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10 Toughest States for Earning a Living

Hawaii may not be heaven on earth after all

En español | Have you ever dreamed of picking up and moving to a beautiful island paradise — say, Hawaii? According to a study that identifies the best and worst states for making a living, that dream may resemble more of a nightmare when you compare Hawaii with other states regarding average wage, unemployment rate, state tax rate and cost of living.

See also: Did your city make the top 10 cities for job seekers list?

Personal finance website combined these four factors to form an adjusted average income for each state, a representation of how good or bad a living the average person in that state is making.

Though the U.S. job market is still weak, conditions vary greatly from state to state. Despite the unemployment rate reaching a two-year low at 8.8 percent, older workers, especially women, face a slight rise in joblessness. Some states offer job seekers a much better chance of earning a good living. Other states are at the opposite end of the spectrum and fall short when it comes to providing employment opportunities and the ability to earn a living wage.

Lisa Bedient paddles her surfboard while surfing on Kauai, Hawaii.

Ben Moon/Aurora Photos

Lisa Bedient paddles her surfboard in Hawaii, a difficult state in which to earn a living.

"Job seekers who consider relocating for work may want to investigate their options to ensure they're not simply trading one bad set of employment conditions for another," advises Richard Barrington, spokesman and personal finance expert for "There are states you might want to avoid if you're thinking of moving to improve your career."

See the top 10 toughest states for earning a living. >>

Here are's 10 worst states for earning a living, as well as each state's corresponding annual adjusted average income:


Average Income


1. Hawaii
Hawaii has an extremely high cost of living, coupled with a fairly high tax rate.
2. Maine

$29,159 Maine has a combination of relatively low wages and an above-average cost of living.
3. Montana $29,496 Montana makes the list primarily because of the state's low average wages.
4. California
$29,772 California has many fiscal woes, high taxes, high unemployment and a high cost of living.
5. Vermont    
Vermont has a fairly low unemployment rate, but relatively high state taxes and cost of living.
6. Oregon    
Oregon has an above-average rate of unemployment, a high cost of living and a high state tax rate.
7. Rhode Island
The cost of living, state taxes and the unemployment rate are all higher than average in Rhode Island.
The cost of living in Mississippi is cheaper than the average for the country as a whole, but the state's average wage levels are among the lowest in the country.
9. West Virginia
$31,357 West Virginia has a low cost of living and very low wage levels.
10. South Carolina $31,627 South Carolina suffers from a combination of below-average wages, above-average state taxes and above-average unemployment.