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Fiscal 50: State Trends and Analysis

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Pew’s Fiscal 50: State Trends and Analysis presents 50-state data on key fiscal, economic, and demographic indicators and analyzes their impact on states’ long-term fiscal health.

Recovery from Great Recession is slow, uneven

States’ fiscal conditions have improved since the Great Recession ended six years ago, but their recovery is incomplete. More than 20 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

For First Time, Tax Revenue Has Recovered in Majority of States. Nationally, total state tax revenue recovered more than 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. View the indicator or print the analysis.

Reserves and Balances

Reserves Remain Short of Pre-Recession Levels in Most States. States have only partially rebuilt their financial cushions after tapping them to plug budget gaps during the recession. At the end of fiscal year 2015, only 18 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. View the indicator or print the analysis.

Employment-to-Population Ratio

Employment Rates Creep Closer to Pre-Recession Levels. 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 as of 2015. The share of prime-working-age adults (ages 25 to 54) with a job remained below pre-recession levels nationally and in 22 states. Employment rates for this population were lower than in 2007 in another 26 states and higher in two, but not by statistically significant amounts, so the results were inconclusive. View the indicator or print the analysis.

State Personal Income

Growth in Personal Income Shows Uneven U.S. Recovery. Personal income in all states is back above levels seen at the Great Recession’s onset, signaling a widespread U.S. economic recovery. But growth since the start of the recession has varied, ranging from a constant annual rate of less than 1 percent in Nevada to more than 5 percent in North Dakota. Six states – Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Wyoming – have lost some of their post-recession gains in the past year. View the indicator or print the analysis.

Over 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

Size of Long-term Obligations Varies Across States. 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. View the indicator or print the analysis.

State Medicaid Spending

Medicaid Claims a Growing Slice of States’ Dollars. 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. View the indicator or print the analysis.

Tax Revenue Volatility

Revenue Volatility Greater for Some States, Certain Tax Types. 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. View the indicator or print the analysis.

Federal Share of State Revenue

Federal Funds Provide 30 Cents of Each Dollar 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. View the indicator or print the analysis.

Did You Know?

Of every 100 prime-working-age adults in the U.S., 2.7 fewer had jobs in 2015 than in 2007, the eve of the Great Recession.

Learn more at Pew’s Fiscal 50

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