Top States for Business

These 10 states are America's best places to live in 2021

Key Points
  • The pandemic taught millions of Americans how to work from home, and many are likely to continue to work remotely at least some of the time.
  • States are increasingly touting their quality of life in pitches to business.
  • Voting rights and inclusivity are rising as factors alongside traditional measures such as environmental health in the America's Top States for Business new Life, Health and Inclusion category.
MichaelSvoboda | E+ | Getty Images

Home is where the heart is. And for millions these days, it is also where the job is. Even as the economy reopens, many companies are revising work policies to incorporate permanent work-from-home and hybrid work models.

Facebook chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg announced in June that all full-time employees can continue working from home if their jobs can be done remotely. Other companies, like Apple, are adopting a hybrid model.

The new employment structures come amid a tight labor market and are reasons more states are touting quality of life in economic development pitches to corporations.

CNBC's America's Top States for Business has always tracked basic quality of life measures like crime rates and environmental quality. Our new Life, Health and Inclusion category continues that tradition but also reflects a year of pandemic and social upheaval that has changed how many, including our study, define quality of life.

Based on our methodology, this category is worth 15% of a state's total points this year. Some states score poorly as places to live, or more specifically, poorly as places to remote work.

These ten states are America's most welcoming in 2021.

10. New Jersey

A Hudson County election ballot drop box sits outside City Hall on August 17, 2020 in Hoboken, NJ.
Gary Hershorn | Corbis News | Getty Images

Joke all you want about New Jersey, but the state provides some of the nation's most robust protections against discrimination under a sweeping set of amendments to state law signed by Gov. Phil Murphy in 2019. The state also expanded its early voting options this year. The state has one of the highest Covid-19 vaccination rates, and one of the lowest violent crime rates. But all is not rosy in the Garden State. Air quality is poor, and New Jersey lags in public health spending, according to data from the United Health Foundation.

2021 Life, Health and Inclusion score: 249 out of 375 points (Top States Grade: B)

Strengths: Inclusiveness, voting rights, crime rate, Covid vaccinations

Weaknesses: Air quality, public health spending

9. Nebraska

Tetra Images | John Kelly | Brand X Pictures | Getty Images

The Cornhusker State had some difficult periods during the worst of the pandemic, most notably in November when hospital resources were briefly pushed beyond their limits. Still, the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha is widely considered to be the best prepared facility in the country for a disease outbreak, with the nation's only federal quarantine facility. Unlike many states, Nebraska avoided a post-holiday Covid wave, and the state has made reasonably good progress vaccinating its population.

2021 Life, Health and Inclusion score: 252 out of 375 points (Top States Grade: B+)

Strengths: Air quality, hospital resources

Weaknesses: Inclusiveness, public health spending

8. Massachusetts

A man holds up a pin that reads "I Got Vaccinated At Fenway Park" during the soft-opening of the COVID-19 mass vaccination site at Fenway Park on January 29, 2021 in Boston, Massachusetts.
Scott Eisen | Getty Images

Massachusetts is one of America's healthiest states, with the lowest rate of uninsured and the best access to clinical care. Hospital resources were stretched thin at various times during the pandemic. Nonetheless, the state ranks ninth in public health spending per person, and it has one of the best Covid vaccination rates in the country. The Bay State prides itself on robust anti-discrimination protections. Air quality is a perennial issue.

2021 Life, Health and Inclusion score: 255 out of 375 points (Top States Grade: B+)

Strengths: Health, Covid vaccinations, voting rights

Weaknesses: Air quality, hospital resources

7. Washington

An election worker opens envelopes containing vote-by-mail ballots for the August 4 Washington state primary at King County Elections in Renton, Washington on August 3, 2020.
Jason Redmond | AFP | Getty Images

With elections conducted entirely by mail, Washington is one of America's easiest states to vote in, according to a recent study by Northern Illinois University researchers published in the Election Law Journal. This year, the state restored voting rights to residents with past convictions. The state is also a leader in inclusiveness with strong anti-discrimination provisions. Governor Jay Inslee and the state legislature added to those protections with a new law enacted this spring that bars insurance companies from denying gender-affirming care to transgender patients.

