The U.S. Census Bureau maintains lists of many state-by-state comparisons. One of the most interesting is the list of states with the most educated population. Because there is an indirect correlation between education and other metrics, such as poverty and crime, it is useful to compare the top states with the worst states.
TUTORIAL: Education Savings Account
Which are the Most Educated States?
According to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau poll, the states with the highest percentage of residents who have obtained a bachelor's degree or higher are:
1) District of Columbia (48.2%)
2) Massachusetts (38.1%)
3 and 4) Connecticut and Colorado (each with 35.6%)
5) Maryland (35.2%)
It comes as no surprise that most of the highest-ranked states are those with large highly-ranked universities. DC ranks the highest, however, because of the number of politicians and political staffers in the District who are well-educated. (Education and training benefit not only the worker, but also the employer and the country as a whole. For more, see How Education And Training Affect The Economy.)
The five worst states on the other hand, are:
1) West Virginia (17.1%)
2) Arkansas (18.8%)
3) Mississippi (19.4%)
4) Kentucky (19.7%)
5) Louisiana (20.3%)
When we compare the average salaries of the top five states compared with the bottom five, the connection between education and income becomes clear. The average salary in the top five states, taken together, is $56,072 and the average for the bottom five states is $35,045. While there are states with higher average income than the top five most educated states (New York, as an example) and there are states with lower income than the least educated states (South Dakota), the economic impact of education shows through the statistics loud and clear. (For related reading, see Budgeting On A Smaller Salary.)
Violent Crime Rates
Examining the violent crime incidents per capita in the top and bottom states provides some interesting statistical anomalies. The District of Columbia has the highest per capita crime rate in the country at 1,414 per 100,000 population, almost double that of the next highest crime state, South Carolina. The main cause of this oddity is that the population of DC is so small that the statistics on a per capita basis are skewed. Massachusetts (432), Colorado (348), and Maryland (642) all have higher crime rates than West Virginia (275), Mississippi (291), and Kentucky (295). There are likely many reasons for this apparent inversion of crime rates to education and income levels. States with more concentrated urban areas are likely to experience more violent crime than those with more rural populations. Also, mugging and armed robbery are more lucrative in high-income areas.
Cost of Living
It's a good thing that the highest-educated states have higher disposable incomes because they need it pay their bills. The cost of living there is more expensive than living in the least-educated states. DC, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Maryland all rank in the top 10 most expensive states to live in. Arkansas, Mississippi and Kentucky all rank in the top 10 cheapest states to live in. (For related reading, see The Most Affordable Cities To Live In.)
The BestCity in the U.S.
So, where is the absolute best place to live in the United States? Well, that depends on who you ask. RelocateAmerica's recent annual winner is Austin, Texas based on the economy, crime, culture, housing costs and other metrics. A Kiplinger analysis puts Houston, Texas at the top, followed closely by Raleigh, North Carolina.
The Bottom Line
States with highly-educated residents make more money on average, but also, sometimes, have more crime. The best places to live will have a balance of economic, creative and livability criteria in their favor. The best place to live might be where you are right now.