TIME leadership

The 10 Worst States for Women

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The United States is one of just a handful of nations where maternal mortality actually rose over the last decade

This post is in partnership with 24/7 Wall Street. The article below was originally published on 247WallSt.com.

Based on recently released Census Bureau data, women made up almost half of the workforce last year. Yet, even working full-time and year-round, they were paid only 79 cents for every dollar men made. The wage gap varies considerably between states. Women receive 86 cents for every dollar men make in New York, for example, while in Louisiana, women are paid just 66% of what men earn.

Income inequality is only one of the challenges women face. Across the nation, women are less likely to serve in leadership roles both in the private and public sectors. Health outcomes among female populations also vary considerably between states. Based on 24/7 Wall St.’s analysis, Mississippi is the worst state for women in the nation.

Click here to see the 10 worst states for women

In all of the worst rated states, women were less likely than their male peers to hold private sector management positions. In two of the worst states — South Dakota and Utah — women held fewer than one in three management jobs. According to Ariane Hegewisch, study director at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, women are discriminated not just in base pay, but also lack career opportunities available to men. “A lot of [the wage gap] is also promotions, recruitments, and networking,” Hegewisch said. Perceptions of performance can also be affected by gender, meaning “the more the pay is related to performance and bonuses, the bigger the wage gap.”

Women in the worst rated states were also less likely to have leadership roles in government compared to women in the rest of the country. Only six of the 10 states had any female representation in Congress. Many of these states were among the nation’s worst for female representation in their own state legislatures as well. State Senates usually have between 30 and 50 Senators. Of the 10 states on this list, however, only Kansas had more than 10 female senators.

While the United States is among the most developed countries in the world, it was one of just a handful of nations where maternal mortality actually rose over the last decade, according to a recent study published in The Lancet, a respected medical journal. Pregnancy related mortality rates vary considerably between states.

To determine the worst states for women, 24/7 Wall St. developed on a methodology based on the Center for American Progress’ 2013 report, “The State of Women in America.”

We divided a range of variables into three major categories: economy, leadership, and health. Data in the economy category came from the U.S. Census Bureau and included male and female median earnings, the percent of children enrolled in state pre-kindergarten, state spending per child enrolled in pre-kindergarten, and education attainment rates. The leadership category included data on the percent of women in management occupations from the Census. It also includes the share of state and federal legislators who are women, and states that currently have female governors. The health section incorporated Census data on the percent of women who were uninsured as well as life expectancy. Infant and maternal mortality rates came from the Kaiser Family Foundation. Data on the expansion of Medicaid, as policies towards maternity leave, sick days, and time off from work came from the National Partnership for Women and Families.

State rankings on each of these measures were averaged to determine a score for each category. Possible scores ranged from 1 (best) to 50 (worst). The three category scores were averaged to create an indexed value that furnished our final ranking.

These are the 10 worst states for women.

10. Kansas
> Gender wage gap: 79 cents per dollar (25th best)
> Poverty rate, women: 15.2% (23rd lowest)
> Pct. in state legislature: 24.8% (25th highest)
> Infant mortality rate: 7.5 per 1,000 births (15th highest)

A typical man in Kansas earned $45,463 last year. The median earnings among women in the state, on the other hand, were just $35,869, or 79% of male earnings. The ratio was roughly in line with that of the nation. In addition to economic inequality, women in Kansas were far less likely than women in other states to hold leadership roles. Nearly 64% of management positions, for example, were held by men, one of the higher rates nationwide. Women, by contrast, held 36.2% of management occupations, one of the lower rates. Unlike the majority of the worst states for women, however, Kansas has a fair number of female state-level politicians. Of the 40 state senators, 12 are women, more than all but a handful of states.

ALSO READ: The 10 States With the Worst Quality of Life

9. Alabama
> Gender wage gap: 79 cents per dollar (12th worst)
> Poverty rate, women: 20.5% (5th highest)
> Pct. in state legislature: 14.3% (4th lowest)
> Infant mortality rate: 9.2 per 1,000 births (2nd highest)

With just five women out of 35 in the Alabama State Senate, and just 15 women out of 105 members in Alabama’s House of Representatives, few states have less of a female presence in their legislature. Alabama also ranks poorly in several measures of health that impact women. The state had one of the highest infant mortality rates in the country, with 9.2 deaths per 1,000 live births. Alabama also had one of the lowest female life expectancies in the country, at 78.2 years as of 2010. The state also lacks any of the family-friendly workplace health policies identified by the National Partnership for Women and Families.

8. Indiana
> Gender wage gap: 74 cents per dollar (7th worst)
> Poverty rate, women: 17.5% (20th highest)
> Pct. in state legislature: 20.0% (16th lowest)
> Infant mortality rate: 7.4 per 1,000 births (16th highest)

While nationwide women earned roughly 80% of a man’s salary last year, women in Indiana earned less than three-quarters of a man’s wages, one of the worst pay gaps nationwide. Child rearing may be occupying what might otherwise be paid labor for women in Indiana, as the state offers little support for new mothers. State-funded preschool is not available for children under five years old. Also, less than 25% of women had completed at least a bachelor’s degree as of last year, one of the worst rates in the country and much lower than the nearly 30% of women nationwide.

For the rest of the list, please go to 24/7WallStreet.com.

TIME Careers & Workplace

10 States Where Life Is Just the Best Right Now

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Based on the nine determinants of well-being—education, jobs, income, safety, health, environment, civic engagement, accessibility to services and housing

This post is in partnership with 24/7 Wall Street. The article below was originally published on 247WallSt.com.

The United States is one of the world’s most prosperous economies, with a gross domestic product that exceeded that of any other country last year. However, a vibrant economy alone does not ensure all residents are well off. In a recent study from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), U.S. states underperformed their regional counterparts in other countries in a number of important metrics that gauge well-being.

The OECD’s newly released study, “How’s Life in Your Region?: Measuring Regional and Local Well-Being for Policy Making,” compares nine important factors that contribute to well-being. Applying an equal weight to each of these factors, 24/7 Wall St. rated New Hampshire as the best state for quality of life.

Click here to see the 10 states with the best quality of life.

Click here to see the 10 states with the worst quality of life.

Monica Brezzi, author of the report and head of regional statistics at the OECD, told 24/7 Wall St. considering different dimensions of well-being at the regional level provides a way to identify “where are the major needs where policies can intervene.” Brezzi said that, in some cases, correcting one truly deficient measure can, in turn, lead to better results in others.

In order to review well-being at the regional level, the OECD used only objective data in its report, rather than existing survey data. Brezzi noted that current international studies that ask people for their opinion on important measures of well-being often do not have enough data to be broken down by region.

