Best States to Make A Living 2011

Based on a number of factors related to making a living, ranks the best states for making a living; see where you might find the best prospects for your career.
By Richard Barrington | Senior Financial Analyst, CFA

Also see the most recent Best States to Make a Living feature

Things are tough all over, right?

Well, not really. While the job market is still pretty weak overall, the truth is that conditions vary greatly from state to state. For example, in February of 2011, the unemployment rate was 13.6 percent in Nevada, but only 3.7 percent in North Dakota. On top of that, found significant differences in a number of other job-related factors as well, and an analysis of these factors culminated in a list of the best states for making a living.

This can be crucial information for Americans trying to improve their fortunes. With the economy growing in some areas while continuing to struggle in others, moving to a new state might be the best way to find work and a good income. The list of the best states for making a living can be a guide to making the right move for your career. looked at four factors involved in making a living:

  • Average state wages
  • State unemployment rate
  • State tax rate
  • State cost of living

Based on all these factors, calculated an adjusted-average income for each state - the average income adjusted for your chances of finding a job, how much you would lose to state taxes, and how much purchasing power that income would have based on the cost of living in that state. A ranking of these adjusted-average incomes is the basis for the following list of the top 10 states for making a living:

Top 10 states for making a living


1. Illinois

At $41,986.51, Illinois had the best adjusted-average income. The unemployment rate in Illinois is not especially low, but the state benefits from relatively high average wages, a low state tax rate, and a below-average cost of living. As an added plus, you can make good use of your money once you earn it in Illinois. Four of the best banks in America, based on a analysis of factors like customer service, checking account fees, and savings and money market rates, have operations in Illinois.



2. Washington

The adjusted-average income here was $41,455.73. The cost of living may be above average, but so is the typical income, and with no state income tax, you'll get to keep more of what you earn.


3. Texas

Texas is another state with no income tax, and along with a relatively low cost of living and unemployment rate, this gives Texas a good adjusted-average income - at $41,427.12, it's just a little behind Washington's.


4. Virginia

The adjusted-average income for Virginia worked out to $41,120.49, helped by high average wages and a relatively low unemployment rate. This is also a good state for your checking accounts, savings accounts, or money market accounts, with four of the best banks identified by operating in Virginia.


5. Delaware

While the adjusted-average incomes of the top four states were bunched quite closely, Delaware's is a clear step back at $39,104.64. Still, this is good enough to rank fifth, largely on the strength of Delaware's high average wages.


6. Massachusetts

The high cost of living in Massachusetts is counterbalanced by the highest average wage levels of any state, helping Massachusetts rank sixth with an adjusted-average income of $38,664.86.


7. Georgia

A combination of a low cost of living and solid average wages help Georgia make the list with an adjusted-average income of $38,228.47. This is another state where you can take great care of your money once you earn it, with four of the best banks in America having branches in Georgia.


8. Tennessee

A very low cost of living helps Tennessee overcome relatively low wage levels, and because the state's taxes don't apply to wages, you'll get to keep more of what you make. Tennessee's adjusted-average income came in at $38,038.27.


9. Colorado

 High average wages and a reasonable state tax burden helped Colorado make the list, coming in just slightly behind Tennessee with an adjusted-average income of $38,020.24.


10. Minnesota

Rounding out the top 10 is Minnesota, a state with relatively high average wages and below-average unemployment. These factors contribute to Minnesota's adjusted-average income of $37,721.99.

    Making a living can be a real challenge in a sluggish economy. The above list might give you some ideas of where you can go to improve your chances.

    Is your state not on this list?  Then take a look at the 10 worst states to make a living

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    Nesta 29 July 2012 at 11:33 pm

    I don't know who decides these things. You are wrong about Virginia. I live there. You are taxed on homes, and personal property, cars, trucks, motorcycles, RV's, trailers, and boats, plus 8% food tax on all Restaurants you go to. Plus inspection on your vehicles. Then an additional 4% state tax on gas. Good place to live, please!

