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Happiness Index: Nebraska Still on Top?!!

The Middle is Still on Top

It’s been about three months since the last happiness index, and the top spots remain occupied by heartland states. Nebraska, again is the winner, followed by Iowa and Kansas. There have been some big movers. Minnesota and New Hampshire are now in the top ten. As far as the least happy states, Florida, with huge unemployment, debt and foreclosure rates, still maintains it’s place at the bottom, and Illinois has dropped into the bottom ten as well.

How the Happiness Index works

The Happiness Index, which analyzes household income, non-mortgage debt, unemployment and foreclosures in all 50 states plus the District of Columbia, is a fresh take on the old and tired Misery Index, made popular in the 1970s. The Misery Index takes into account unemployment and inflation rates and seeks to identify the most financially miserable places to live. The Happiness Index, on the other hand, calculates which states enjoy the ‘happiest’ economic conditions.

Click through to see where your state ranks. We’ll start with the ‘happiest’ states, and the least ‘happy’ states will follow.

10th Happiest: Minnesota

Previous Rank: 20

Non-Mortgage Debt as % of Annual Income: 29.74%

Unemployment Rate: 7.3%

Foreclosure Rate (1 foreclosure per # of households): 23

Minnesota jumped 10 spots in the Happiness Index, but it’s important to keep things in perspective, as MinnPost.com reports: “Toby Madden, regional economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, cautioned observers of unemployment numbers when he was discussing the 2010 regional forecast not to get ‘overly fixated’ on one-month snapshots. Month-to-month trending over time is a more important indicator of positive or negative momentum in the midst of a recession. By that measure, things might be looking up for Minnesota’s economy.”

 

Photo Credit: adamsfelt

  9th Happiest: Hawaii

Previous Rank: 8

Non-Mortgage Debt as % of Annual Income: 24.56%

Unemployment Rate: 6.9%

Foreclosure Rate (1 foreclosure per # of households): 330

Despite low unemployment and non-mortgage debt rates, Hawaii is facing some serious economic challenges. Its high foreclosure rate is evidence of that. ABC News reports on one recent initiative to spur growth: “Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle pushed for the island state to increase its use of renewable energy and provide tax credits to stimulate it during a downtrodden economy. The Republican governor used her final State of the State address Monday to ask lawmakers to ban the construction of new fossil-fuel burning power plants and to pass a package of tax credits to boost Hawaii's economy and to create jobs.”

 

Photo Credit: PlassPhoto

8th Happiest: North Dakota


Previous Rank: 6

Non-Mortgage Debt as % of Annual Income: 34.59%

Unemployment Rate: 4.4%

Foreclosure Rate (1 foreclosure per # of households): 330

With the lowest unemployment rate in the country, “Employment has been one factor in the recovery with more supply managers reporting employment increases than decreases in January, but continued job losses have helped spur the cost of raw materials and supplies,” notes MinotDailyNews.com.

Photo Credit: afiler

7th Happiest: New Hampshire

Previous Rank: 22

Non-Mortgage Debt as % of Annual Income: 29.15%

Unemployment Rate: 7%

Foreclosure Rate (1 foreclosure per # of households): 1065

Despite a recent budget shortfall, SeaCoastOnline.com reports that New Hampshire lawmakers are cautiously optimistic that revenues will soon rise.  In a separate article, the site quotes Ross Gittell, vice president and forecast manager for the New England Economic Partnership:  “While there has been a slight uptick in economic activity with the state's employment rate stabilizing, many industries like real estate, finance and manufacturing are still facing difficulties.

 

Photo Credit: Leventhal Map Center

6th Happiest: Virginia

Previous Rank: 9

Non-Mortgage Debt as % of Annual Income: 28.62%

Unemployment Rate: 6.9%

Foreclosure Rate (1 foreclosure per # of households): 713

With low unemployment and non-mortgage debt compared to other states, Virginia is doing pretty well. But the state’s newly elected governor has plans to make things better. Governor Bob McDonnell has submitted a legislative proposal which, “consists of 20 pieces of legislation, as well as previously announced budget amendments, all focused on spurring job creation, promoting economic development and creating more opportunities for Virginians."

 

Photo Credit: La Citta Vita

5th Happiest: South Dakota

Previous Rank: 5

Non-Mortgage Debt as % of Annual Income: 32.64%

Unemployment Rate: 4.7%

Foreclosure Rate (1 foreclosure per # of households): 2791

According to economist Ernie Goss, who recently conducted an economic survey of the region, “Manufacturing in South Dakota has stabilized, with January activity up slightly from December. I expect continuing growth for the state's computer- and electronic-component manufacturers for 2010.”

 

Photo Credit: Mykl Roventine

4th Happiest: Oklahoma

Previous Rank: 4

Non-Mortgage Debt as % of Annual Income: 28.69%

Unemployment Rate: 6.6%

Foreclosure Rate (1 foreclosure per # of households): 966

Oklahoma’s economy has experienced some real growth of late. TulsaWorld.com quotes Goss saying, “The government data is fairly strong, relatively speaking, for Oklahoma compared to some of the other states… If you look at the jobs data, of course the unemployment number in the region is about average, but compared against the nation it's pretty good.”

