Best and Worst States to Work in America 2019

While the US economy is thriving for some, it is leaving millions of working families behind. As the federal government has refused to advance labor laws that would help, most states have stepped up to make vital improvements in wages and conditions.

How does your state rank? This index ranks all 50 states and Washington, DC. Find out more in our report.

Overall scores: How the states rank

Table of state rankings    |    Methodology    |    Report

The index has three dimensions: Wage policies, worker protection policies, and right to organize policies. This map illustrates the combined scores.

State scorecards

Review full information on how each state scores on the full range of labor policies.
View scorecard

The three policy areas

Wage policies: How the states rank

Table of state rankings    |    Methodology    |    Report

Most states have raised minimum wages above the federal threshold of $7.25 (a poverty wage). These boosts make a solid difference. For example, in Washington, DC, a full-time minimum wage job pays $29,120 annually ($14 an hour); in Virginia, the same job pays $15,080 annually ($7.25 an hour). The index considers two items:

  1. What is the ratio of the actual state minimum wage to the “living wage” for a family of four? (Based on the MIT Living Wage Calculator).
  2. Does the state allow localities to pass their own minimum wage laws?2. Many cities have raised wages to keep pace with higher costs of living.

Worker Protection policies: How the states rank

Table of state rankings    |    Methodology    |    Report

Many states have established policies that protect workers from abuse in a variety of situations—especially women and working parents.

The laws in the index include: protections for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding; mandate of equal pay by gender; a mandate for paid sick leave; protections for flexible scheduling; and protections around sexual harassment. (See Methodology for full information.)

Right to Organize policies: How the states rank

Note: Twenty-one states tie for #1, scoring a perfect 100 on all counts.

Table of state rankings    |    Methodology    |    Report

Many states have strong policies that ensure that workers enjoy rights to organize, collectively bargain, and negotiate wages. Collective bargaining results in stronger protections and higher wages.

This index measures three areas: so-called “Right to Work” laws (which suppress union activity); the rights of public employees (teachers, police, firefighters) to collective bargaining and wage negotiation; and the availability of project labor agreements for government contracts.

The Best States to Work Index: How the states rank overall and by policy area

According to economic correlations, good ratings on labor policies definitely relate to positive economic and health indicators. For example, states with higher scores have longer life expectancy and lower infant mortality rates.


All data is based on laws and policies in effect as of July 1, 2019.

The index is based on state policies in three dimensions; each accounts for a third of the final overall score.

View full spreadsheets of the data.

Wage policies

Do workers earn a living wage that is sufficient to provide for them and their families? This dimension includes two areas:

  • The ratio of the actual state minimum wage in relation to the “living wage” for a family of four with one wage earner. The living wage figure is from the MIT Living Wage Calculator 1.
  • Whether or not the state allows localities to implement their own minimum wage laws 2.

Worker protection policies

This dimension considers the quality of life for workers, especially women and parents. The policies include:

  • Protections for women who are pregnant and breastfeeding.
  • Mandates for equal pay, pay secrecy, and no salary history.
  • Leave for non-FMLA workers because of less time on the job; leave longer than federal FMLA.
  • Mandate for paid sick leave.
  • Protections around flexible scheduling, reporting pay, split shift pay, advance notice.
  • Protections around sexual harassment.

Right to organize policies

Do workers have the right to organize and sustain a trade union?

  • Does the state have a so-called “Right to Work” law (which suppresses union activity)?
  • Do public employees (teachers, police, firefighters) have rights to collective bargaining and wage negotiation?
  • Are project labor agreements for government contracts available?
  1. MIT Living Wage Calculator.
  2. Local control over the minimum wage is based on Input provided by the National Employment Law Project, 2018. Facebook Twitter Instagram YouTube Google+