Best States to Make A Living 2013

Learn which places are offering favorable conditions to workers despite the sluggish national economy.
Financial Expert
Managing Editor
twitter facebook

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

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

For the third consecutive year, MoneyRates 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, MoneyRates 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’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 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 them 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 the 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 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 versus 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.

Also see the 10 Worst States to Make a Living and the full 50-state list.

Need another way to stretch your income further? Review the savings account rates from Ally Bank and other online banks.

Richard Barrington, a Senior Financial Analyst at MoneyRates, brings over three decades of financial services expertise to the table. His insightful analyses and commentary have made him a sought-after voice in media, with appearances on Fox Business News, NPR, and quotes in major publications like The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. His proficiency is further solidified by the prestigious Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation, highlighting Richard’s depth of knowledge and commitment to financial excellence.
Our reviews are unbiased and thorough, focusing on consumer needs. For details, see our Editorial Policy & Methodology.