10 Best States to Make a Living

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Despite the sluggish economic recovery, some places are posting favorable conditions for job seekers.

This post comes from Richard Barrington at partner site MoneyRates.com.

Making a good living is tough these days. But precisely how tough it is may depend on where you live.

Earning a decent wage, staying ahead of inflation and coping with taxes are some of the challenges American workers face. If they can succeed at all of this and actually enjoy their jobs, it would be a nice bonus. So MoneyRates.com has identified the 10 states where employees may be most likely to accomplish these things.

For the third consecutive year, MoneyRates.com has conducted a study of the best and worst states for making a living. Using average wage and unemployment data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, cost-of-living figures from C2ER (formerly ACCRA) and state tax information from Tax-Rates.org, MoneyRates.com calculated an average income figure for each state that includes adjustments for taxes, inflation and the chances of finding a job in that state. Then, these figures were further adjusted according to each state’s Workplace Environment rankings from the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index poll. These factors provide both a quantitative and qualitative basis for the rankings that follow.

Here are MoneyRates.com’s 10 best states to make a living for 2013:

1. Washington

The state of Washington starts workers out on the right foot with an average wage of more than $50,000 a year — one of the highest in the nation. That high pay is more than enough to overcome a cost of living that is slightly above average, and workers get to keep more of that pay because Washington does not have a state income tax. To cap it all off, Washington residents gave their work environments an above-average ranking in the Gallup-Healthways poll.

2. Virginia

Virginia’s strengths include a high average income, a low cost of living and low unemployment. This has been a consistently winning combination for the state: Virginia has ranked in the top five states for making a living in each of the three years MoneyRates.com has done this study. It even ranked No. 1 in the 2012 study.

3. Colorado

A relatively high average income and moderate inflation are enough to help Colorado do well on quantitative factors, and having the third-best ranking for work environment gives it an extra boost.

4. Texas

Income in Texas is only about average, but a low cost of living and no state income tax make that income go further. Texas has been a top-five performer in all three years of this study.

5. Wyoming

A variety of factors helped Wyoming make the top 10 for the second year in a row, including ranking second-best nationally for work environment, plus having no state income tax and a very low unemployment rate.

6. Minnesota

An above-average income and relatively low unemployment helped Minnesota stack up well on quantitative factors. On top of that, Minnesota ranked 10th nationally for the quality of its work environment. This marks Minnesota’s return to the top 10, after making the list in 2011 but narrowly missing it last year.

7. Nebraska

Nebraska makes the top 10 despite its below-average income figure. A low cost of living and one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation help Nebraska make up ground quantitatively, and a top-five ranking for work environment pulled Nebraska into the overall top 10 for the first time.

8. Utah

Like Nebraska, Utah has a below-average rate of income, but makes up for it with a low cost of living and low unemployment. Combined with an above-average score for work environment, Utah earned a top-10 placing for the second year in a row.

9. Kansas

The story for Kansas is very similar to Utah’s: Income may be below average, but a low cost of living and unemployment rate make up for that, while an above-average ranking for its work environment provides an additional benefit. This all added up to give Kansas its first appearance in the top 10.

10. Oklahoma

Once again, the pattern is repeated: A low cost of living and a strong job market help make up for a below-average income. Oklahoma gets added help from a top-10 ranking for its work environment. This is Oklahoma’s first appearance in the top 10.

The last four states above present an important reminder for job seekers: Income levels can be deceiving if you don’t take into account the cost of living. State tax rates can also be an important swing factor in evaluating a job offer in one location vs. another.

Given all the challenges facing American workers in this persistently sluggish economy, it may be encouraging to know that there are some places where employment conditions are just a bit better. The 10 states above may be ideal places to start looking for those better conditions.

Stacy Johnson

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