The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Why the South is the worst place to live in the U.S. — in 10 charts

Daring slogan, darn good place to live. (Robert F. Bukaty/AP Photo)

Looking for a healthier lifestyle? You might want to move to Hawaii. More educated people? You should probably try Montana, Vermont, or Minnesota. Better job prospects? North Dakota. And if you want the best quality of living, pound for pound, the best place to live is New Hampshire.

But if you're trying to avoid places where all of the above are (well) below average, you'll want to stay clear of the South.

That's what data from a new report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) appears to suggest. The report ranked all 50 states (plus the District) according to nine different measures of well-being: health, safety, housing, access to broadband, civic engagement, education, jobs, environment, and income.

The study assigned a value from zero to ten (ten being a perfect score, zero being an embarrassment) for each of the nine measures. While no state was perfect, New Hampshire, which scored 77.6, is easily the best anyone can do in the United States, followed by Minnesota (76.2), Vermont (74.8), Iowa (72.9); and North Dakota (72.4).

Meanwhile, there are a number of states — all of them in the South — you might want to avoid. Mississippi, which scored lower than any other state, barely broke 50. Arkansas and Alabama, which tied for second to last, each scored 51.3. West Virginia, which was fourth to last, scored 52.2. And Tennessee, which was fifth to last, scored 52.9.

The South, which performed the worst of any region in the country, is home to eight of the poorest performing states. Only Virginia was in the top 25. And just barely — it placed 22nd.

New Hampshire, as it happens, isn't merely the the best place to live when all nine of the indicators are considered together, as a package. The forested, often frigid, New England state performed better than any other in several subcategories, too.

Take safety, for instance, which the OECD gauged by using crime and homicide data. New Hampshire is the nation's safest state — its score of 9.2 (out of 10) is a full half point higher than that for any other. Vermont and Iowa, which each scored 8.7, were second. And Minnesota, which scored 8.2, was fourth.

Maryland, New Mexico, Louisiana, Mississippi, and the District of Columbia, meanwhile, earned a zero.

New Hampshire is also a great place to find a home — it's one of 15 states, along with Minnesota, Vermont, Iowa, North Dakota, Maine, Wyoming, South Dakota, Ohio, Montana, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Michigan, West Virginia, and Alabama, to receive a perfect 10 for housing, which the OECD measured by considering the number of rooms per person, "housing expenditures," and the number of "dwellings without basic facilities" in each state.

Hawaii, which received a 5.2, and California, which received a 5.6, scored the lowest by this metric.

And earn a living—New Hampshire is one of 14 states (and one district), along with Minnesota, North Dakota, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Virginia, Alaska, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland, Illinois, California, the District of Columbia, to score a perfect ten for income, which the OECD measured by using household net adjusted disposable income and net financial wealth.

Idaho, Mississippi, and Arkansas, which scored 7.1, 7.2, and 7.2, respectively, were the three poorest performing states by this measure.

New Hampshire offers some of the best broadband connections, too. It's 8.9 score tied with Washington for the highest in the country.

But that's where New Hampshire's reign ends.

The healthiest state in the country (measured by life expectancy at birth and self-reported health status) is, far and away, Hawaii, which received a score of 8.8, a full point higher than that of any other. Minnesota, Connecticut, and California, each of which received a 7.8, tied for second, and New York, which managed a 7.5, was fifth.

Mississippi, Alabama, and West Virginia, meanwhile, each scored less than 2. The discrepancy is such that a person living in Hawaii can expect to live more than six years longer than one living in Mississippi, the report explains.

The state with the best job opportunities, as measured by employment rates, average annual earnings per employee, and job tenure, is North Dakota, which scored a 9.9. Next is Nebraska, which scored a 9.6, South Dakota, which scored a 9.4, and Vermont, which scored a 9.3.

Mississippi, California, and Nevada, meanwhile, scored 5.3, 5.4, and 5.4, respectively—the lowest of all 50 states.

The state with the cleanest environment, as measured by air and water quality, is Alaska, which scored a perfect 10. Hawaii, which scored 9.8, was second; Oregon, which scored 9.7, was third; and Washington, which scored 9.7, was fourth.

Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New York, which scored 5.3, 5.7, and 5.7, respectively were last. And the District of Columbia scored 4.5, lower than any of the 50 states.

The most educated states, according to educational attainment, students' cognitive skills, and years in education, are Vermont, Minnesota, and Montana, which each scored 9.7. The least are Texas, Mississippi, and California, which scored 8, 8.1, and 8.1, respectively.

And the most politically engaged is Mississippi, which scored 6.9 (after discounting the District of Columbia, which scored 7.2).

Overall, the regional picture that emerges is rather clear.

New England fares extremely well by just about every measure. At best, states in the region are among the highest in the country and at worst they're still above average. The Midwest scores fairly well as well, too. The Pacific Northwest is a good but not great place to live, by the OECD's measure. The Southwest is surprisingly underwhelming.

And if OECD's rating system is to be taken seriously, everyone might be better off living somewhere other than the South.