    Lucile Taylor 5 March 2012 at 10:17 pm

    Surprised that Wyoming did not make the top 10. Beautiful state, very low unemployment, low cost of living, no State taxes, decent weather. Perhaps that is just as well so Wyoming doesn't get overrun with people.

    Lee 15 February 2012 at 7:16 pm

    I have no idea what people are talking about when they say Illinois is a good state to live in. Let me correct their thoughts. You are correct if you like living in the rural areas away from the areas surrounding the business hub of Chicago's, Cook, Dupage

    sean 27 January 2012 at 3:13 pm

    Illinois is a very good state to live in. iv been here for all my life

    Gage 26 January 2012 at 4:31 pm

    Hahahaha Illionis sucks

    Rav 17 January 2012 at 1:03 am

    I miss living in Illinois: I left a solid job to go back to a PhD program out of state, I probably never would have left, otherwise. I see a few folks on here talking about how horrible the taxes are living in a "blue state," but I've since moved to a "red state" where the taxes are actually higher, but the government provides a lot less. Think: Roads, schools, etc. There's a good reason why employers continue to flock to the Chicago metro. Before you guys make this a big political thing based on emotions, why not look into the valid comments made by the author of the article?

    Stacey 6 January 2012 at 2:48 pm

    I don't live in illinois but that's what prevented me from moving. The state taxes, tolls , high dollar homes and apartments. I live in Tn low cost of living but only if you are making 50 grand you live well ..anything below you are stretching

    Dave 3 November 2011 at 9:29 pm

    Lived in Illinois, sucked big time. Glad I am gone from there; however, all things being equal, what the government has done to this country, state by state through graft and greed, this country is not long from destruction. People pay lip service to "The greatest country... blah, blah, blah..." but I see lazy sheep headed to the slaughter. I spent 21 years in the Corps, love the US, but the people (as a whole) have become spoiled, lazy and ignorant. They are self-centered and do not see past their big-screen, have no idea what is happening politically and have turned from God. Read the Federalist Papers, the Bible (yes KJV) and then pull your collective heads from your collective backsides and pray; teach your children to pray and take responsibility for your life and your part in this country’s future. Otherwise continue to waste it texting votes for your “Idol”, screaming for your team, and not taking an active part in our future and one day you’ll awake looking around, dumb-founded asking what went wrong?

    Ed Mock 3 November 2011 at 5:28 pm

    LOL Harlan...Sith Lord.

    Jessica Martinez 17 October 2011 at 4:05 am

    I was pretty shocked when I read some of the comments people have written, especially Carlos' comment about the Latino community in the State of Illinois. I am of Latino decent, and I take offense to what he wrote about Latinos getting free education, medical care, etc. Please do not make ignorant comments when the facts/statistics speak for themselves. I moved to Chicago this summer from Las Vegas, NV. I lived in Las Vegas during the height of the economy and when unemployment was hardly an issue. I was an auditor for a third-party administrator for three of the local unions so through the years, I have seen first hand how the economy has affected people of ALL races and job statuses in a state that was once very prosperous. I myself lost my job as a result of the economy. I was born in El Paso, TX and raised there and Pacoima, CA. I chose to move to Chicago because of the opportunities despite the higher cost of living and taxes. I live in a good neighborhood 4 miles north of downtown Chicago by myself and without any assistance. It took a few months for me to find the right job, but I have been blessed with a great opportunity in my field and also have the ability to continue furthering my education. We all have to pursue our dreams, continue educating ourselves, and not give up when an obstacle comes our way. Staying positive and striving to be better is what has made our country so great. I believe that we will overcome this recession we just have to be pro-active regardless of our individual situations; after all, we live in the land of opportunity!

