five years: the best

While Gallup ranks Mississippi second worst for future livability, residents feel good about their own future as the state ranks first for the best outlook on life in five years’ time. But the Magnolia State has the lowest percentage of people employed full-time and the lowest median income in the country at $36,851, less than three-quarters of the national average of $50,046. Mississippi ranks worst in the country in the percentage of the population living below the poverty line and in the percentage of residents who feel that their manager treats them like a partner and not like a boss. Mississippi is also among the worst in several important areas of health. The state has the second-highest rate of obesity and the fifth-highest percentage of smokers. It is also ranks second worst in finding a safe place to exercise and has the lowest percentage of residents who have visited the dentist in the last year.

3. Kentucky

  •  Future livability score: 36.7
  •  Full-time employment: 16th worst
  •  Job creation index: 23rd best
  •  Outlook on life in five years: 20th worst

Kentucky’s median household income of $40,062 is the fourth lowest of all states and about $10,000 less than the median income across the U.S. The state also has the fourth-highest percentage of people below the poverty line and people on food stamps/SNAP benefits. It is not surprising that the state has the eighth-lowest score on the economic confidence index. Kentuckians' health is also poor. The state has the second-highest rate of smokers, with an estimated 29 percent reporting smoking in 2011, the seventh-highest obesity rate and the 10th lowest rate of people who say they have visited the dentist in the past year. Kentucky ranks fourth from the bottom in ease of finding a safe place to exercise.

Click here to read the rest of 24/7 Wall St.'s America's least livable states