March 10, 2014

Study: Unluckiest States

You won’t find any pots of gold here
Read more about What Not to Buy in March

Motivational speakers often say “you create your own luck,” but those people clearly have never had their cars swallowed by sinkholes or won $400 million in PowerBall. Let's face it: stuff happens, and once in a while, we have no control over when, where, or how it happens. That's what luck is about.

If you’re one of those luckless people who always say, “I never win anything,” or if you’ve recently been pooped on by a bird, you’ll like this list of unluckiest states. The “lucky” states get all the glory; we wanted to see which states “get no respect.”

Study Methodology

There is no U.S. Census data regarding black cats, people who walk under ladders, or how many umbrellas were opened indoors, so we improvised and looked at four other signs of misfortune:

  • Lightning death rates
  • Natural disasters and similar calamities
  • Huge fires
  • Burglaries

Lightning is probably the biggest form of bad luck there is, so we looked at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s state-by-state data for 1959-2012. We found that Wyoming and New Mexico are electricity’s favorite playgrounds; Hawaii, on the other hand, is a relatively safe place to swing a nine iron in the rain.

We also knew that Lady Luck is the only person who decides whether you’ll be in the wrong place when earthquakes, mudslides, tornadoes, droughts, hurricanes, and other natural events occur, so we looked at FEMA declarations of disasters, emergencies, and fire-management assistance per million people over the years. Turns out that Texas and New York get into a lot of scrapes while Wyoming, Alaska, and Arkansas are relatively lucky. In our calculations, we only gave fire management about a quarter of the weight of the other FEMA declarations because huge fires are often in rural and wild areas.

Next were burglaries. Unless you’re in the Mafia or a drug dealer, a burglary is probably a random event for you - and a big sign of bad luck. Using the FBI’s latest crime data, we looked at burglary statistics for the 50 states. We found that even though California has the highest number of burglaries, Arkansas actually has the worst luck because it has the highest burglary rate per capita. We gave this data half the weight of the lightning death and disaster declarations, since some thieves have clear targets (after all, maybe you are in the Mafia).

We also wanted to dock states for having “too much” financial luck, so last but not least is the gift tax, which the IRS makes you pay if you give more than the limit ($14,000 in 2013) to another person during the year. We looked at this as a sure sign of good luck; after all, if you’ve got so much cash that you’re giving it to other people and you don’t even care if the IRS penalizes you for it, you’re pretty lucky.

So, here are the states that are not at the end of the rainbow.

10 Unluckiest States

10. Maine

  • Lightning death rate per million: 0.44
  • Federal emergency and disasters per million: 40.6
  • Fire disasters per million: 1.5
  • Burglaries per capita: 0.56
  • Gift tax returns per capita: 0.08%

Maine’s statistics are solidly middle of the pack except for one: major disasters. The rocky coast and northern latitude can be tough to deal with when hurricanes, winter storms, and other weather rolls in, which is why the state ranks number 10.

Did you know?
In Eastern Europe, eating lobster is considered bad luck because they move backward.

9. South Dakota

  • Lightning death rate per million: 0.63
  • Federal emergency and disasters per million: 54
  • Fire disasters per million: 25.2
  • Burglaries per capita: 0.39%
  • Gift tax returns per capita: 0.1%

Coming in at number nine, South Dakota is North Dakota’s luckier and somewhat warmer sibling. Sure, more folks are hit by lightning here and fire is a big problem, but you’ll have slightly better luck when it comes to being targeted by burglars.

8. West Virginia

  • Lightning death rate per million: 0.26
  • Federal emergency and disasters per million: 31.8
  • Fire disasters per million: 1.1
  • Burglaries per capita: 0.61%
  • Gift tax returns per capita: 0.04%

West Virginia is actually one of the most beautiful places in the United States. It’s relatively safe from a lightning perspective, but with a lot of natural disasters (need to throw some salt over your shoulder, anyone?), there are luckier places to stroll around.

Did you know?
A woman’s presence was once considered bad luck in mines.

7. Mississippi

  • Lightning death rate per million: 0.77
  • Federal emergency and disasters per million: 21.4
  • Fire disasters per million: 0
  • Burglaries per capita: 0.94%
  • Gift tax returns per capita: 0.03%

Mississippi has a plethora of amazing Southern food and, of course, the beauty of the Mississippi River. But what it doesn’t have is a lot of luck. The state is number six in the nation for lightning strikes and burglaries per capita. It scrapes bottom in terms of the number of people who had the money to pay the gift tax, and it’s in the top half of states in terms of disaster and emergency declarations per million people.

