America’s top states to live in 2014

Where life is good for work and play

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You know what they say about all work and no play. A true top state for business is also a great place to live. Our Quality of Life category scores the states on several factors, such as crime rate and health care, including the percent of the population with health insurance. We evaluate local attractions, parks and recreation, as well as environmental quality.

Here are the states that did best.

By Scott Cohn, CNBC senior correspondent
Posted 24 June 2014

10. South Dakota

Mount Rushmore, South Dakota.
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Our 2013 Top State for Business slipped a bit in the overall rankings for 2014 but still holds its own for quality of life. You can enjoy the stunning beauty of the Mount Rushmore State while breathing some of the cleanest air in the nation. South Dakotans are healthier than most Americans, and when they're not, 86 percent of them are insured, according to the Census Bureau. Gallup also found residents here are among the most optimistic in America.

  • 2014 Quality of Life score: 217 points (out of 300)
  • Strengths: Environment, health
  • Weakness: Crime per capita
  • 2013 Quality of Life rank: 7

8. Maine (tie)

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With 3,500 miles of craggy coastline and 17 million acres of forest, the Pine Tree State has a well-earned reputation as a peaceful paradise. Here you'll find the lowest crime rate in the nation and one of the most pristine environments. Of course, it may be a little too quiet for some. Maine's largest city, Portland, has only about 66,000 residents, and the state doesn't get a whole lot of visitors. But if tranquility is what you're looking for, this is the place.

  • 2014 Quality of Life score: 219 points (out of 300)
  • Strengths: Low crime rate, environment
  • Weaknesses: Local attractions
  • 2013 Quality of Life rank: 5

8. Nebraska (tie)

A young girl in a field of beans at sunset in Washington County, Nebraska.
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Residents of the Cornhusker State are of healthy stock. The United Health Foundation found generally low instances of most diseases, though the mostly rural state could use more primary-care doctors. The air is among the cleanest in the country, and crime is relatively low. Billionaire Warren Buffett—who can afford to live anywhere—told the Associated Press in 2002, "I can't think of a better place to live than Omaha."

  • 2014 Quality of Life score: 219 points (out of 300)
  • Strengths: Healthy population, air quality
  • Weakness: Local attractions
  • 2013 Quality of Life rank: 4

7. Massachusetts

Marthas Vineyard, Massachusetts.
Steve Dunwell | Getty Images

Say what you will about the Massachusetts health-care plan, but residents of the Bay State are the most insured in the nation—nearly 96 percent were covered as of 2012, according to the Census Bureau. Rich in American history, Massachusetts is one of the most visited states. And its waterways are among the least polluted, according to the EPA.

  • 2014 Quality of Life score: 221 points (out of 300)
  • Strengths: Health, attractions
  • Weaknesses: Crime, air quality
  • 2013 Quality of Life rank: 13

6. Washington

Two hikers in Mt. Rainier National Park, Washington State.
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From the majesty of Mount Rainier to the rushing Spokane River, the Evergreen State offers an abundance of natural wonders, not to mention the urban wonder that is Seattle. Washington residents are healthy, and the brisk Northwest air is clean. And forget what you've heard about lots of rain. Seattle's average of 36.85 inches a year is less than the driest year on record in New York City—38.51 inches in 2012!

  • 2014 Quality of Life score: 225 points (out of 300)
  • Strengths: Health, environment
  • Weakness: Crime rate
  • 2013 Quality of Life rank: 10

5. North Dakota

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The Peace Garden State lives up to its nickname with low crime, a healthy population, and clean air—even as the state racks up stunning economic growth. But the energy boom powering the state has meant an increase in toxic releases into North Dakota waterways according to the EPA, and all those new residents are sometimes hurting for things to do.

  • 2014 Quality of Life score: 228 points (out of 300)
  • Strengths: Health, air quality
  • Weaknesses: Local attractions, water pollution
  • 2013 Quality of Life rank: 5

4. Minnesota

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2012 Quality of Life Points: 250 out of 3502011 Quality of Life Rank: 8Minnesota is the Land of 10,000 Lakes, and all that natural beauty contributes to the quality of life. But there is more to the state than that. The home of the Mayo Clinic is one of America’s healthiest states. The crime rate is among the lowest in the country. Air quality is among the best, too. From the cosmopolitan Twin Cities to the remote beauty of the North Woods, Minnesota has it all.
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In true "Minnesota Nice" fashion, the Land of 10,000 Lakes is not one to brag. The state actually has 11,842 lakes, which—despite the legend—were not created by the heavy footsteps of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox. Minnesotans are healthy, and they are nice enough to not commit much crime or pollute their environment. Neither the cosmopolitan Twin Cities nor the breathtaking North Woods are major tourist attractions, and Minnesotans are fine with keeping that secret—nicely, of course.

  • 2014 Quality of Life score: 229 points (out of 300)
  • Strengths: Health, low crime
  • Weaknesses: Local attractions
  • 2013 Quality of Life rank: 3

3. New Hampshire

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Quality of life is rock solid in the Granite State, which boasts one of the lowest crime rates in the country and a healthy population, with 88 percent of its residents covered by health insurance in 2012, according to the Census Bureau. The environment is generally clean, though air quality in the southeast part of the state continues to feel the effect of economic expansion in neighboring Massachusetts.

  • 2014 Quality of Life score: 241 points (out of 300)
  • Strengths: Low crime rate, health
  • Weaknesses: Local attractions, air quality
  • 2013 Quality of Life rank: 9

2. Vermont

An evening walk with the dog on the Wire Road near Smugglers' Notch Resort.
C.H.Diegel Photography | Moment Open | Getty Images

The Green Mountain State has the second healthiest population in the U.S., the second-lowest crime rate, sparkling clear water and clean air. It is not a major tourist draw, but maybe we all could benefit by spending a little more time there.

  • 2014 Quality of Life score: 256 points (out of 300)
  • Strengths: Low crime rate, health, environment
  • Weakness: Local attractions
  • 2013 Quality of Life rank: 2

1. Hawaii

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The business climate in the Aloha State may leave a little to be desired, but the real climate? Wow! Hawaii boasts 4 of the 5 major climate zones in the world—a paradise by almost any measure. But there is more to quality of life in Hawaii than nature. Its residents are healthy, crime is low, and Hawaii is one of the most visited states in the union. Worth a trip—maybe for good!

  • 2014 Quality of Life score: 277 points (out of 300)
  • Strengths: Health, air quality, attractions
  • Weaknesses: Seriously?
  • 2013 Quality of Life rank: 1