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States With the Best Quality of LIfe

By Jennifer Leigh Parker, Special to

NEW YORK ( CNBC) -- Businesses in Hawaii, New Hampshire, and Vermont can rest easy knowing their employees enjoy the best Quality of Life, according to CNBC's Top States For Business 2011 rankings. Not so for Delaware, Louisiana, and Alabama, which all tied for worst this year.

While this category may seem inherently subjective, rankings are quantified by analyzing crime rates, healthcare (quality and outcomes), air quality, water quality, and visits to local attractions.

It's breezy at the top. Our winner, Hawaii, remains resplendent with fresh Pacific air, and boasts approximately five times more visitors than permanent residents. With 350 out of the total 2500 points up for grabs, Quality of Life is a competitive category and, despite the Aloha state's seeming natural advantage, other states are upping the ante.

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Most improved
New Hampshire, which won in 2009, moved up two spots (2/4); Wyoming advanced six spots (4/10) with improved air quality, for which it is now the second best in the nation behind Alaska; South Dakota (5/11) made the top ten for the first time, with marked overall improvement; and Nebraska, which showed improvement in health care and air quality, jumped up nine spots (21/12).

Dirtiest declines
Healthcare has a prominent role in some states' fall from grace: California's biggest decline in scoring (22/15) came from healthcare, posting both lower quality of care and outcomes. Utah fell nine spots (14/5) not only because of its healthcare ratings, but also thanks to a decline in international visitors to local attractions.

Not the worst offender, but the most comprehensive loss came from Colorado, which dropped from 2nd place to 7th this year due to an increase in its crime rate and declines in both international visitors and healthcare.

While the competition is high to improve states' quality of life, it's not always a level playing field.

This year's top three performers -- Hawaii, New Hampshire, and Vermont -- may be loving life, but they're also managing populations well below the national state average, all under 1.36 million.

In contrast, the lowest ranking state Louisiana (50) has seven times the population of Vermont, while Alabama (49) has over 3.5 times more people than New Hampshire. These disparities are probably not a fluke. The top 5 states for the best quality of life each have an average population of 4.5 million, compared to the bottom 5 states averaging 20.8 million people, according to the 2010 Census. That means states with the worst quality of life are dealing with about 4.5 times more people than the "best" states.

Thus, as our data suggest, it's probably safe to assume that the most heavily populated states tend to have a harder time providing clean air, clean water and safe streets.

As with most things of value, you get what you pay for when it comes to quality of life. Our top three winners in this category also happen to rank in the 11 most expensive states to live.

Are you getting what you pay for? Find out more in CNBC's Cost of Living category.

-- Written by Jennifer Leigh Parker of CNBC

CNBC is a world leader in business news, providing real-time financial market coverage and business information.

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