    L. Little 30 September 2011 at 2:00 pm

    People who bought expenisve houses and lived on credit cards are screaming that Illinois is a terrible state. It did nothing except be home to nearly 15M people who drive on 138,000 miles of township roads and routes in 102 counties. IL is home to not one, but five national sports teams, the largest city in the Midwest, the largest inland Wetlands Refuge in America, and a massive park system that provides hunting, fishing, boating, and camping facilities statewide. It is home to some of the best continuing education factliies in the nation. ISU, UIC, and Eureka College come to mind. Illinois has a strong Homeland Security and a statewide medical system that works, It is home to some of the largest and oldest events in America including the first Santa Clause Parade. It has the largest collection of Frank Lloyd Wright architechture in the world, the busiest airport in the world, the tallest skyscrapers in America, architectural and historical tours, and one of the best research libraries in the nation.Nationallly with 42% of the work force underemployed or part-time workers it is difficult time for everyone in America except the most prosperous. It is a time to learn what a simple life and self-sacrifice means in our current economy. The grass is not greener in other states as all states have the same core problems. We should be working on a solution rather than expending energy complaining to deaf ears.

    Harlan 28 September 2011 at 6:43 pm

    Who ever compiled this list is being paid to do so using overly optimistic data produced by Sith Lord Gethner. I recognize propaganda when I see it. Chris and peter are right, Illinois sucks big time. If not for all then for most. I live in Ma now, but the housing prices have not fallen. 1200 bucks gets you a small 2bd1ba cold apartment with paneling and they are everywhere. The market has zero to do with the price here. I am heading south soon the ATL, Hopefully that will work. If not then Africa or Latin America.

    Carlos 27 September 2011 at 2:01 pm

    They must have factored in the cost of living for Latinos. Free education, free medical care for infants and children, and no drivers license needed.The unions are going nuts over the way the Dems are spending money on everything but the union worker. Too bad. That's the type of idiot they wanted to vote for year after year. Now, they're reaping what they've sown.

    CHRIS WASILEWSKI 23 September 2011 at 7:02 pm

    Illinois is the worst state to make a living or live in. Illinois taxes are the highest in the US, including state, utilities, sales, property and more. Additionally the governor has increased the debt for this state because he has no clue what he is doing. There are no jobs here. Unemployment is over 10% and the State is broke. so, I know you're trying to push loans but you need to get your information straight because as far as Illinois goes, everyone is moving out because we can't take the outrageous taxes anymore or the Government.

    Peter 3 September 2011 at 10:00 pm

    Is it is such a wonderful state why did they need to raise the personal state income tax from 3% to 5% and why did they have to raise the state corporate income tax from 4.8% to 7% under the cloak of darkness back in January?One would think if it was such a wonderful place businesses would be busting the doors down just to get into Illinois.Governor Quinn, I am asking you a question. After all I got this article from your web site?

    Tim 2 September 2011 at 11:24 pm

    I have lived all around the world... not just visited, lived... and in 1st world places such as London, Paris, Tokyo, and Moscow.I can safely say Chicago, while not perfect, is a great place to make a living and start a family. It's not spotless by any means and some of the other comments have their points; but its about balance and community... both of which Chicago have.You also have major American staples with their HQ in or around Chicagoland - McDonalds, Hyatt... etc.

    CPT Monk 24 August 2011 at 3:31 am

    ILLinOIZ? Sure come on up to Chicago, but stay off the south and west sides of this gem by the lake. The whole state is a joke, controlled by elected officials in CHI-Town and Springfield. Remember BLAGO, GEORGE RYAN, how far behind can PAT QUINN be?

    Lyn Gannon 8 August 2011 at 6:10 pm

    Thank you Lord that you allowed me to live and work for the State of Illinois. Thank you Lord for your many, many blessings. Glory, Honor and Power to you Lord God Almighty, forever and ever !

    Richard Barrington 4 August 2011 at 12:01 pm

    Bosslady:I'm sorry your experience in Illinois has been less than successful. Still, you can't really say that statistics and data aren't relevant and then ask us to get our facts straight... statistics and data are facts. To answer your question, these facts come from the ACCRA Cost of Living Index, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the Tax Foundation.The simple truth may be that there is no easy place to make a living these days, but if you think it's tough in Illinois, then be thankful you don't have to try it in one of the worst states for making a living. I hope your luck improves.