 

Photo Credit: freewine

3rd Happiest: Kansas

Previous Rank: 3

Non-Mortgage Debt as % of Annual Income: 27.72%

Unemployment Rate: 6.6%

Foreclosure Rate (1 foreclosure per # of households): 1153

Kansas may be doing quite well compared to other states, but it still faces its fair share of challenges. But things may be improving. “The state's economy has been plagued by weaknesses in aircraft manufacturing, telecommunications and agriculture,” notes an article by the Associated Press. “But…improvements in the global, national and regional economies will help growth in aircraft production, farming and industries tied to farming.”

Photo Credit: gregor_y

2nd Happiest: Iowa

Previous Rank: 2

Non-Mortgage Debt as % of Annual Income: 26.45 %

Unemployment Rate: 6.6%

Foreclosure Rate (1 foreclosure per # of households): 2329

Iowa’s enjoyed near-top billing in the Happiness Index from the start, but it looks like it’s economy is really improving of late. As reported in the GazetteOnline, “all eight components of the Iowa Leading Indicators Index contributed positively in December for the first time since April 2007. The components were average weekly manufacturing hours, the new orders index, the Iowa stock market index, new residential housing building permits, weekly unemployment insurance claims, the yield spread, diesel fuel consumption, and the agricultural futures price index.”

 

Photo Credit: Hammer51012

#1 Happiest: Nebraska

Previous Rank: 9

Non-Mortgage Debt as % of Annual Income: 26.42 %

Unemployment Rate: 4.7%

Foreclosure Rate (1 foreclosure per # of households): 3470

Nebraska has been number one on the Happiness Index since its inception (gotta love that unemployment rate), and that’s a fact not lost on the locals. In Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman’s recent state of the state address, he mentioned our survey, and went on to mention other accolades, “Because of the tough choices we have made, Nebraska is receiving national attention. According to Forbes, Nebraska is one of the Top 10 “Best States For Business.” Business Week rated Nebraska as one of the Top 10 states “Where Struggling Americans Can Find a Fresh Start.” … CNN Money just published a ranking of the Top 10 “Best Places to Live” in America for jobs. Three of the Top 8 places for jobs in America are in one state - Nebraska.”

Photo Credit: Kables

Maybe happiness is overrated… Nah.

Unfortunately, for the purpose of this study, happiness – economic happiness that is – is not overrated. Here are the ten least happy states. All of them are facing extremely high levels of unemployment, foreclosure and/or debt. It’s worth noting that most of these states have been stuck in the bottom ten for the past year or so, attesting to the fact that when you’re in this deep a hole, it’s really hard to climb out.

10th Least Happy: Michigan

Previous Rank: 13

Non-Mortgage Debt as % of Annual Income: 28.97 %

Unemployment Rate: 14.6%

Foreclosure Rate (1 foreclosure per # of households): 225

With the highest unemployment rate in the country and all the bad press Detroit gets, it’s frankly surprising that Michigan isn’t lower on the list. But Governor Jennifer Granholm is ramping up a plan for growth. “Where the old Michigan economy was all about autos and manufacturing ... the new Michigan economy is much broader: clean energy, life sciences -- like bio-economy and medical devices -- homeland security and defense, advanced manufacturing, film and tourism.”

Photo Credit: mrt77

9th Least Happy: Illinois

Previous Rank: 12

Non-Mortgage Debt as % of Annual Income: 30.35 %

Unemployment Rate: 11.1%

Foreclosure Rate (1 foreclosure per # of households): 294

Lawmakers in Illinois have been pushing for job creation bills, which is understandable given that the state’s unemployment rate is higher than the national average of 9.7 percent. University of Illinois economist Geoffrey J.D. Hewings “predicts little relief until Illinois gets to the bottom of a steep employment downturn that has seen the loss of more than 447,000 jobs since 2000.”

Photo Credit: laffy4k

8th Least Happy: Oregon

Previous Rank: 5

Non-Mortgage Debt as % of Annual Income: 32.55 %

Unemployment Rate: 11%

Foreclosure Rate (1 foreclosure per # of households): 380

Oregon has slowly but surely been crawling up the Happiness Index (it was in last place the first time we published the survey). Tim Duy with the Oregon Economic Forum notes that labor markets are improving, residential building permits more in demand, and core manufactured goods orders are up too. He also offers a word of caution, though. “While the Oregon economy, like the national economy, is no longer in recession, considerably uncertainty about the pace of the recovery remains.”

Photo Credit: bandita

7th Least Happy: Tennessee

Previous Rank: 11

Non-Mortgage Debt as % of Annual Income: 33.54 %

Unemployment Rate: 10.9%

Foreclosure Rate (1 foreclosure per # of households): 572

As Tennesseans face high unemployment, debt and foreclosure rates, state legislators are battling over the budget. The governor wants to levy a new tax on cable TV to cover a shortfall, but Republican legislators are opposed to it. According to KnoxNews.com, “[Gov. Phil Bredesen] says the cable taxes would generate about $22 million to prevent further cuts… basically brings cable TV taxes in line with those levied on satellite TV. Currently, the state faces a lawsuit from the satellite TV industry that says current law gives its competitor, cable TV, an unfair advantage.”