For example, one of the nine measures, health, is based on the mortality rate and life expectancy in each region, rather than on asking people if they feel well. Similarly, another determinant of well-being, safety, is measured by the homicide rate rather than personal responses as to whether people feel safe where they live.

Based on her analysis, Brezzi identified one area where American states are exceptionally strong. “All the American states rank in the top 20% of OECD regions in income,” Brezzi said. Massachusetts — one of 24/7 Wall St.’s highest-rated states — had the second-highest per capita disposable household income in the nation, at $38,620. This also placed the state among the top 4% of regions in all OECD countries.

However, the 50 states are also deficient in a number of key metrics for well-being. “With the exception of Hawaii, none of the American states are in the top 20% for health or for safety across the OECD regions,” Brezzi said. Minnesota, for instance, was rated as the third best state for health, with a mortality rate of 7.5 deaths per 1,000 residents and a life expectancy of 81.1 years. However, this only barely placed Minnesota among the top third of all regions in the OECD. Similarly, New Hampshire — which was rated as the safest state in the country, and was 24/7 Wall St.’s top state for quality of life — was outside the top third of all regions for safety.

Across most metrics the 50 states have improved considerably over time. Only one of the nine determinants of well-being, jobs, had worsened in most states between 2000 and 2013. Brezzi added that not only was the national unemployment rate higher in 2013 than in 2000, but “this worsening of unemployment has also come together with an increase in the disparities across states.”

Based on the OECD’s study, “How’s Life in Your Region?: Measuring Regional and Local Well-being for Policy Making,” 24/7 Wall St. identified the 10 states with the best quality of life. We applied an equal weight to each of the nine determinants of well-being — education, jobs, income, safety, health, environment, civic engagement, accessibility to services and housing. Each determinant is constituted by one or more variables. Additional data on state GDP are from the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), and are current as of 2013. Further figures on industry composition, poverty, income inequality and health insurance coverage are from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2013 American Community Survey. Data on energy production come from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) and represent 2012 totals.

These are the 10 states with the best quality of life.

10. Wisconsin
> Employment rate: 74.8% (9th highest)
> Household disposable income per capita: $29,536 (23rd highest)
> Homicide rate: 2.72 per 100,000 people (15th lowest)
> Voter turnout: 73.6% (2nd highest)

Based on nine distinct well-being measures, Wisconsin is one of the top states in the nation for quality of life. Like nearly all top-ranked states, Wisconsin’s housing score was quite high. A typical home had 2.7 rooms per person. Additionally, nearly three-quarters of households had broadband Internet access, both among the higher rates nationwide. Residents are also more politically active than people in a majority of states. The state reported a 74% voter turnout rate, better than almost every other state.

9. Washington
> Employment rate: 67.8% (21st lowest)
> Household disposable income per capita: $31,307 (16th highest)
> Homicide rate: 2.55 per 100,000 people (11th lowest)
> Voter turnout: 65.6% (16th highest)

Nearly four in five Washington residents had broadband Internet access last year, tied with New Hampshire for the highest rate in the country. Washingtonians also enjoy exceptional air quality and a relatively healthy environment. Just 4.1 mg of airborne dangerous particulate matter per cubic meter was recorded in the state, nearly the lowest level of pollution measured. Washington also leads the nation for renewable energy production, with more than 1,012 trillion BTUs produced in 2012, far more than any other state.

ALSO READ: America’s 50 Best Cities to Live

8. Maine
> Employment rate: 72.7% (11th highest)
> Household disposable income per capita: $28,333 (22nd lowest)
> Homicide rate: 1.88 per 100,000 people (8th lowest)
> Voter turnout: 68.6% (9th highest)

Based on OECD metrics, Maine — which advertises itself as “Vacationland” — is far more than merely a tourist destination. Like more than half of the best states for quality of life, Maine received a nearly perfect score for its housing. Maine homes had an average of nearly three rooms per person, more than all but one other state. Spacious households are likely favored by Maine residents as the state’s long winter can keep people indoors for long periods. And while heating costs can be a burden, falling U.S. crude oil prices have considerably reduced the financial strain of buying home heating oil, which is more-widely used in Maine than in any other state.

For the rest of the list, please go to 24/7WallStreet.com.

TIME Careers & Workplace

America’s Worst Companies to Work For

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RadioShack Corp. signage is displayed outside of a store in New York, U.S., on Sunday, March 2, 2014. RadioShack Corp. is scheduled to release earnings figures on March 4. Photographer: Craig Warga/Bloomberg via Getty Images Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

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This post is in partnership with 24/7 Wall Street. The article below was originally published on 247wallst.com.

Employees can now share their opinions about employers online. As a result, companies face new reputation risks that can affect their customers and shareholders.

For the third year, 24/7 Wall St. has identified the nation’s worst companies to work for. 24/7 Wall St. analyzed thousands of reviews from jobs and career website Glassdoor.com and selected the 11 companies with the lowest ratings.

Click here to see America’s worst companies to work for

Many of the companies on this list continue to be in the retail sector. As a result, complaints tended to focus on wages and hours worked. In many cases, these concerns focused on how difficult it can be for sales employees to meet targets that qualified them for commissions.

In other instances, employees complained more about how they thought a company was mishandling its customers. In the case of the Children’s Place, employees protested the pushy sales tactics. Jos. A. Bank employees wrote that the company’s changing product prices made it hard for them to make sales.

However, employees working in retail are not all unhappy. Scott Dobroski, associate director for corporate communication at Glassdoor.com, suggested that pay plays a big part. “We know that compensation is the number one factor job seekers consider when determining where to work.” Starbucks and Costco are examples of retail companies that offer benefits or pay above the industry average and that employees rate highly.

A significant share of employee grievances was directed at middle management. Workers at these companies were also highly likely to disapprove of their CEO. Chief executives at 10 of the 11 worst companies to work for received positive approval ratings from less than half of their employees. At six of these businesses, less than 30% of workers endorsed the CEO.

In the case of a number of these businesses, such as RadioShack and hhgregg, falling revenues, weak earnings and a sinking stock price may all contribute to lower employee morale and negative perceptions of executive performance.

However, negative employee opinions are not always a direct reflection of a company performance. Dillard’s has been a Wall Street darling. The company’s stock price has risen tenfold in the past five years.

To identify America’s worst companies to work for, 24/7 Wall St. independently examined employee reviews on Glassdoor.com. To be considered, companies had to have a minimum of 300 reviews. Of the more than 500 companies with more than 300 reviews, 24/7 Wall St. identified the 11 publicly traded companies that received the worst scores — 2.4 or lower. Employee totals are from each company’s latest 10-K filing.

