Fiscal 50: State Trends and Analysis, an interactive resource from The Pew Charitable Trusts, allows you to sort and analyze data on key fiscal, economic, and demographic trends in the 50 states and understand their impact on states’ fiscal health. Read the key findings below.
Insights From Fiscal 50’s Key Measures of State Fiscal Health
November 11, 2015
Recovery from the Great Recession is slow and uneven
States’ fiscal conditions have improved since the Great Recession ended six years ago, but their recovery is incomplete. About half of states still collect less tax revenue than at their recession-era peaks, after adjusting for inflation, and most have yet to rebuild their financial cushions to prerecession levels. Twenty-three states’ employment rates still trail 2007 levels.
Tax revenue. Nationally, total state tax revenue recovered two years ago from its plunge during the recession. But state to state, the recovery has been uneven due to differences in economic conditions as well as tax policy choices. In 27 states, inflation-adjusted tax collections were lower in the first quarter of 2015 than at their peaks before or during the downturn, leaving those states with less purchasing power.
Reserves and balances. States have only partially rebuilt their financial cushions after tapping them to plug budget gaps during the recession. At the end of fiscal year 2014, only 17 states could cover more government expenses using rainy day funds and general fund balances than they could have in fiscal 2007, just before the recession. Four states had less than five days’ worth of expenses set aside for budget shortfalls.
Employment-to-population ratio. Despite a U.S. economy that has added jobs each month over the past five years, no state could boast that its core labor pool had fully recovered by mid-2015. The share of prime-working-age adults (ages 25 to 54) with a job remained below prerecession levels nationally and in 23 states. Employment rates among this population were lower than in 2007 in another 25 states and higher in two, but not by statistically significant amounts, so the results were inconclusive.
Over the long term, additional challenges await states
Even after overcoming the effects of the recession, states face financial pressures that will shape budgets now and for years to come. A major issue for a number of states is how to cope with an accumulation of unfunded public pension and retiree health care liabilities, which total more than $1 trillion nationwide. Other challenges include rising Medicaid costs, volatile tax revenue, and uncertainty about federal funding levels.
Debt and unfunded retirement costs. States collectively owed more for unfunded pension liabilities ($915 billion) than for public debt ($757 billion) or unfunded retiree health care costs ($577 billion) as of fiscal 2012. In 35 states, unfunded pension benefits were the largest of these long-term obligations—which, if not properly managed, can limit the funds available for other priorities and raise borrowing costs.
State Medicaid spending. The share of states’ own money spent on Medicaid grew in all but one state—North Dakota—between fiscal 2000 and 2013. States’ increases varied widely, from a fraction of a penny to almost 11 cents per dollar of state-generated revenue, exerting different degrees of budget pressure. Medicaid is most state governments’ second-biggest expense, after K-12 education.
Tax revenue volatility. Some states experience greater swings in tax revenue from year to year than others do, leading to surprise shortfalls or windfalls that can make it hard to manage budgets. Alaska experienced the greatest volatility over the past two decades and South Dakota the least, after removing the effects of tax policy changes. Taxes on corporate income and oil and mineral extraction were consistently more volatile than other major tax streams.
Federal share of state revenue. The federal government is the second-biggest source of state revenue—accounting for 30 percent of the total in fiscal 2013—meaning that federal budget decisions also play a key role in state budgets. But states’ reliance on federal funds varies widely, ranging from 19 percent of revenue in North Dakota to almost 43 percent in Mississippi.
Pew’s Fiscal 50: State Trends and Analysis is an interactive tool that allows you to sort and analyze data on key fiscal, economic, and demographic trends in the 50 states and understand their impact on states’ fiscal health. With this tool, you can:
Compare states over time, with each other, or with national trends.
Gain insights into each state’s long-term financial well-being.
Read analysis from Pew experts.
The primary objective of Fiscal 50 is to provide insights into states’ long-term fiscal health on a range of metrics. This tool is not meant to be a comprehensive assessment of a state’s finances or a replica of state budget statistics that are published by a variety of experts. Rather, Fiscal 50 selectively presents data and analyses that help states look beyond their current budgets, size up their progress over time, consider different ways to measure performance, and easily compare their outcomes with neighbors or peers that have similar resources and challenges.
This resource will be updated regularly with more analysis, fresh data, and additional indicators.
How are the indicators chosen?
Fiscal 50 identifies five core areas that are essential to states’ fiscal health: revenue, spending, economy and people, long-term costs, and fiscal policy. Indicators for each of these are selected with states’ long-term financial well-being in mind. Pew solicited advice from outside fiscal experts in choosing them.
Where do the data come from?
Fiscal 50 builds on data from U.S. government agencies, the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government, the National Association of State Budget Officers, the National Governors Association, and Pew’s own research. Differences can be expected between certain fiscal data used in this analysis and data compiled and used by states for budgeting purposes. Statistics featured in Fiscal 50 are the best available for drawing fair comparisons across states.
Pew's work lays the foundation for effective policies and practices by invigorating civic life, conducting research, informing and engaging citizens, linking diverse interests to pursue common cause, and insisting on tangible results.
The Pew Charitable Trusts is driven by the power of knowledge to solve today's most challenging problems. Pew applies a rigorous, analytical approach to improve public policy, inform the public and invigorate civic life.
Our quarterly news magazine. Every issue features articles on Pew’s work from across the organization. Read current issue ›