Photo Credit: Exothermic

6th Least Happy: Rhode Island

Previous Rank: 8

Non-Mortgage Debt as % of Annual Income: 34.77 %

Unemployment Rate: 12.9%

Foreclosure Rate (1 foreclosure per # of households): 657

Rhode Island’s unemployment rate rose to 12.9 percent, the third highest in the country, after having dropped the previous two months. According to Reuters, Republican Governor Donald Carcieri “again recommended several cost-saving measures for municipal governments, though the legislature has previously rejected them, and added new proposals, including a pay cut for public employees. State employees already have endured a pay cut.”

Photo Credit: Patricia Drury

5th Least Happy: Idaho

Previous Rank: 6

Non-Mortgage Debt as % of Annual Income: 36.71 %

Unemployment Rate: 9.1%

Foreclosure Rate (1 foreclosure per # of households): 159

Idahoans may be struggling with high non-mortgage debt and a very high foreclosure rate, but there are some hopeful signs. The state military bases are on the shortlist to become home to a new fighter jet, the F-35. “Paul Hiller, Executive Director of Boise Valley Economic Partnership said, if Idaho is chosen it means 3 thousand new jobs could open up, injecting nearly a billion dollars in Idaho's economy each year,” reports KBOI News.

 

Photo Credit: amanderson2

4th Least Happy: Arizona

Previous Rank: 4

Non-Mortgage Debt as % of Annual Income: 40.78 %

Unemployment Rate: 9.1%

Foreclosure Rate (1 foreclosure per # of households): 132

As an article in the Arizona Republic notes, Arizona’s recovery, and its problems, are all about jobs. “Almost 10 percent of the state's jobs were wiped out by the brutal recession, dealing a huge blow to government budgets, the housing market and retailers. More jobs are needed to fill the more than 80,000 houses standing empty in metro Phoenix. More jobs are needed to put money in the pockets of people, whose spending is vital for businesses to get back on their feet. And more jobs are needed in new fields, a labor-force diversification of risk to better weather the next recession.”

Photo Credit: Ken Lund

3rd Least Happy: Nevada

Previous Rank: 2

Non-Mortgage Debt as % of Annual Income: 32.59 %

Unemployment Rate: 13%

Foreclosure Rate (1 foreclosure per # of households): 94

Nevadans learned this week that their state faces a nearly $900 million budget deficit and with sky high unemployment, foreclosure and non-mortgage debt rates, it’s no surprise. According to the Las Vegas Review Journal, to deal with the problem Governor Jim Gibbons “has announced publicly he will support no more than a 6 percent cut in state employee salaries, a 10 percent reduction in public education spending, and layoffs of 300 state employees. He also wants to temporarily suspend collective bargaining rights for school employees and to close the Nevada State Prison in Carson City.”

 

Photo Credit: matze_ott

2nd Least Happy: California

Previous Rank: 3

Non-Mortgage Debt as % of Annual Income: 36.05 %

Unemployment Rate: 12.4%

Foreclosure Rate (1 foreclosure per # of households): 165

If California were a country, its economy would be among the ten largest in the world. It’s easily the biggest economy in the United States, which is why its problems are so widely reported. There have been some signs of improvement, though not nearly as widespread as they need to be, notes this article in the Wall Street Journal. “Unemployment rates are dipping and home prices are rebounding in the San Francisco Bay area, which is driven by its technology industry and exports, and in coastal Southern California, where entertainment and other industries are starting to benefit from the economic thaw. But in the state's Central Valley and Inland Empire regions, where the downturn struck earlier and harder, unemployment rates are still rising and the battered construction industry keeps shedding workers.”

 

Photo Credit: tensaibuta

#1 Least Happy: Florida

Previous Rank: 1

Non-Mortgage Debt as % of Annual Income: 37.56 %

Unemployment Rate: 11.8%

Foreclosure Rate (1 foreclosure per # of households): 158

Florida might get a nice little economic boost from hosting the Super Bowl this weekend, and with unemployment, non-mortgage debt and foreclosure rates this high, they can use all the help they can get. Unfortunately, the economy is likely to take a further hit when the space shuttle program shuts down later this year. “The end of the shuttle program will potentially eliminate as many as 7,000 – 8,000 jobs, some of which will need to be filled once again when the Constellation program is in full swing,” notes UniverseToday.com. The Constellation program represents the next generation of manned space exploration, and eventually will bring us to Mars.  Until that program ramps up, however, “many workers are expected to vacate the area in search of jobs elsewhere. This will impact the local economy that relies on these residents, and as many as 14,000 workers in the area may be indirectly affected.”

 

Photo Credit: Karen Horton

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If you don't see your state in the top or bottom ten, then it's somewhere in the middle. Click here to see a table with all of the rankings.

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