These are America’s worst companies to work for:

4. Jos. A. Bank Clothiers
> Rating: 2.3
> Number of reviews: 317
> CEO approval rating: 24% (R. Neal Black)
> Employees: 6,469
> Industry: Apparel retail

Sales managers at Jos. A. Bank Clothiers Inc. (NASDAQ: JOSB) frequently expressed frustration at the number of hours they were required to work. Sales workers often complained as well, with many citing a difficult commission structure and the company’s ever-changing product prices. While many employees said they enjoyed helping customers immensely, others felt customers were often demanding.

But while employees were unhappy with the company, Jos. A. Bank’s former shareholders had reason to be quite pleased. After months of bitter back-and-forth negotiations — which helped to drive up Jos. A. Bank’s share price — the clothing retailer was acquired by Men’s Wearhouse for $1.8 billion in March. The deal formally closed in mid-June. Unlike Jos. A. Bank employees, Men’s Warehouse’s staff has a higher view of their business, with employees awarding their company a 3.3 rating on Glassdoor.com.

MORE: America’s Most Profitable Products

3. Frontier Communications
> Rating: 2.3
> Number of reviews: 306
> CEO approval rating: 27% (Maggie Wilderotter)
> Employees: 13,650
> Industry: Telecom services

Frontier Communications Corp. (NASDAQ: FTR) is one of the larger communications companies in the United States, known primarily for providing services to rural and smaller American towns and cities. While Frontier Communications has been downsizing its workforce in recent years –headcount dropped by roughly 1,000 between 2012 and 2013 — the company considers its relationship with its employees to be good. Its employees may disagree, however. A number of reviewers seem to think Frontier Communications is no longer on the forefront of communications technology. One current employee explained, “The reason you can’t hire is that no one wants to work on a dinosaur.”

Despite the challenges of providing services to small, remote populations, Frontier has sought to expand its control of the rural market in recent years. The company bought 4.8 million access lines from Verizon in 2009. The company’s revenue, however, declined from $5.2 billion in 2011 to $5.0 billion in 2012 and then to $4.8 billion last year.

2. Express Scripts
> Rating: 2.2
> Number of reviews: 646
> CEO approval rating: 28% (George Paz)
> Employees: 29,975
> Industry: Health care services

Express Scripts Holding Co. (NASDAQ: ESRX) is a leading pharmacy benefits manager, facilitating a wide range of pharmaceutical drug operations, including distribution and cost management. Poor work-life balance was one of the most common complaints among Glassdoor.com reviews. One former employee wrote, “work life balance is nonexistent, you are expected to be available to work all the time.” Less than a third of employees approved of Express Scripts’ CEO George Paz.

Unlike several other companies on this list, Express Scripts has grown considerably in recent years. After a merger with Medco Health Solutions in 2012, Some employees expected the company to conduct layoffs. Total employment declined only slightly, however.

MORE: Nine Companies with the Most Unusual Origins

1. Books-A-Million
> Rating: 2.0
> Number of reviews: 302
> CEO approval rating: 22% (Terry Finley)
> Employees: 5,400
> Industry: Specialty stores

Books-A-Million Inc. (NASDAQ: BAMM) employed roughly 5,400 workers at more than 250 U.S. stores as of the beginning of this year, most of which were part-time. Like many retailers with unhappy employees, Books-A-Million institutes commission-based pay structures. Perhaps as a result, high stress and low pay were common complaints on Glassdoor.com. One employee wrote, “to[o] much stress for the pay, very low pay, low chance of promotion, hours are based on magazine and discount card sales. Even if you’re normally good, if you have a bad week you get cut.”

Just 14% of employees said they would recommend this company to a friend. Books-A-Million’s culture and value were rated just 1.8, the lowest among companies reviewed. CEO Terry Finley is also not popular, with just 22% thinking he is doing a good job. Over the past several years, the company has struggled to keep up with other large retail and online book sellers like Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com

Read the rest of the list on 24/7 Wall Street.

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TIME marketing

These Are the 10 Oldest Logos in the World

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Even before global marketing campaigns, television commercials, and social media, a company’s logo has been important. Over time, as businesses and consumers have changed, most major companies have also changed their logos dramatically. Still, some logos have had incredible staying power and have lasted for decades or even hundreds of years.

The world’s oldest logos have all retained some core visual element, although several have been noticeably altered. Stella Artois, for example, is recognized by several details of its icon. The horn and the star resting above the label are the features continually represented in the brand’s history.

Click here to see the oldest company logos in the world

Not surprisingly, the original intent behind a company’s icon may be mysterious to many consumers. In some cases, this is due to the logo predating the company’s current operations. Global energy conglomerate Royal Dutch Shell plc (NYSE: RDS-A) was originally a shipping company, transporting kerosene to India and returning with seashells to sell in Euro. The company selected a shell image as a result.

Paint company Sherwin-Williams (NYSE: SHW), on the other hand, chose to symbolize its business with an image of a bucket of paint poured over a drawing of the Earth, a somewhat more explicit representation.

Many companies use their longevity as a selling point to consumers in advertising and on corporate websites. Companies also emphasize that they remain connected to their founding principles, with key management often related to the brand’s inventor or the company’s founder. Twinings Tea and Peugeot, for example, still employ descendants of their original founders.

While many of these companies operate internationally, all are recognizable to American consumers. Some are industry leaders — Sherwin-Williams, Levi’s, and Heinz, for example, dominate U.S. markets. Peugeot, on the other hand, failed in the U.S. Many Americans, however, recognize the brand as virtually ubiquitous in Europe.

Based on a review of the world’s oldest companies, 24/7 Wall St. identified the 10 oldest corporate logos still in use today. In order to be considered, the logo had to currently have an international presence. The logo also could not have been meaningfully changed.

1. Stella Artois
> Logo first used: 1366
> Company founded: 1366
> Parent company revenue: $43.2 billion
> Industry: Beverage

stella logo3The origins of Stella Artois can be traced to 1366 when the Den Hoorn brewery was established in Leuven, Belgium. Local brewer Sebastian Artois bought the brewery in 1708 and renamed it after himself. The word Stella, meaning “star” in Latin, was not added to the name until the company released its first seasonal beer, the Christmas Star, in 1926. However, despite numerous shifts in management over hundreds of years, the original horn logo has not changed. The same horn that once beckoned travellers in Belgium is still prominently featured in the current Stella Artois brand. Today, Anheuser-Busch-Inbev distributes Stella Artois in more than 80 countries. According to Plato Logic Limited, a beer market data company, Stella Artois is the best-selling Belgian beer in the world.

