24 Worst States for Jobs

A recent study looked at 34 criteria such as job opportunities, job security, automation risk, and unemployment rate to find the best and worst states to find employment and to work in. You may be surprised at some of the rankings for the worst states to work in.

1. West Virginia

West Virginia
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According to WalletHub, the Mountain State’s job market ranks 50th of all the United States. The economic environment in this Appalachian wildland ranks 49th. Is that bad?

These rankings reflect monthly average salary, job opportunities, hours worked per week, and many other factors that illustrate the harsh lives of many workers in West Virginia. Country roads, take me to another state with more economic opportunity.

2. Kentucky

Image Credit: Sean Pavone/Shutterstock.

Kentucky has the sixth-highest poverty rate in the U.S. and its job market data helps explain why so many Kentuckians struggle to get by. The state ranks 50th in the overall economic environment and 48th in all job markets.

The bluegrass is not always greener for Kentuckians looking for better, more secure employment.

3. Mississippi

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Whether you are a lawyer who graduated from Ole Miss or an agricultural professional with a degree from Mississippi State, you can make a good living in the Magnolia State. However, Mississippi does not fare well when compared to other states, as it has the second-worst job market and third-worst economic environment.

Drive through depressed cities like Greenville, and you’ll have no doubt about Mississippi’s lagging economic prospects.

4. Louisiana

The Hotel Provincial, New Orleans, Louisiana
Image Credit: The Hotel Provincial/Michael Smith.

Louisianans’ claim to fame is the art of the crawfish boil, parade, and sporting event. While hard workers exist in the Bayou State, the state’s image is one of people who have perfected the art of the celebration.

Though its economic environment ranks 36th (which is nothing to throw beads at), its job market flops at 47th in the nation. Routinely ranked among the most corrupt states, few large-scale businesses are eager to place down roots in a swamp.

5. Pennsylvania

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The state’s flagship city, Philadelphia, continues to feel the pangs of pandemic-era policies. Philly has recovered from job losses more slowly than comparable cities, and the state of Pennsylvania, more broadly, is not faring much better.

The Keystone State has the fourth-worst economic environment and only the 32nd-best job market, leaving Pennsylvanians with far less provolone on their cheesesteaks than they’d like.

6. Indiana

Indianapolis, Indiana at night
Image Credit: Miyin2, CC BY-S.A. 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Hoosier State has abysmal economic markers, ranking 44th out of 50 job markets and 40th in the overall economic environment. A state with many rural, agriculture-dependent counties, Howard County, Lake County, and Fayette County had the highest unemployment rates in the state during a 2023 tally.

7. Oregon

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Oregon? More like Jobs-e-gon.

Outside of the cities, the Pacific Northwest has long been a hardscrabble work environment dependent on those with thick callouses on their hands, such as loggers and commercial fishermen. The state’s outcast geographic location does not help its overall business climate, which ranks a woeful 46th.

8. Arkansas

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Arkansas is the home of more large corporations than you might suspect (headlined by Walmart and Tyson Foods). However, based on Arkansas’ ranking as the sixth-worst economic environment in the United States, it’s clear that more than a few large headquarters in Little Rock are needed to employ an entire state’s population.

9. Alabama

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Alabama is the “Sweet Home” that Lynyrd Skynyrd sang about, but job prospects in the Heart of Dixie are anything but sweet. Alabama’s poverty rate of 16.3% ranks among the lowest in the country, and certain counties have unconscionable rates of extreme poverty.

While the Alabama Crimson Tide football team usually ranks in the nation’s top five, WalletHub ranked Alabama’s economic conditions 43rd. If only Nick Saban were the Director of Alabama’s Department of Finance rather than its football team…

10. Idaho

Image Credit: Wiki Commons, Jyoni Shuler.

With the 42nd strongest job market and the 37th most favorable economic environment, the vast state of Idaho is long on scenery but short on stable, well-paying professional opportunities.

Imagine how rough the situation would be if it weren’t for the potato and the rodeo.

11. Illinois

Image credit: Deposit Photos.

Considering that Illinois is the site of one of America’s flagship cities (no, it’s not Sandwich, IL), it’s a wonder how the state ranks 45th in America’s job market rankings.

A study from the University of Illinois found that there is a low floor for job quality in the state. Much of Illinois is a relatively rural setting, which can mean relatively few jobs per square acre. In cities like Chicago, pockets of intense poverty can lead to a highly segregated tale of two cities.

12. Hawaii

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Hawaii ranked as the 26th best job market, but its overall economic environment rated 44th. Perhaps Hawaii’s reliance on tourism as an industry is a knock against it, as this is a seasonal and notoriously fickle industry.

The state is notably lacking in high-paying entry-level jobs, ranking dead last in the nation. This suggests that those without impressive resumes may find few high-paying starter positions in the islands.

