Western States With Failing Economies vs. Western States With Thriving Economies

Homes in front of Lake Creek View Of Sawatch Range in Edwards Colorado with copy-space.
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Nearly one in five Americans live in the Western states, according to Statista. They’re home to America’s largest mountain chain, largest desert, largest forest and — if you count Alaska and Hawaii, which the U.S. Census Bureau does — its longest stretch of coastline.

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Unlike those that make up the country’s other major geographic regions, the Western states have vastly different cultures, climates, politics and geography. It’s a land of extremes.

Fairbanks, Alaska, is the coldest place in America. Death Valley, California, is the hottest place on Earth. Alaska and Death Valley are also home to the highest and lowest points in the country. Home to nearly 40 million people, California is America’s most populous state. The least populous is Wyoming — with fewer than 600,000 residents, it’s smaller than Washington, D.C.

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Equally varied and unique are the region’s state economies. California itself has the fifth-largest economy in the world, behind only the U.S., China, Japan and Germany. Only one state in America — Vermont — has a smaller economy than Alaska, Wyoming and Montana.

Size isn’t the only thing that sets their economies apart, though. Some are doing a whole lot better than others.

Using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Bureau of Economic Analysis, GOBankingRates identified the state economies that are thriving and those that are failing in the West — and most are in tip-top shape. The study looks at factors like unemployment, GDP and poverty, and if you’re considering relocating out West, this guide can help you choose a state where you’re more likely to thrive.

Western States With Failing Economies

Most Western states are doing well. A couple, however, have shrinking GDPs, rising unemployment, a high percentage of people living in poverty, or some combination of them all.

New Mexico

  • August 2022 unemployment rate: 4.4%
  • Year-over-year change in unemployment March 2022: 3.5%
  • Q4 2021 GDP per capita: $55,128
  • GDP growth Q3-Q4 2021: -4.7%
  • Average weekly wages Q3 2021: $1,018
  • Percent change in average weekly wages Q3 2020-Q3 2021: 6.5%
  • Percent of population below poverty line 2019-2020: 15.9%

Alaska

  • August 2022 unemployment rate: 4.6%
  • Year-over-year change in unemployment March 2022: 2.5%
  • Q4 2021 GDP per capita: $80,278
  • GDP growth Q3-Q4 2021: -8.2%
  • Average weekly wages Q3 2021: $1,178
  • Percent change in average weekly wages Q3 2020-Q3 2021: 4.9%
  • Percent of population below poverty line 2019-2020: 11.8%
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Western States With Thriving Economies

In much of the West, poverty levels are low, economic production is growing and the jobless rate is low or at least getting lower. If you’re considering moving westward, these states should be on the top of your list.

Colorado

  • August 2022 unemployment rate: 3.4%
  • Year-over-year change in unemployment March 2022: 3.9%
  • Q4 2021 GDP per capita: $77,510
  • GDP growth Q3-Q4 2021: -1.9%
  • Average weekly wages Q3 2021: $1,455
  • Percent change in average weekly wages Q3 2020-Q3 2021: 8.8%
  • Percent of population below poverty line 2019-2020: 9.4%

Washington

  • August 2022 unemployment rate: 3.7%
  • Year-over-year change in unemployment March 2022: 4%
  • Q4 2021 GDP per capita: $91,251
  • GDP growth Q3-Q4 2021: -3.3%
  • Average weekly wages Q3 2021: $1,596
  • Percent change in average weekly wages Q3 2020-Q3 2021: 3.8%
  • Percent of population below poverty line 2019-2020: 7.6%

Utah

  • August 2022 unemployment rate: 2%
  • Year-over-year change in unemployment March 2022: 3.3%
  • Q4 2021 GDP per capita: $71,535
  • GDP growth Q3-Q4 2021: -2%
  • Average weekly wages Q3 2021: $1,152
  • Percent change in average weekly wages Q3 2020-Q3 2021: 8.2%
  • Percent of population below poverty line 2019-2020: 7.4%