ALSO READ: Ten Cars Americans Don’t Want to Buy

2. Twinings Tea
> Logo first used: 1887
> Company founded: 1706
> Parent company revenue: $22.6 billion
> Industry: Beverage
twinings logoTwinings Tea has used the same logo — capitalized font beneath a lion crest — continuously for 227 years, making it the world’s oldest unaltered logo in continuous use, according to the company website. Perhaps even more remarkable, the company has occupied the same location on London’s Strand since its founding by Thomas Twining in 1706. Tea consumption was not always essential to everyday British life. Coffee, gin, and beer dominated English breakfast drink preferences in the early 18th century. By the turn of the century, however, tea had become extremely popular. After 10 generations, family-owned Twinings is now a globally recognized company, distributing its tea to more than 100 countries worldwide.

3. Bass Ale
> Logo first used: 1876
> Company founded: 1777
> Parent company revenue: $43.2 billion
> Industry: Beverage

bass-logoBass Ale has used the red triangle logo since 1876, when the logo became the first registered trademark ever issued by the British government. Its simple design may have helped Bass become one of England’s leading beer producers by 1890. The logo became so popular that Edouard Manet featured it in his 1882 work “A Bar at the Folies Bergere” and James Joyce explicitly mentioned it in his novel “Ulysses.”Bass Ale is even mentioned in connection with the sinking of the Titanic, as it was carrying 12,000 bottles of Bass in its hold when it sank. According Anheuser-Busch-InBev, Bass ale was even fought over by Napoleon.

4. Shell Oil
> Logo first used: 1904
> Company founded: 1833
> Parent company revenue: $451.2 billion
> Industry: Energy

shell logoIn 1891, Marcus Samuel and Company began shipping kerosene from London to India and bringing back seashells for sale in the European markets. Initially, the seashell business was so popular that it accounted for most of the company’s profits. Samuel incorporated the name “Shell” in 1897 and designated a mussel shell as its logo. In 1904, a scallop shell became the official logo. In 1907, Shell merged with the Royal Dutch Petroleum Company, retaining the logo that remains synonymous with the oil conglomerate. In 1915, Shell opened its first service station in California, introducing the red and yellow color scheme still in use. Today, Shell is one of the world’s largest energy companies, with a market value of nearly $260 billion.

5. Levi Strauss & Co.
> Logo first used: 1886
> Company founded: 1837
> Parent company revenue: $4.7 billion
> Industry: Clothing

levis logoLevi’s logo featuring two horses is perhaps just as durable as the denim it is printed on. Levi’s first used the logo in 1886 as a way to grow its market share before its patent on the jean-making process expired. In fact, the logo became so widespread that, according to Levi Strauss & Co., early customers would often ask for “those pants with two horses.” In fact, the brand used the name “The Two Horse Brand’ until 1928, when Levi Strauss officially trademarked the Levi’s name. Levi’s employed roughly 16,000 employees worldwide as of last year. Its product line now includes jeans, casual and dress pants, and jackets.

See the rest of the list at 24/7 Wall St.

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TIME Employment

10 States With the Fastest Growing Economies

Oil Boom Shifts The Landscape Of Rural North Dakota
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This post is in partnership with 24/7Wall Street. The article below was originally published on 247wallst.com.

The United States economy grew 1.9% in 2013, down from the 2.8% growth rate in 2012, as growth in the world’s largest economy remained inconsistent. The largest contributors to the national economy were nondurable goods manufacturing, real estate and leasing, as well as agriculture and related industries.

While the U.S. economy grew less than 2%, the output of a number of states grew well in excess of 3% last year. North Dakota continued its torrid growth pace, leading the nation with a state GDP growth rate of nearly 10%. This year, Wyoming and West Virginia were the second- and third-fastest growing states, respectively, rebounding from slow growth in 2012. Based on data released this week by the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), these are the 10 states with the highest real GDP growth rates for 2013.

There were considerable differences in what drove national growth and what drove output in the fastest growing states, according to Cliff Woodruff, an economist at the BEA. “For the nation, it was nondurable goods manufacturing and agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting [that] were the top two contributors to national growth,” Woodruff said.

On the other hand, in “five of the top states, [growth] was primarily a result of mining,” which includes oil, natural gas and coal production. Among these was Wyoming, the nation’s second-fastest growing state, where mining accounted for 6.1 percentage points of the state’s 7.6% growth rate.

MORE: The States With the Strongest and Weakest Unions

All of the top four states for GDP growth were among the top four nationwide in terms of the mining sector’s share of growth. Additionally, three other top states were among the top 10 for GDP growth contributions from the mining sector.

Outside of those states that benefited from mining activity, a few of the nation’s fastest growing states did follow the national trend, deriving a significant share of their growth from agriculture. Among these were Idaho, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota, where agriculture and related industries added at least one percentage point to growth. These states were all among the top five nationwide for the contribution of agriculture to the states’ growth rate.

Outside the mining and agriculture sectors, however, these states often shared little in common. For example, nondurable goods manufacturing contributed 1.2 percentage points to Texas’ 3.7% GDP growth, a larger contribution than in most states. However, the sector contributed far less in most other fast growing states.

Similarly, Colorado, Oklahoma, North Dakota, and Texas were all among the top states for construction’s relative contribution to output growth. However, construction output was a large drag on growth in both Wyoming and West Virginia, lowering GDP growth by 0.2 and 0.3 percentage points, respectively.

One common trait among a number of the fastest growing states, however, was a resilient government sector. According to Woodruff, “government was the largest detractor — if you will — from growth in most states.” While the government sector directly pulled down GDP nationwide, and served as a drag on output in all but 11 states, this was not the case in the fastest growing states. In fact, six of the top 10 growing states did not experience a drop in output from the government sector.

MORE: 10 Companies Paying Americans the Least

Strong GDP growth was also reflected in state job markets. The unemployment rate in all of the 10 fastest growing states was below the national rate of 7.4% in 2013. Each of the four states with the lowest annual average unemployment rates was among the 10 fastest growing states in 2013. This includes North Dakota, the nation’s fastest growing state, where the unemployment rate was just 2.9% in 2013. South Dakota and Nebraska, also among the fastest growing states, had unemployment rates below 4% last year.

Since having more people means more spending on goods and services, population growth often coincides with GDP growth. In fact, while the U.S. population rose just 0.7% between July 2012 and July 2013, the population growth in most of the states with the fastest growing economies was well above that. Five of the six states with the fastest population growth rates were also among the top 10 for GDP growth.