6. New Mexico

  • Lightning death rate per million: 1.19
  • Federal emergency and disasters per million: 14.9
  • Fire disasters per million: 23
  • Burglaries per capita: 1.03%
  • Gift tax returns per capita: 0.04%

New Mexico makes the list primarily because it’s one of the best places in the country to get zapped by lightning. The arid climate spawns a lot of thunderstorms in the summer, which sometimes helps put out the fires that also erupt there virtually every year (it comes in fourth in the nation for fire-management assistance declarations per capita). The state also ranks high for burglaries per capita, making it one of the unluckiest places to leave your stuff.

Did you know?
Thousands of people gather annually for the burning of Zozobra - a 50-foot tall cloth and paper “old man gloom.” Patrons write down their troubles and stuff the papers into this statue, and then at night, they burn Zozobra down so that their bad luck and sorrow will disappear in the smoke.

5. Oklahoma

  • Lightning death rate per million: 0.62
  • Federal emergency and disasters per million: 22.3
  • Fire disasters per million: 22.3
  • Burglaries per capita: 0.94%
  • Gift tax returns per capita: 0.03%

You would think that with all its tornadoes, Oklahoma would be the unluckiest place to be. Several other states are actually worse, which moves Oklahoma to number five. Things do seem to be more flammable here than other places, however, and you’re more likely to be the unfortunate victim of sticky fingers.

4. Arkansas

  • Lightning death rate per million: 1
  • Federal emergency and disasters per million: 22.4
  • Fire disasters per million: 0
  • Burglaries per capita: 1.08%
  • Gift tax returns per capita: 0.03%

Breaking the streak of snowbound states is Arkansas. This land of Wal-Mart has two unlucky statistics: it ranks third in the country for number of lightning deaths per million, and it ranks first in burglaries per capita. The state is also near the bottom in number of IRS returns with gift tax per capita.

Did you know?
The Country Music Hall of Fame considers the 1936 song “Arkansas Hard Luck Blues” by Lonnie Losson and Wayne Raney a precedent of the talking blues style of Bob Dylan.

3. North Dakota

  • Lightning death rate per million: 0.35
  • Federal emergency and disasters per million: 77.18
  • Fire disasters per million: 0
  • Burglaries per capita: 0.34%
  • Gift tax returns per capita: 0.14%

Coming in at number three is North Dakota. The state is booming, thanks to natural gas production, but that isn’t improving its luck. North Dakota ranks first in the number of major disaster and emergency declarations per capita, and it’s in the middle of the pack when it comes to fires and lightning deaths. The state does have some financial luck, though: it ranked second in the nation for tax returns involving gift tax.

2. Alaska

  • Lightning death rate per million: 0
  • Federal emergency and disasters per million: 56.1
  • Fire disasters per million: 20.5
  • Burglaries per capita: 0.4%
  • Gift tax returns per capita: 0.05%

You’d think that moving to Alaska would mean getting away from everything, but it turns out that you can’t escape bad luck. Sure, Alaskans don’t really have to worry about being struck by lightning compared to people in the lower 48, but it follows Vermont in the high number of major disaster and emergency declarations per million. It also has many more fire-management problems.

Did you know?
Fishing keeps the local economy humming in Alaska, where the superstition that bananas are bad luck on fishing boats persists as it does in other active fishing communities.

1. Vermont

  • Lightning death rate per million: 0.57
  • Federal emergency and disasters per million: 63.9
  • Fire disasters per million: 0
  • Burglaries per capita: 0.63%
  • Gift tax returns per capita: 0.08%

Idyllic Vermont doesn’t seem like an inherently unlucky place. Consider, however, the state’s high number of FEMA disasters, including many flooding events, and that few people live there – this means a whole bunch of people are dealing with bad luck. Add to that a fairly high number of burglaries per capita, and you have an unexplainable eye twitch. Thankfully, Vermont residents do have some luck in the money area but not enough to get this state off the top of the list of unluckiness.

Did you know?
There are 29 people in Vermont with the last name Luck, according to Whitepages.com.


If this list has one takeaway, it’s that you can’t outrun bad luck. We’ll concede that perhaps there is no such thing as good luck or bad luck; maybe there’s only “different luck.” No matter what you believe, fate will always follow you, wherever you go. So good luck with that.

Tina O is a contributing writer at CreditDonkey, a credit card comparison and financial education website. Write to Tina O at tina@creditdonkey.com. Our data-driven analysis has been recognized by major news outlets across the country and has helped families make savvy financial and lifestyle decisions. (read more)

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