2021 Life, Health and Inclusion score: 260 out of 375 points (Top States Grade: B+)

Strengths: Voting Rights, inclusiveness, health

Weaknesses: Hospital resources, air quality

5. (tie) Maine

Young campers investigate the shoreline at Sebago Lake State Park on Friday, June 12, 2020.
Derek Davis | Portland Press Herald | Getty Images

Maine's reputation as a peaceful state is well-earned. No state has a lower crime rate, according to FBI statistics. The Pine Tree State also has among the nation's highest Covid-19 vaccination rates. But the pandemic exposed some weaknesses in the state's hospital resources.

2021 Life, Health and Inclusion score: 263 out of 375 points (Top States Grade: B+)

Strengths: Crime rate, Covid vaccinations

Weaknesses: Hospital resources, air quality

5. (tie) Iowa

Medical assistant Katrina Rogers opens a biohazard bag used to seal coronavirus test swab specimens at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics Family Medicine Clinic, Monday, April 20, 2020, in Iowa City, Iowa.
Andy Abeyta | The Gazette via AP

Iowa is a healthy state, with low instances of chronic disease and good quality of care. The Hawkeye State's hospital resources withstood the worst of the pandemic and have held up well. But Iowa enacted a sweeping law in 2021 to restrict voting rights, shortening the early voting period, placing new restrictions on mail voting, and reducing polling place hours on Election Day.

2021 Life, Health and Inclusion score: 263 out of 375 points (Top States Grade: B+)

Strengths: Health, hospital resources

Weakness: Voting rights

4. Minnesota

Healthcare workers in North Memorial's 2019s South Six and South Seven Intensive Care Units treated patients critically ill with COVID-19 on Monday, Dec. 7, 2020 at North Memorial Health Hospital in Robbinsdale, Minn.
Aaron Lavinsky | Star Tribune via Getty Images

Minnesota has the nation's lowest premature death rate, a testament to a world-class health-care system. The North Star State has long prided itself on inclusive laws, but in the past year Minnesotans have had to confront the specter of systemic racism following the killing of George Floyd. Whether the murder conviction of former Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin in April was a sign of progress or an anomaly remains a subject of debate.

2021 Life, Health and Inclusion score: 272 out of 375 points (Top States Grade: A-)

Strengths: Health, inclusion, air quality

Weaknesses: Public health spending, hospital resources

3. North Dakota

Cavan Images | Cavan | Getty Images

No state has cleaner air than North Dakota, according to data compiled by the American Lung Association. The Peace Garden State is a leader in carbon capture from its coal and natural gas-fired power plants. Now, the Minnkota Power Cooperative, with support from the state, has launched Project Tundra, which backers say will be the world's largest carbon capture facility.

2021 Life, Health and Inclusion score: 280 out of 375 points (Top States Grade: A-)

Strengths: Air quality, hospital resources, voting rights

Weakness: Covid vaccinations

2. Hawaii

A group of friends enjoying some evening beach yoga while vacationing in Hawaii.
Jordan Siemens | Stone | Getty Images

The Aloha State ties with North Dakota for America's cleanest air. Hawaii is also a leader in public health spending per capita, although that almost certainly has much to do with the fact that everything is so expensive here. The state has low rates of disease, and high rates of mental health — it is Hawaii, after all.

2021 Life Health and Inclusion score: 284 out of 375 points (Top States Grade: A-)

Strengths: Air quality, health, Covid vaccinations

Weakness: Hospital resources

1. Vermont

Mike Brinson | The Image Bank | Getty Images

The Green Mountain State saw an influx of new residents during the pandemic as people sought refuge from more densely populated places in the Northeast. Vermont had some tough stretches during the pandemic like most states, but now it leads the nation for Covid vaccinations. Vermonters enjoy low crime rates, robust public health spending and comprehensive protections against discrimination. It could be enough to convince many of those new residents to stay.

2021 Life, Health and Inclusion score: 317 out of 375 points (Top States Grade: A+)

Strengths: Covid vaccinations, public health, crime rate

Weakness: Hospital resources

These are America's 10 best states for remote work
These are America's 10 worst states for remote work
People line up to vote at the Gwinnett County Fairgrounds on October 30, 2020 in Lawrenceville, Georgia.
These 10 states are America's worst places to live in 2021