Based on figures published by the BEA, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the 10 states with the fastest growing economies. The BEA’s state growth figures and the industries’ contributions to growth are measured by real gross domestic product, which accounts for the effects of inflation on growth. GDP figures published by the BEA for 2013 are preliminary and subject to annual revision. Real GDP figures for past years have already been revised. Population figures are from the U.S. Census Bureau and reflect estimated growth between the July 1, 2012, and July 1, 2013. We also used median household income from the U.S. Census Bureau. Last year’s unemployment rates are annual averages and from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Home price data are from the Federal Housing Finance Agency. Information from the Energy Information Administration was also utilized.

These are the 10 states with the fastest growing economies.

1. North Dakota

> GDP growth: 9.7%
> 2013 GDP: $56.3 billion (5th lowest)
> 1-yr. population change: 3.1% (the highest)
> 2013 unemployment: 2.9% (the lowest)

North Dakota has been the fastest growing state in the nation every year since 2010. In fact, the state’s GDP grew by 9.7% last year after it already grew by a stratospheric 20% in 2012 alone. The state’s oil boom, driven by hydraulic fracturing — or fracking — in the Bakken shale formation, has been responsible for much of this growth. Last year, mining directly contributed 3.6 percentage points to the state’s growth rate. Other growing industries, such as real estate and construction, have also contributed to the state’s growth. State residents have benefited from this growth. The state’s unemployment rate as of last year was just 2.9%, the lowest in the nation, while home prices were up nearly 28% over the past five years, also better than any other state.

2. Wyoming
> GDP growth: 7.6%
> 2013 GDP: $45.4 billion (2nd lowest)
> 1-yr. population change: 1.0% (11th highest)
> 2013 unemployment: 4.6% (6th lowest)

Wyoming’s economy grew by 7.6% in 2013, just one year after its economy experienced the worst contraction in the nation. The fact that growth rates in Wyoming may be somewhat volatile should not come as a surprise. The state was the nation’s least populous last year, with slightly less than 583,000 residents.. Additionally, the state is highly dependent on the fortunes of the mining sector. Last year, 37% of Wyoming’s total output came from mining, the most of any state. The state’s budget is also highly dependent on taxes from resource extraction. Mining alone accounted for 6.2 percentage points of the state’s 7.6% growth in 2013. Wyoming leads the U.S. in coal production, and all eight of the nation’s largest mines are in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin, according to the EIA. Wyoming is also among the largest states for natural gas production.

3. West Virginia
> GDP growth: 5.1%
> 2013 GDP: $74.0 billion (12th lowest)
> 1-yr. population change: -0.1% (the lowest)
> 2013 unemployment: 6.5% (18th lowest)

After shrinking by 1.4% in 2012, West Virginia’s economy grew by 5.1% last year, more than all but two other states. While West Virginia is well-known as one of the nation’s largest coal miners, the state is also a burgeoning source of natural gas. According to a report by the Bureau of Business & Economic Research at West Virginia University, the state’s coal production is expected to decline in the coming years, while natural gas production has risen dramatically and is expected to continue to grow. However, outside the mining sector, the state had little in the way of growth. Last year’s 5.1% rise in GDP was driven largely by the mining sector, which added 5.5 percentage points to GDP growth, meaning, on balance, the state actually contracted outside the sector. By one measure, West Virginia is among the poorest states in the nation. The median household income in the state was just $40,196 in 2012, lower than in all but two other states.

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While home flipping activity in the U.S. has declined over the past year, in many markets the practice is still quite popular and provides high returns. Home flippers generally buy a home, renovate and sell it within six months. In some of the areas where home flippers had the most profits, the housing market and economic fundamentals support this type of investment, according to a recent report from home data site RealtyTrac.

What makes a good home flipping market? According to Daren Blomquist, vice president at RealtyTrac, a good home flipping market depends on the availability of distressed inventory, generally rising housing prices, and a growing economy. High numbers of distressed homes allow flippers to buy at a discount, while a strong market and economic growth allow flippers to sell at a premium. Based on recently released data from RealtyTrac, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the best counties for home flipping.

The best markets for home flipping had to have had a relatively strong year in terms of generating returns for investors. Some of these markets were especially lucrative in the 12 months between April 2014 and March 2014. Notably, five of the best counties for home-flipping had gross returns on investment of more than 50% in that time.

Foreclosure rates in each of the best counties for home flipping increased measurably between the first quarters of 2013 and 2014, even as foreclosures declined nationwide. This means that home flippers could rely on a relatively sizeable inventory of distressed properties in these counties. Prince George County, Maryland and Campbell County, Kentucky had particularly dramatic increases, with the number of foreclosures jumping 136.8% and 238.5%, respectively.

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Economically depressed areas, which tend to have low housing prices, often draw home-flippers. But these are not necessarily the best home-flipping markets. As Blomquist noted, the balance between low prices and a flipper’s ability to successfully sell a property is both crucial and delicate. “Investors in [the best] markets may have to go against the grain a bit by diving into a market where there are still a lot of foreclosures,” Blomquist added. But “going against the grain, when done with careful research, is often the best way to beat out the competition and maximize profits on flips.”

Residents of many of the best counties for home flipping also earned considerably less than the typical price of an area property. Buyers in nine of the 10 counties best for home flipping had to shell out at least two times the county’s estimated annual median income to buy a home. In Bergen and Montgomery counties buyers paid 4.5 and 3.8 times the estimated median household income for 2014, respectively, both among the highest ratios nationwide. This primarily reflects recent gains in home prices in these areas. Blomquist explained that higher-priced markets allow flippers to sell their refurbished properties at attractive prices relative to the rest of the market.

Notably, half of the best counties for home flipping were located in Maryland, where a majority of key home flipping components seem to converge. Not only is Maryland a market where foreclosures have been increasing in recent years alongside rising home prices, but also the state’s economy is also relatively strong. According to Blomquist, this is likely due in part to the strong presence of government and government-related jobs in the state.

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In order to be considered as one of the nation’s best housing markets for home flipping by RealtyTrac, counties had to have 100 or more single-family home flips between April 2013 and March 2014. Additionally, average gross returns on flips in these counties had to exceed 30% during this period. Gross returns do not include the costs associate with renovating a home. Counties also had to have below average unemployment rates as of March, a major indicator of economic strength. Finally, counties also had to have had a year-over-year rise in foreclosure activity in the first quarter of 2014, indicating ample inventory of potential properties for home flipping. Data on median home prices by county, as well as flips as a percentage of sales, by metropolitan area, are also from RealtyTrac. Data on median household income represent RealtyTrac estimates for 2014.

