There are multiple ways to view the numbers, but probably the most broadly informative involves adding together current state debt and unfunded pension liabilities going forward and then looking at these on a per capita basis. That is, determine the dollars each resident of a state is putatively on the hook for at present to pay what the state currently owes and will expect to additionally owe beyond its projected funds on hand. Of course, debt can be defaulted on and promises reneged--realistically, that, in tandem with some combination of currency devaluation, is my best guess for how this unsustainable situation eventually resolves itself, with varying levels of disruption at varying times in the future.
The following table shows per capita debt-plus-future-obligations ("debt" going forward), with the financially healthiest states at the top of the list and the least solvent states at the bottom:
|1. South Dakota||513|
|5. North Carolina||1,138|
|16. North Dakota||2,726|
|23. South Carolina||3,487|
|25. New York||3,548|
|28. New Hampshire||3,762|
|31. West Virginia||4,223|
|41. Rhode Island||5,901|
|42. New Mexico||6,554|
|46. New Jersey||8,480|
A visualization of the data with figures is available here, and is reproduced without interaction below:
No blatant trends jump out. Sparsely populated, mostly white flyover states in close proximity of Canada tend to be in the best shape, with the major exception of Alaska. Thank goodness for that petroleum dividend--suspend payouts for a decade or so and the problem is solved!
Illinois, the nation's most demographically representative state, similarly serves as one of the states that comes closest to serving as a microcosm for the nation as a whole, though even it comes up well short. While Illinois' residents are looking at a little north of $9,000 in debt peonage per, these state-level obligations pale in comparison to the debts and empty promises of the federal government, for which debt alone is currently running over $50,000 per person.
The article opens by attributing Detroit's municipal bankruptcy to "underfunded retirement promises to public sector workers". Tautologically so, but no doubt haters have made attributions of their own that are hatefully racist and racially hateful. The correlation between a state's Ice People (non-Hispanic white + Asian) population percentage and its debt is an inverse .21. It runs in the direction haters expect it to run in, though it's a tepid relationship.
How about something to Sean Hannity's taste? The correlation between debt and Obama's share of the 2012 presidential vote is a more robust .39. Blue states really do tend to be less fiscally responsible than red states even though blue states generally have more human capital to work with.
Speaking of human capital, the inverse correlation between debt and estimated state IQ is a statistically insignificant .06. The relationship between median age and debt is more feeble still, at .03. It might be nice to think that the states that have the most time to formulate viable solutions before the bills start coming due en masse are the ones who need that time the most, but alas it isn't so.
In addition to having, on average, modestly less intelligent populations than blue states, red states also tend to be fatter. In light (heh) of the above, then, it comes as little surprise that debt and obesity inversely correlate at .23. In this case, it looks like it's possible to have your cake and eat it, too--those public service health campaigns in Connecticut aren't doing the nutmeg state's bottom line any good!
Parenthetically, as a supporter of full Puerto Rican independence, I can now point to the fact that the island's per capita debt, at $12,487, is higher than that of any state in the union. While Puerto Ricans may not be as affluent as Americans, they're even better at spending money they don't have than we are. Really, what do they need us for?