13. Montana

Aerial View of Downtown Bozeman, Montana in Summer
Image Credit: Jacob Boomsma/Shutterstock.

Considering its remote location, Montana’s 35th-ranked job market seems respectable. While the overall landscape of opportunities, salaries, and job security is not great now, Montana is expected to add more than 5,500 jobs annuallythrough 2031.

14. Georgia

Savannah, Georgia
Image Credit: Bigdaverhuberg – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0/Wiki Commons.

With the exception of Florida, you can typically expect to find America’s southernmost states towards the bottom rankings involving poverty, lack of job opportunities, and other dubious distinctions.

This fact is no knock against Georgia, which contains one of America’s most important cities in Atlanta. With its history as an agricultural economy, deep southern states tend to lack the varied job markets of other states.

15. North Carolina

Asheville, North Carolina
Image Credit: Michael Tracey – CC0/Wiki Commons.

Despite having several bustling cities with an abundance of high-paying jobs, North Carolina does not rank especially well in its overall economic climate. In fact, WalletHub rated the Tar Heel State as the 42nd best state for economic conditions.

For some trying to climb the professional ladder in North Carolina, it can feel like there is tar slathered all over the heels of their wingtips.

16. Alaska

Anchorage, Alaska
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Alaska is a state you might expect to rank even lower on this list, considering it’s marooned atop Canada and is mostly a large swathe of uninhabited wilderness. However, the state’s economic environment ranked 16th, an indication that its leading industries (oil, tourism, fishing, timber, mining, and agriculture) can pay well and consistently.

However, the total number of jobs in Alaska remains relatively low, which is why the state holds a spot on this list.

17. Oklahoma

Oklahoma City in Oklahoma
Image Credit: Lillie-Beth Brinkman – Own Work, CC BY-SA 3.0/Wiki Commons.

The Great Plains will never be the economic engine of the United States, though its ceaseless commitment to agriculture makes the region indispensable. With a robust energy sector, Oklahoma offers plenty of high-paying jobs — just not as many as most other states.

You could say the state of jobs in Oklahoma is just “OK.”

18. Nevada

Las Vegas City in Nevada
Image Credit: Dietmar Rabich – CC BY-SA 4.0/Wiki Commons.

To most outsiders, Nevada is defined by Las Vegas and, to a lesser extent, Lake Tahoe. However, the state is a desert, and perhaps we should expect that a state founded on the Mojave Desert would have the 41st-ranked job market. Nevada claims aerospace among its notable industries, and we can only assume this refers to Area 51.

19. Connecticut

Hartford, Connecticut, USA downtown cityscape.

While Connecticut registers the 14th-best economic environment on WalletHub’s rankings, its job market ranks 43rd. This disparity suggests that like a farmer who cannot maximize fertile soil, Connecticut’s underlying economic opportunities are not producing the jobs one might expect.

20. Ohio

Cleveland, Ohio
Image Credit: f11photo/Shutterstock.

We aren’t particularly shocked to find any Rust Belt states on this list, including Ohio. The Ohio Legislative Budget Office explains that 45 of Ohio’s 88 counties have suffered “devastating conditions of poverty, high unemployment, or both” since 1993.

21. California

Sonoma Plaza California
Image Credit: Carlton A. Lear – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0/Wiki Commons.

A state whose high taxation has never made it the most pro-business environment, California ranks in the bottom half of WalletHub’s job-specific rankings. Despite major American employers like Apple having headquarters in the Golden State, the overall job market ranks 38th out of 50 states.

22. New Mexico

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As of September 2023, New Mexico had the 11th highest unemployment rate of all the states. This Southwestern state might consider changing its name from the Land of Enchantment to the Land of Unemployment.

23. New York

Westlight New York City
Image Credit: Westlight.

The state with the most important, bustling city in the nation should have better than the 34th-best job market. Yet, New York fares poorly when considering the overall competitiveness of pay, unemployment rates, benefits, and other factors that make for a strong job market.

24. Iowa

Downtown, Newton, Iowa
Image Credit: Gtkn, CC BY-SA 4.0 / Wiki Commons.

Outsiders think of Iowa as a vast, flat state covered border to border in corn. How many jobs could there be in such a corn-infested state, after all?

Actually, Iowa ranks right near the middle of the pack in terms of job markets and economic conditions, proving that the state offers far more than cornstalks.

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glass of water
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selection of canned goods
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Alaska skyline
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Becky is a wildlife enthusiast and pet and livestock care expert with a diploma in canine nutrition. With over a decade of experience in animal welfare, Becky lends her expertise to Simple Family Preparedness through insightful info about pets, livestock, bee keeping, and the practicalities of homesteading.

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