These are the 10 best markets for home flipping:

1. Prince George’s County, Md.
> Return on investment: 83.4%
> Increase in foreclosures: 136.8%
> Unemployment rate: 6.0%
> Number of flips: 347

Flippers in Prince George’s County earned more than 83 cents on the dollar, among the best gross returns on real estate investment nationwide. Further contributing to the quality of the overall flipping market, foreclosures rose by 137% between the first quarter of 2013 and the first quarter of 2014, providing new inventory for flippers. Additionally, the unemployment rate was just 6%, offering signs of a reasonably good economy for potential buyers. Unsurprisingly, Prince George County is located in Maryland, where incomes are relatively high. Median household income in the county is estimated at $71,931 for 2014, more than in the vast majority of counties nationwide.

2. York County, Pa.
> Return on investment: 72.5%
> Increase in foreclosures: 10.2%
> Unemployment rate: 5.9%
> Number of flips: 179

Home flipping activity has declined dramatically in York County since its peak at the end of 2012, when 37% of all metro area home sales were flips. Despite the decline, flipping homes in the county remains quite profitable. Real estate investors purchased potential flips for around $88,000 on average, considerably less than the majority of strong home-flipping markets. Over the last 12 months or so, flippers were able to sell these homes for an average of close to $152,000 — a gross return on investment of nearly 73%.

3. Baltimore County, Md.
> Return on investment: 70.8%
> Increase in foreclosures: 32.3%
> Unemployment rate: 6.1%
> Number of flips: 546

With a nearly 71% gross return on flipped homes in Baltimore County, it may not be surprising that there were 546 home flips between April 2013 and this past March, among the higher volumes of home flips nationwide over that period. Unlike many other counties located in Maryland, Baltimore County residents were not exceptionally wealthy, with an estimated median household income of just $64,393 in the county for 2014. Total foreclosures rose by 32% between the first quarter of 2013 and the first quarter of 2014, among the larger increases nationwide. This could continue to attract house flippers to the area.

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4. Campbell County, Ky.
> Return on investment: 69.9%
> Increase in foreclosures: 238.5%
> Unemployment rate: 6.3%
> Number of flips: 163

The median home price in Campbell County was $90,800 in the 12 months through March 2014, among the lower median prices nationwide. The area’s estimated median income for 2014 was comparably low as well, at slightly less than $60,000. This suggests homebuyers did not commit to mortgages well in excess of their income. And yet, foreclosures in Campbell County increased dramatically in recent months, jumping by 238% between the first quarter of 2013 and the first quarter of 2014, boosting the potential inventory for home flips. More distressed homes may help flipping activity return to 2013 levels, when more than 10% of all home sales were flips. Flipped homes accounted for just 3.4% of sales as of the beginning of 2014.

5. New Castle County, Del.
> Return on investment: 52.8%
> Increase in foreclosures: 28.6%
> Unemployment rate: 5.9%
> Number of flips: 117

Home flippers in New Castle County were able to turn a 52.8% gross profit on homes they purchased for an average price of $127,795 between April 2013 and March 2014. The median home price in the area of $174,800 in the same 12 months far exceeded the estimated median household income of $63,022 for 2014. The relatively high risk home buyers are taking may in part explain the recent rise in foreclosures, which increased by nearly 29% between the first quarter of last year and the first quarter of 2014. While the higher foreclosure rate indicates area homeowners may be struggling, the increased number of distressed properties is good news for home flippers.

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Successful companies frequently depend on just one product for a large share of their sales. That’s true for some of the most iconic brands, including Coca-Cola, Marlboro, Jack Daniels, and Apple. In many cases, these products not only represent an outsized share of their company’s revenue, but they also have tremendous profit margins that serve as the foundation of the company’s profitability.

Nearly all the most profitable products are market leaders in their industry and are mass produced in incredible quantities. As a result, the company can apply significant pressure on suppliers to lower costs, while still selling to customers at the highest possible price.

Click here to see America’s 7 Most Profitable Products

For instance, Apple sold more than 150 million iPhones in its latest full fiscal year, up 20% from the year before, when the company sold 125 million iPhones. Very few smartphone or consumer electronics devices can match that volume, which gives Apple notable leverage in negotiations for components and with carriers. Today, most Americans own a smartphone, and a huge number of these are iPhones.

The most profitable products tend to rely on the power of their brand, which can command a premium price and sell extraordinary numbers of units. In fact, some of these products, including Coca-Cola, Harley-Davidson and Jack Daniels, are also among the world’s most valuable brands, according to brand consultancy group Interbrand.

One major factor that helps to shape product profitability is exceptional management. On one hand, businesses that spend too much on areas such as research and development or marketing can cut deeply into a product’s margins. Of course, controlling expenses is a balancing act. A product that is not well-built or marketed is one that will fizzle away.

Clearly, the ability to develop or market a product well can be a huge source of popularity as well. Apple’s iPhone is hugely popular because it is, by most accounts, one of the most well-built and user-friendly smartphones made by a consumer electronics company. Coca-Cola and Marlboro likely owe much of their popularity to their world-famous advertising.

Product profitability is among the most difficult financial measurements to gauge from the financial information released by public companies. As a result, finding credible and reliable information on a product’s profitability is also quite difficult. Public companies tend to guard data on product profits, and rightly so. This information is equivalent to a trade secret that corporations do not want their competitors to have, even if the figures can be estimated.

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Based on data from by Capital IQ, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the S&P 500 companies that produce consumer products. We only considered corporations that have a single product that is considered to be the company’s flagship brand, or represents the largest single contributor to revenue. To account for the opaque nature of product profitability, 24/7 Wall St. only considered products of publicly traded companies that disclosed significant details about their operations. We excluded companies with an operating margin of less than 15%, as well as companies that did not break out revenue by division or product. In order to estimate product operating margin, in the cases when the product’s margin or revenue was not provided, we used the company or division’s operating margin as a proxy. If it was clear that the brand power of the product and high volume of sales allow the company to sell the product at a premium, we awarded the product a higher operating margin. Market share values listed are for the U.S. exclusively, and come from various industry sources. Variations of existing, well-established products, such as the iPhone 5c, Jack Daniels Honey and Diet Coke, were counted as part of the parent brand.

These are America’s most profitable products.

1. iPhone
> Operating margin: 41%
> Product revenue: $91.3 billion
> Market share: 45.0%
> Industry: Computer hardware

A majority of Americans now own smartphones, according to Pew Research Center. Last year, 45% of all smartphones sold were iPhones. The iPhone is one of the world’s most profitable products and a primary driver in Apples’ (NASDAQ: AAPL) financial success. The company’s fiscal 2013 sales increased by $14.4 billion, or 9%, from the year before. Much of the growth was due to strong iPhone 5 sales, as well as the successful introductions of iPhone 5S and lower-cost 5c. Net sales of the iPhone totaled $91.3 billion last year, up 16% from 2012, when sales increased by more than 70% from the year before. Interbrand named Apple the world’s most valuable brand last year.

