US Standard of Living Facts and Figures

Chart compares American incomes with incomes in other developed countries.

Standard of living is defined in terms of the level of education, quality of employment, and level of material comfort a person living in a particular region enjoys. The UN has rated the United States fourth highest among the world’s nations for standard of living, according to the Human Development Index. Average life expectancy, crime rates, homeownership rates, yearly income levels and cost of living and educational opportunities all form a part of this picture. 

Life expectancy for Americans is 78.5 years on average. Residents of Wisconsin, Utah, the Dakotas, Nebraska, Minnesota, Iowa and Colorado all have higher than average life expectancies, at about 80 years. Hawaii is the highest, with an average life expectancy of about 81.

The average yearly income for an American is $43,017. Average yearly income in the U.S. ranges from as little as $18,401 in Puerto Rico to $37,989 in West Virginia, and $38,815 in Arkansas. States with higher average yearly incomes include Maryland, at $70,545; New Jersey, at $70, 78; Connecticut, at $68,595; Alaska, at $68,460; and Hawaii, at $67,214.

Cost of living is measured by the cost of living index, on which the average for the entire nation is 100, and each state’s cost of living is therefore interpreted as a percentage of 100. As of mid-2012, Tennessee had the lowest cost of living index in the United States, at 90.2. Hawaii was the most expensive place to live, coming in at 170.83. States with relatively low costs of living include Oklahoma, at 90.63; Kentucky, at 90.65; and Arkansas, at 91.20. States with relatively high costs of living include New York, at 135.45; Alaska, at 134.21; and Connecticut, at 132.78. In general, densely populated metropolitan areas like New York City have a much higher cost of living than rural areas and small towns.

The average rate of homeownership in the United States is 65.4%. At the beginning of 2012, homeownership rates varied from 45.7% in the District of Columbia to 77.7% in West Virginia. Homeownership rates in most states fell between 65 and 67 percent. States with lower rates of homeownership include California, with 54.5%; Hawaii, with 56.6%; Nevada, with 58.2%; and New York, with 52.4%. States with higher rates of homeownership include Idaho, at 74.9%; Delaware, at 74.1%; Mississippi, at 75.1%; and Vermont, at 74.4%.

The average crime rate in the United States is 467.2 per 100,000 people. The average crime rate by state varies from a whopping 1,437.7 in the District of Columbia to a modest 119.4 in Maine. States with relatively high crime rates include Arkansas, at 516.4 per 100,000; California, at 503.8 per 100,000; Delaware, at 708.6 per 100,000; and South Carolina, at 726.2 per 100,000. States with relatively low crime rates include Vermont, at 140.8 per 100,000; New Hampshire, 166 per 100,000; North Dakota, at 200.5 per 100,000; and Utah, at 225.6 per 100,000.

In late summer 2012, the U.S. unemployment rate was 8.1% of the total population. In September of 2012, Nevada had the highest unemployment rate of any state, at 12.1%. North Dakota had the lowest, at 3%. States with relatively low unemployment rates included Nebraska, at 4%; South Dakota, at 4.5%; and Oklahoma, at 5.1%. States with relatively high unemployment rates included Rhode Island, at 10.7%; California, at 10.6%; and New Jersey, at 9.9%.

Educational attainment is crucial to employability. In the United States in 2009, 85.3% of adults had a high school diploma; 27.9% had a bachelor’s degree; 10.3% held an advanced degree. Wyoming has the highest rate of high school graduation, at 91.8%. Massachusetts boasts the highest rate of bachelor’s degrees, at 38.2%. The District of Columbia has the highest rate of advanced degree holders, at 28%. Mississippi has the lowest rate of high school graduates, at 80.4%; West Virginia has the lowest rate of bachelor degree holders, at 17.3%; and Arkansas has the lowest rate of advanced degree holders, at 6.1%.

Additional Resources:

  • The cost of living calculator lets you compare the cost of living in various states and cities across the nation.
  • Downloadable homeownership, vacancy and rental statistics charts from the U.S. Census Bureau.
  • Education data by state.
  • An interactive graphic explaining the components of social class in the United States, by the New York Times. Includes education, income and other statistics.
  • Information about cost of living, job growth, average income and population in 361 American cities.