    Jaxon 4 August 2011 at 3:52 am

    I agree with Illinois being at the top of the list, it has the highest adjusted-average income and the high wages in the Chicago area is one of the reasons why. Chicago is a world class city and it is consistently ranked among the very top cities in the world, however it has a very much lower cost of living that the other top world cities. In fact, Chicago is ranked 109 in cost of living among the world's cities. Chicago is also an Alpha Class Global City of which the U. S has two others....New York City and Los Angeles. Chicago has the lowest cost of living of the three Global Cities and also has a lower cost of living or comparable cost of living when compared to other cities in North America including Washington, D. C., San Francisco, San Diego, Boston, Toronto, Vancouver and others.

    bosslady 2 August 2011 at 2:27 am

    Ilinois shouldnt have made this list period I mean where are they getting their data from? Illinois is expensive (chicago) to live here from the taxes to the city parking and the different stickers to drive your vehicle alone .Lets not forget to mention the housing issue this city dosent even give a cost of living wage .The way I see is if you arent rich or middle class you will not survive (chicago) the city where the rich stay rich and the poor stay poor.its the most un pro women state their are virtually no incentives for living here so statistics and data doesnt compare to whats going on in this city please get your facts straight before publishing nonsense

    Johnson 30 July 2011 at 10:08 pm

    "Barbara Seffinga" did you actually read the article? It states in the article that income taxes in each state and the cost of living in each state were taken into account before the states were ranked. How did you miss this information?

    Barbara Seffinga 30 July 2011 at 1:16 pm

    What a joke!!! Calculate taxes, plus the cost of living and you hav "NADA!" After all the taxes are taken out of 41,000 you are in the poverty level and the cost of living is horrendous.

    Mike 30 July 2011 at 4:11 am

    What really makes Illinois attractive as a place to live is the highest adjusted-average income of of all the states. The cost of living is very low, especially outside metropolitan Chicago. Many smaller Illinois cities have some of the very lowest cost of living statistics in the entire country. Plus the weather is great, not too hot and not too cold with a real four season climate. Illinois is just in the right latitudes for experiencing the four seasons in almost equal periods of time by the calendar. And if you want a little cooler clime you can live in the northern part of the state or if you want a warmer area, you can live in the southern part of the state. And to top it all off much of Illinois is served by Amtrak passenger service. Being located close to the top-ten world class city of Chicago is also a huge plus.

    sue 27 July 2011 at 2:06 pm

    we are in Tn and we find the cost of living high compared to where we lived in upstate ny

    MachineGhost 17 June 2011 at 1:44 pm

    The omission of local taxes makes these rankings moot because whether or not a state charges a none or low sales tax, it will make it up with property taxes, so in the end, all 50 states are nominally a 10% average total tax burden for suburban homeowners. Furthermore, the sales tax burden can vary widely even in-state:"Illinois Sales Tax LawIllinois allows counties and cities to charge up to an additional 5.25% local sales tax on all non-exempt purchases within their jurisdiction. As a result, the actual sales tax you pay in Illinois may vary between 6.25% and 11.5% depending on which county or city the sale is made in. You can get a full table of IL sales taxes by county online from the Illinois revenue department. "The correct way to do a "best of" ranking, that no one has done yet, is to break it down by type: wage-earning renter, wage-earning homeowner, retiree renter, retiree homeowner, and environment: urban, suburban, rural.

    bob cooper 6 June 2011 at 1:26 am

    Illinois the best for income,not wonder, this state has so many most expensive politicians.we have most expensive mayor of Chicago, most, 50! aldermen with average salary 113000,most expensive city and state workers.We ,regular people with little money cannot even dream of 41.000 income. And besides Ilinois population is one of the biggest.So that is nothing to be proud about