Nevada

  • August 2022 unemployment rate: 4.4%
  • Year-over-year change in unemployment March 2022: 5%
  • Q4 2021 GDP per capita: $67,143
  • GDP growth Q3-Q4 2021: 7.9%
  • Average weekly wages Q3 2021: $1,164
  • Percent change in average weekly wages Q3 2020-Q3 2021: 8%
  • Percent of population below poverty line 2019-2020: 11.7%
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Oregon

  • August 2022 unemployment rate: 3.7%
  • Year-over-year change in unemployment March 2022: 4.3%
  • Q4 2021 GDP per capita: $67,055
  • GDP growth Q3-Q4 2021: -0.7%
  • Average weekly wages Q3 2021: $1,259
  • Percent change in average weekly wages Q3 2020-Q3 2021: 7.4%
  • Percent of population below poverty line 2019-2020: 8.8%

California

  • August 2022 unemployment rate: 4.1%
  • Year-over-year change in unemployment March 2022: 4%
  • Q4 2021 GDP per capita: $90,264
  • GDP growth Q3-Q4 2021: -1%
  • Average weekly wages Q3 2021: $1,644
  • Percent change in average weekly wages Q3 2020-Q3 2021: 1%
  • Percent of population below poverty line 2019-2020: 10.6%

Arizona

  • August 2022 unemployment rate: 3.5%
  • Year-over-year change in unemployment March 2022: 3.7%
  • Q4 2021 GDP per capita: $60,870
  • GDP growth Q3-Q4 2021: -2.5%
  • Average weekly wages Q3 2021: $1,234
  • Percent change in average weekly wages Q3 2020-Q3 2021: 7.5%
  • Percent of population below poverty line 2019-2020: 10.4%

Idaho

  • August 2022 unemployment rate: 2.7%
  • Year-over-year change in unemployment March 2022: 2.6%
  • Q4 2021 GDP per capita: $54,808
  • GDP growth Q3-Q4 2021: -1.1%
  • Average weekly wages Q3 2021: $982
  • Percent change in average weekly wages Q3 2020-Q3 2021: 8.5%
  • Percent of population below poverty line 2019-2020: 8.1%

Hawaii

  • August 2022 unemployment rate: 4.1%
  • Year-over-year change in unemployment March 2022: 2.2%
  • Q4 2021 GDP per capita: $65,683
  • GDP growth Q3-Q4 2021: 5.4%
  • Average weekly wages Q3 2021: $1,135
  • Percent change in average weekly wages Q3 2020-Q3 2021: 4.2%
  • Percent of population below poverty line 2019-2020: 9.7%

More From GOBankingRates

Methodology: GOBankingRates analyzed the following factors for each state and Washington D.C. to gauge the health of their economies: (1) August 2022 unemployment rates according to Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Local Area Unemployment Statistics; (2) the August 2022 year-over-year change in nonfarm payroll jobs, per the BLS State and Metro Area Employment, Hours, & Earnings data; (3) the Q1 2022 GDP per capita in current dollars, calculated by using population data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS) 2020 5-year estimates and the Bureau of Economic Analysis’s (BEA) most recent GDP by State release; (4) the percent by which GDP grew between Q4 2021 and Q1 2022, also per the BEA GDP release; (5) the average weekly wage in Q1 2022, per the BLS Economic News Release; (6) percent change in the average weekly wage, March 2021 to March 2022, per the BLS Economic News Release; and (7) percent of the population living below the poverty line, according to the Census Bureau’s Income and Poverty in the United States: 2020. States were scored on all factors and ranked against each other based on their combined total score. The states with the lowest combined scores were identified as states with thriving economies and the states with the highest combined scores were identified as states with failing economies. All data was collected on and up to date as of September 27, 2022.

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About the Author

Andrew Lisa has been writing professionally since 2001. An award-winning writer, Andrew was formerly one of the youngest nationally distributed columnists for the largest newspaper syndicate in the country, the Gannett News Service. He worked as the business section editor for amNewYork, the most widely distributed newspaper in Manhattan, and worked as a copy editor for TheStreet.com, a financial publication in the heart of Wall Street's investment community in New York City.
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