2. Marlboro
> Operating margin: 32%
> Product revenue: $18.7 billion
> Market share: 40.3%
> Industry: Tobacco

Despite a massive decline in American smoking habits since the 1960s, Marlboro cigarettes are still among America’s most profitable products. Altria Group, Marlboro’s parent company, shipped roughly 130 billion packs of cigarettes last year, including 111 billion packs of Marlboros, down slightly from the year before. The Marlboro brand, however, still dominates U.S. tobacco markets, controlling more than two-fifths of the tobacco market in America. The brand has been the top-selling cigarette nationwide for the past 35 years. While smoking is on the decline, the Marlboro brand can be found on a variety of smokeless tobacco products as well, including snus. Altria Group shipped 787.5 million units of smokeless tobacco products last year, up slightly from 2012.

3. Monster
> Operating margin: 26%
> Product revenue: $2.1 billion
> Market share: 34.6%
> Industry: Soft drinks

Like several other energy drink brands, Monster has come under some scrutiny for its brightly colored labels and flashy advertising, because such tactics tend to attract a young audience. One can of Monster has roughly five times the caffeine found in a can of Coke. Monster does not children or pregnant women consume its products. Despite bad press, Monster Beverage Corporation’s revenue has steadily increased in recent years. Sales rose more than 9% last year.

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The percentage of American workers in unions remained effectively unchanged last year. This marks a departure from the nation’s long-term trend. In the past 30 years, union membership has dropped from 20.1% of the workforce in 1983 to 11.2% last year.

Despite this long running decline, some states remain union strongholds, while others have almost no union presence. In New York, Alaska and Hawaii, more than 22% of workers were union members last year. Conversely, in five states, less than 4% of all employees were union members.

A number of factors help determine whether unions have a significant or negligible presence in a state, including industry composition, labor laws and political atmosphere. Based on data collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and calculations by Unionstats.com, 24/7 Wall St. identified the states with the highest and lowest shares of workers who are union members.

With the addition of Michigan in 2012, nearly half of all states have so-called “right to work” laws. These laws prohibit employers from requiring union membership as a prerequisite for employment. As a result, employees often elect not to pay union fees. All 10 of the states with the lowest proportional union membership have right to work laws. Conversely, just two of the 10 states with the highest rates of union membership — Michigan and Nevada — have such laws.

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However, according to an email from Unionstats founder Barry Hirsch, while these laws can weaken a union’s financial base, the impact may be smaller than some suggest. “Right to work is important symbolically as a sign of a pro-business [or] anti-union environment,” Hirsch added.

The number of union workers in a state depends in large part on the representation of government employees. Although the public sector is far smaller than the private sector in terms of total employment, public sector workers are far more likely to be members of a union. Nationwide, more than 35% of public sector employees — which include teachers, firefighters, police officers and postal workers — were union members last year.

As a result, states where public employees were more likely to be in unions had higher rates of overall union representation. In New York, the nation’s most unionized state, 70% of public sector employees were union members, the highest percentage in the nation. By contrast, in North Carolina, the nation’s least unionized state, slightly less than 10% were union members.

In contrast to the public sector, unions are far less prevalent in the private sector, where just 6.7% of the workforce was unionized. However, because the private sector is far larger, it still accounts for a large share of union membership. In fact, most of the top 10 states for overall membership were also among the top 10 for percentage of private sector workers who were union members.

In recent decades, the private sector has accounted for the majority of the decline in the union workforce, while the share of public sector workers in unions has remained relatively constant, Hirsch wrote. “Public sector members now account for half of all members despite being only [one-sixth] of the workforce,” he added.

Often, high levels of union membership in a state were due to the presence of industries where unions traditionally held considerable influence, most notably construction and manufacturing. As of 2013, 14% of all construction sector workers, and 10% of all manufacturing workers, were union members.

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In the past decade, the share of private sector workers in unions fell in all but a handful of states. From 2003 to 2013, the number of private sector union members dropped by more than 1 million, from just less than 8.5 million to 7.3 million. In the same time, manufacturing union membership slipped by 34%, from just under 2.2 million to 1.4 million.

In addition to sector composition, Hirsch also noted that history played a role in determining unionization rates. “States that historically had high unionization in manufacturing are now more likely to have high unionized hospitals and grocery stores, and vice-versa,” he explained. In turn, when young workers have not been exposed to unions through friends and family members, “these workers are far less likely to support union organizing.”

Based on figures published by Unionstats.com, an online union membership and coverage database, 24/7 Wall St. identified the states with the highest and lowest union membership as a percentage of total employment. The database, which analyzes Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) Current Population Survey, provides labor force numbers and union membership in both the public and private sector, including manufacturing and construction. Additionally, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed annual average unemployment rates for each state from the BLS, as well as income and poverty data from the 2012 American Community Survey, produced by the U.S. Census Bureau.

These are the states with the strongest unions:

1. New York
> Pct. of workers in unions: 24.3%
> Union workers: 1,982,771 (2nd highest)
> 10-yr. change in union membership: 2.4% (14th highest)
> Total employment, 2013: 8,144,204 (3rd highest)

Nearly one-quarter of New York’s workers — close to 2 million people — were union members in 2013, the highest percentage in the country. Union representation was relatively strong both in the private sector and in government jobs. In the private sector, 15.1% of workers were union members, the highest percentage in the country. Nearly 70% of public sector workers belonged to unions, the highest percentage in the country. However, even in New York, unions have been forced to make concessions so that their members could keep their jobs. In 2011, the state struck a deal with New York’s largest public employees union, the Civil Service Employees Association, to freeze wages in order to avoid mass layoffs.

2. Alaska
> Pct. of workers in unions: 23.1%
> Union workers: 70,692 (16th lowest)
> 10-yr. change in union membership: 19.6% (3rd highest)
> Total employment, 2013: 306,322 (3rd lowest)

More than 23% of Alaska’s relatively small workforce, or 70,692 workers, were union members in 2013, more than in any state except for New York. Additionally, more than one in 10 private sector workers were union members, among the higher rates in the nation. Unlike many highly unionized states, union membership increased in Alaska — by nearly 20% — between 2003 and 2013. This was the third largest increase in union members among all states. Membership across the nation, by contrast, fell by 8% over that time. Alaska residents had among the nation’s highest incomes as of 2012, when a typical household earning more than $67,000. Also, just slightly more than 10% of people lived below the poverty line that year, among the lowest in the country.

