We adhere to strict standards of editorial integrity to help you make decisions with confidence. Please be aware that some of the products and services linked in this article are from our sponsors.
Though unemployment is down and wages are rising across the country, the fact is that not everyone is benefiting equally.
The cost of living in your state has a major impact on how far your earnings stretch -- as do home prices and the costs of essentials like food, clothing and utilities.
Using data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Tax Foundation and the Council for Community and Economic Research, MoneyRates.com has determined the best and worst states for making a living in the U.S.
Here are the places where people have the hardest time making ends meet, going in descending order to the toughest state. You might be surprised by the mix of states on this list.
10. New York
Median pay in New York is among the highest in the country — but it's offset by the steep cost of living in the state. Here, daily costs are more than 30% higher than the national average.
This translates to more expensive food, transportation and health care across the Empire State.
New York residents also face a high state income tax burden of 4.46% and a seriously expensive housing market.
9. South Dakota
South Dakota has no state income tax, which takes some of the sting out of tax season. However, this doesn’t make up for residents’ low earnings. The median wage is in the bottom five nationally.
The good news is that South Dakota's future job growth might be looking up, even if that growth is a bit slower than in the rest of the country.
Unemployment has dropped to 3%, officials say the state now has a labor shortage, and wages are on the rise.
While the Green Mountain State has a low unemployment rate of just 2.9%, Vermont is not an easy place to make money.
This is because the median wage in Vermont is around the middle of the pack among the states, while the cost of living is 20% higher than the national average.
And here's another challenge: Vermont's job growth is expected be slower than the rest of the nation over the next 10 years.
Like Vermont, Maine is an expensive place to live. This northern coastal state has a cost of living about 14% above the national average, but not higher paychecks to make up for it. Maine also has a stiffer-than-average income tax rate.
Meanwhile, a state report predicts virtually no job growth in Maine through 2026.
While there will be more jobs popping up in nursing, personal care and food service, those will be offset by declines in office positions, cashier and retail jobs, and work for loggers, inspectors and assemblers.
Montana's unemployment rate is relatively low, and the outlook for jobs is positive — but only in the cities. Rural areas are being left behind as wages go up elsewhere due to a looming labor shortage, says the Missoulian.
Another major problem: Montana has a terrible record for workplace safety and a high number of injuries and illnesses on the job.
Finally, food and housing costs are higher than the national averages, especially in the state's growing cities — and prices are expected to keep climbing.
5. West Virginia
West Virginia residents enjoy a relatively low cost of living — but the Mountain State also has the third-lowest median wage in the country.
The state has seen some job growth and economic recovery, but it’s spread unevenly across the state, and many areas are losing population.
In addition, nearly 1 in 4 residents is employed in a low-wage job. Pair this with the third-highest unemployment rate in the nation, and it’s no surprise West Virginia is a difficult place to make a living.
4. South Carolina
Low wages are a hallmark of working life in South Carolina: The median household income is about $49,500, roughly $10,000 below the national median.
Currently, unemployment is above the national average — but it’s the lowest it’s been since 2000. Overall, South Carolina’s job market may be improving, but it’s just too soon to tell.
California is home to thousands of tech jobs in Silicon Valley, job growth is steady across the state, and salaries are above the national median. But the cost of living is more than 40% higher than in the rest of the country.
The state has one of the steepest sales tax rates in the nation, while gas prices tend to be the second-highest in the U.S., after Hawaii.
To make things worse, a report by the McKinsey Global Institute found that 50% of California households can’t afford their local housing costs.
Workers in Oregon earn decent incomes, but the pay can’t begin to cover the high cost of living in the state.
Oregonians face the highest state income tax burden in the country: 7.85% per year. Meanwhile, the cost of living is 29% above average, and housing costs are on the rise.
While Portland’s median home price is more than twice the national figure, Oregon residents are being priced out of the housing market all over the state. Even the promise of future job growth won’t be able offset these challenges.
Hawaii has the nation's lowest unemployment rate — just 2.2% in September — but the good news ends there, according to the MoneyRates.com report.
The cost of living is a whopping 88% higher than the national average, but Hawaiians earn a median wage of just $41,650 — basically the same as Minnesotans, who enjoy below-average living costs.
Hawaii also has the third-highest state income tax burden in the country, home prices are insanely high, and electricity costs 33% more than in Alaska. Clearly, living in Hawaii is far from paradise.
Follow us on Twitter: @moneywisecom