The 10 States Doing the Least to Help the Poor

The country's worst records on unemployment benefits, welfare and student spending

states helping poor.png

Wikipedia images: Phoenix, South Carolina, Idaho.

The Occupy movement has highlighted economic inequality, as protesters around the country have labeled themselves the 99%, in contrast to the wealthiest percentile. While this has captured the public's attention, differences in wealth have always existed, and states have tried to level the playing field by redistributing money through education spending, unemployment benefits, health care, welfare, and other means.

24/7 Wall St. examined government spending by state in a number of categories to identify those that give the most and least in money and benefits to their residents. Our analysis has found that states that provide the most services and benefits have high income inequality. In order to finance these programs, the states that offer the most to their residents also have among the highest tax burdens in the country. While all income levels benefit from government assistance, the poor and the dispossessed benefit the most, in the form of welfare, medicare, and unemployment insurance.

Tax burden refers to the average amount a person pays in taxes as a percentage of his or her income. The Tax Foundation calculates each state's tax burden by taking the total amount paid by the state's residents in taxes, and dividing it by the total income of the state's residents. Eight of the ten states that are most generous are among the top fifteen states with the highest tax burdens. New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut are all included on the list and also fill the top three slots for largest tax burdens in the country.

Income inequality measures how evenly wealth is distributed among residents of an area. Income inequality is high when a few people make a great deal and many make far less. Six of the ten states that are most generous are in the top 15 states for highest rates of income inequality. The three states with the greatest inequality in the country -- New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts -- are among the most generous. Many of the states giving the least, such as Idaho and Indiana, fall on the other end of the spectrum for income inequality.

It also happens that the states that spend the most on their residents have particularly high costs of living. While it may be that state governments simply give more because costs are higher, the difference in spending does reflect the entire situation. In many cases the most generous states also provide benefits for longer periods of time, such as unemployment and cash assistance for needy families. Nine of the ten states on the list are within the top 15 for highest costs of living. and seven of the ten least giving states are within the bottom 15 for cost of living.

24/7 Wall St. used the percent of former weekly wages covered by state unemployment insurance to rank unemployment benefits by state, using data from The National Employment Law Project. The amount each state spends on education per student, including teacher salaries, as well as data on income inequality, measured by the Gini coefficient, comes from the Census Bureau. Medicaid spending per recipient is from The Urban Institute and Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured. Medicare spending per recipient is from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. 24/7 ranked the average amount each state employee receives in pension benefits per year using data from the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College on defined benefit plans. Data on the average number of months of benefits received and the average monthly amount of cash assistance from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), a welfare program that provides cash assistance to American families with dependent children, was obtained from the Administration for Children and Families. Cost of living data is from the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center.


Presented by

Douglas A. McIntyre and Michael B. Sauter are editors of 24/7 Wall St., a Delaware-based financial news and opinion operation that produces content for sites including MarketWatch, DailyFinance, Yahoo! Finance, and

Photos of New York City, in Motion

A filmmaker animated hundreds of still photographs to create this flip-book tour of the Big Apple.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus


The Absurd Psychology of Restaurant Menus

Would people eat healthier if celery was called "cool celery?"


This Japanese Inn Has Been Open For 1,300 Years

It's one of the oldest family businesses in the world.


What Happens Inside a Dying Mind?

Science cannot fully explain near-death experiences.


Is Minneapolis the Best City in America?

No other place mixes affordability, opportunity, and wealth so well.

More in Business

Just In