There are many ideal places around the country to raise a family, get a job and have a great recreational lifestyle. Then there are the states mired in problems that don't get high marks for quality of life in America's Top States for Business. We look at several factors—including crime rate, local attractions, health care and the environment—for the ranking. These 10 states rank last. If you call one of them home, you may disagree. But by the objective measures we consider in our Quality of Life category, these states have plenty of room for improvement.
—By Scott Cohn, senior correspondent & Betsy Cline, producer, CNBC
Posted 24 June 2014
Arkansas' official nickname is the Natural State. But perhaps a bit more natural food might be in order. The United Health Foundation says more than one third of Arkansas residents are obese. One quarter of all adults are smokers. In all, Arkansans are among the least healthy people in the nation. Fewer than 60 percent of state residents are optimistic, according to Gallup. But Arkansas does live up to its nickname when it comes to the environment.
Maybe it is fitting in the heart of tobacco country, but more than 28 percent of adults in the Bluegrass State are smokers—the highest figure in the nation. And that contributes to Kentucky's being one of America's unhealthiest states. Air quality is poor here, and not just because of the cigarette smoke. Campbell County, across the river from Cincinnati, has some of the worst ozone pollution in the nation, according to the American Lung Association. On the positive side, the crime rate here is low.
The Buckeye State's industrial heritage has left a mark on its environment, with some of America's dirtiest air and one of the worst records for toxic releases, according to the EPA. Ohio also has relatively high rates of diabetes and obesity. People still like to visit, though. Some 357,000 international travelers made Ohio part of their itinerary in 2012, according to the U.S. Commerce Department.
Smokestack industries in the northwest corner of the Hoosier State help power Indiana's economic engine, but they are not great for the environment. Air and water pollution in Indiana are among the worst in the country. Fewer than half of Indianans exercise frequently, according to Gallup, leaving the state in the bottom 10 for health. Like the state itself, the crime rate in the Crossroads of America is roughly in the middle of the country.
Michigan is a large and diverse state that touches four of the five Great Lakes. Detroit is a world away from, say, Marquette. Even so, the Wolverine State as a whole suffers from a myriad of quality-of-life issues. The violent crime rate is relatively high, and not just in the cities. High ozone levels hurt air quality. The legislature recently increased the tourism budget to attract more international visitors. Based on the most recent figures from the Commerce Department, the money is badly needed.
The Heart of Dixie suffers from a high rate of heart disease, not to mention cancer and diabetes—Sweet Home, indeed. Alabamans are among the least healthy people in America, and the crime rate is high. Toxic chemical releases are a problem, according to the EPA. But the air in Alabama is cleaner than average.
New Orleans is an amazing place to visit, but we're talking about quality of life. Living in the Pelican State presents plenty of challenges, including one of the highest violent crime rates in the country and one of the worst records for toxic-substance releases. Louisianans suffer from high rates of diabetes and heart disease, and many lack health insurance. On the flip side, New Orleans helps make the state an international tourist destination. The food! The fun! The culture! Imagine that, just outside your door!
The Show Me State isn't looking so good when it comes to quality of life. The crime rate and pollution are high. Optimism, according to Gallup, is low. There's no shortage of things to do in places like St. Louis and Kansas City, but visitors are not rushing to Missouri to do them.
The Sooner State gets its nickname from the 19th-century settlers who raced there to stake their claims. If the Land Rush were happening today, they might not be in as much of a hurry. Oklahoma ranks among the worst states in the nation for crime, health and air quality.
The violent crime rate in the Volunteer State is the worst in the country, according to the most recent full year of FBI statistics from 2012, although the state says crime declined last year. Tennesseans might want to volunteer to exercise a little more—fewer than half frequently do so. Health is poor, with high rates of diabetes and obesity. Roughly a quarter of adults are smokers. Based on these numbers, when they sing the blues in Memphis, they mean it.