Report: Wisconsin ranks eighth in prosperity despite pandemic and economic challenges

Majority of states are enjoying pre-pandemic levels of prosperity according to new report by Milken Center for Advancing the American Dream and Legatum Institute

Wisconsin ranks eighth in the nation in overall prosperity according to the American Dream Prosperity Index (ADPI), released this month by the Milken Center for Advancing the American Dream in partnership with the Legatum Institute.

The United States continues to see a rise in prosperity, even as we faced the long-term impacts of a pandemic and the economic realities of rising inflation and a shrinking economy. But while the overall trend points to a prosperous nation, prosperity continues to be unequally distributed regionally, often eluding rural communities and Black Americans.

Prosperity is a multidimensional concept which the American Dream Prosperity Index seeks to measure, explore, and understand. The framework of the Index captures prosperity through three equally-weighted domains which are the essential foundations of prosperity — Inclusive Societies, Open Economies, and Empowered People. These domains are made up of 11 pillars of prosperity, built upon 49 actionable policy areas, and are underpinned by more than 200 reliable indicators.

While Wisconsin ranks eighth in overall prosperity, the state’s strong pillar rankings include ranking sixth in social capital, seventh in governance, seventh in business environment and eighth in personal freedom. According to the Index, Wisconsin’s opportunities for improvement include infrastructure (ranked 31st), natural environment (ranked 26th), living conditions (ranked 24th) and health (ranked 17th). Since 2012, the state has most improved in the personal freedom and economic quality pillars.    

“While our nation faces many challenges including record inflation, increased gun violence, and a deteriorating mental health landscape, we are encouraged by the resiliency of communities across our country as they work to create prosperous lives for their residents,” said the Center’s President Kerry Healey. “The American Dream Prosperity Index was founded on the principle that better data leads to better decisions and outcomes. It is our goal to make this report one of the most important tools for local, state and federal lawmakers and civic leaders.”

“We are encouraged by the steady rebound of prosperity post-pandemic, even in the face of unique regional challenges,” said Legatum Institute CEO Philippa Stroud. “The foundations of the U.S. economy continue to stand strong, particularly due to the innovative entrepreneurial mindset that Americans are known for. This forward momentum highlights the genuine push towards prosperity in the face of continued adversity.”

Across the country, millions of Americans are facing challenges that continue to threaten prosperity. According to the 2022 ADPI, since 2012, all states apart from North Dakota have increased their prosperity, but prosperity remains unequally shared across and within states. For most people, 2022 has been a year of progress as the nation continues to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and as the economy strengthens. However, this increase in prosperity is tempered by rising gun violence in nearly every state. Also detrimental to the nation’s prosperity is the deteriorating mental health of America, marked by a rise in suicides and opioid-related deaths, even as Americans’ overall health continues to improve.

ADPI’s key findings also point to waning social cohesion across the country as another roadblock to U.S. prosperity. This is seen in the decreasing number of Americans who have helped a stranger, donated money to charity, volunteered or frequently talked to a neighbor.

ADPI National Patterns toward Greater Prosperity:

  • In 2022, 26 states have recovered to pre-pandemic levels of overall prosperity, with Oklahoma, New Jersey and New Mexico seeing the biggest improvement. Reasons for the improvement in these states vary, but economic factors such as the increasing number of entrepreneurs played a key role in the post-pandemic rebound and bodes well for further improvement.
  • Over the past decade, Americans’ physical health have improved. Since 2012, rates of smoking have fallen by nearly a third, excessive alcohol use has decreased by 17% and pain reliever misuse has decreased by 21%. 
  • The long-term downward trend in property crime is an encouraging development across the United States, with all but six states improving over the past decade.

ADPI Key Findings:

  • While U.S. prosperity rebounded post-pandemic in 2022, current record inflation threatens this recovery
  • In 2022, Prosperity has increased in every state except North Dakota, but this progress remains unequally distributed within state and local communities and across ethnic groups
  • High and rising gun violence in nearly every state is impacting American’s individual sense of security and prosperity
  • Mental health has deteriorated in every state, including increased deaths of despair
  • A continuing decline in social cohesion and group relationships at all levels of society creates barriers to prosperity.

Although the data does highlight a substantial number of barricades to prosperity, ADPI can be used to craft unique solutions across all levels of government. A deeper examination of prosperity, prompted by the Index, can reveal individual issues that each state can tackle in order to advance the prosperity of its citizens. This push towards the development of local data-led initiatives, rather than a ‘one size fits all’ approach, is essential for transformation across the country.

The Index has been designed to benefit a wide range of users, including state and county leaders, policymakers, investors, business leaders, philanthropists, journalists, researchers and U.S. citizens.

View the 2022 ADPI here.

View the state-by-state prosperity rankings here.

View state-by-state rankings in specific categories by clicking on the category below.