3. Hawaii
> Pct. of workers in unions: 22.1%
> Union workers: 121,357 (23rd lowest)
> 10-yr. change in union membership: -0.3% (18th highest)
> Total employment, 2013: 549,219 (9th lowest)

As is the case in many states with strong union membership, a large proportion of Hawaii’s manufacturing workers — 18.3% — were union members as of last year, more than in all but two other states. More than 32% of private construction workers were also union members, among the highest percentages nationwide in 2013. By many measures, Hawaii is a good place to work, with high median incomes and low unemployment helping to offset the state’s exceptionally high cost of living last year. A typical household made more than $66,000 in 2012, more than in all but a handful of states. And the unemployment rate was just 4.8% last year, also among the best rates.

4. Washington
> Pct. of workers in unions: 18.9%
> Union workers: 544,986 (8th highest)
> 10-yr. change in union membership: 8.7% (8th highest)
> Total employment, 2013: 2,880,935 (14th highest)

Washington’s total employment rose by nearly 104,000 workers, or 3.6%, between 2012 and 2013, one of the highest increases in the country. Washington is one of the most unionized states in the private sector, with 11.7% of all employees union members. Nearly one-quarter of the state’s private construction workers were union members in 2013, among the highest in the country. Similarly, 24.2% of all manufacturing workers held union membership, the most in the nation. There were 52,000 fewer public sector employees in 2013 than in 2012, as the state continued to follow through on the budget cuts it initiated during the recession. Despite this, union membership in the public sector held steady, at more than 261,000 workers, or 57% of all public employees.

5. Rhode Island
> Pct. of workers in unions: 16.9%
> Union workers: 77,367 (18th lowest)
> 10-yr. change in union membership: -7.9% (25th highest)
> Total employment, 2013: 458,494 (8th lowest)

Like several other states with strong union presence, nearly two-thirds of Rhode Island’s public sector belonged to a union last year, second only to New York. Labor initiatives appear to be a recent priority for policy makers. The state raised its minimum wage to $8 an hour at the beginning of last year, affecting more than 10,000 workers at the time. Wages may increase even further if the labor union-backed legislation introduced in January is passed. The bill aims to increase the minimum wage to $10 per hour by 2016. While union membership may benefit many Rhode Island workers, high wages could potentially also limit new employment opportunities. Rhode Island’s unemployment rate of 9.5% last year was higher than that of any other state except for Nevada.

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Cracks in the dry bed of the Stevens Creek Reservoir in Cupertino, Calif., on March 13, 2014. Marcio Jose Sanchez—AP

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The United States is currently engulfed in one of the worst droughts in recent memory. More than 30% of the country experienced at least moderate drought as of last week’s data.

In seven states drought conditions were so severe that each had more than half of its land area in severe drought. Severe drought is characterized by crop loss, frequent water shortages, and mandatory water use restrictions. Based on data from the U.S. Drought Monitor, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the states with the highest levels of severe drought.

In an interview, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) meteorologist Brad Rippey, told 24/7 Wall St. that drought has been a long-running issue in parts of the country. “This drought has dragged on for three and a half years in some areas, particularly [in] North Texas,” Rippey said.

While large portions of the seven states suffer from severe drought, in some parts of these states drought conditions are even worse. In six of the seven states with the highest levels of drought, more than 30% of each state was in extreme drought as of last week, a more severe level of drought characterized by major crop and pasture losses, as well as widespread water shortages. Additionally, in California and Oklahoma, 25% and 30% of the states, respectively, suffered from exceptional drought, the highest severity classification. Under exceptional drought, crop and pasture loss is widespread, and shortages of well and reservoir water can lead to water emergencies.

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Drought has had a major impact on important crops such as winter wheat. “So much of the winter wheat is grown across the southern half of the Great Plains,” Rippey said, an area that includes Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas, three of the hardest-hit states. Texas alone had nearly a quarter of a million farms in 2012, the most out of any state, while neighboring Oklahoma had more than 80,000 farms, trailing only three other states.

In the Southwest, concerns are less-focused on agriculture and more on reservoir levels, explained Rippey. In Arizona, reservoir levels were just two-thirds of their usual average. Worse still, in New Mexico, reservoir stores were only slightly more than half of their normal levels. “And Nevada is the worst of all. We see storage there at about a third of what you would expect,” Rippey said.

The situation in California may well be the most problematic of any state. The entire state was suffering from severe drought as of last week, and 75% of all land area was under extreme drought. “Reservoirs which are generally fed by the Sierra Nevadas and the southern Cascades [are] where we see the real problems,” Rippey said. Restrictions on agricultural water use has forced many California farmers to leave fields fallow, he added. “At [the current] usage rate, California has less than two years of water remaining.”

The U.S. Drought Monitor is produced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the seven states with the highest proportions of total area classified in at least a state of severe drought as of May 13, 2014. We also reviewed figures recently published by the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service as part of its 2012 Census of Agriculture.

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These are the seven states running out of water.

1. California
> Pct. severe drought: 100.0%
> Pct. extreme drought: 76.7% (the highest)
> Pct. exceptional drought: 24.8% (2nd highest)

California had the nation’s worst drought problem with more than 76% of the state experiencing extreme drought as of last week. Drought in California has worsened considerably in recent years. Severe drought conditions covered the entire state, as of last week. Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency earlier this year as the drought worsened. California had 465,422 hired farm workers in 2012, more than any other state. Farm workers would likely suffer further if conditions persist. The shortage of potable water has been so severe that California is now investing in long-term solutions, such as desalination plants. A facility that is expected to be the largest in the Western hemisphere is currently under construction in Southern California, and another desalination facility is under consideration in Orange County.

2. Nevada
> Pct. severe drought: 87.0%
> Pct. extreme drought: 38.7% (5th highest)
> Pct. exceptional drought: 8.2% (4th highest)

Nearly 40% of Nevada was covered in extreme drought last week, among the highest rates in the country. The drought in the state has worsened since the week of April 15, when 33.5% of the state was covered in extreme drought. According to the Las Vegas Valley Water District (LVVWD), the main cause of the drought this year has been below average snowfall in the Rocky Mountains. Melting snow from the Rocky Mountains eventually flows into Lake Mead, which provides most of the Las Vegas Valley with water. John Entsminger, head of both the LVVWD and the Southern Nevada Water Authority, said that the effects of the drought on the state has been “every bit as serious as a Hurricane Katrina or a Superstorm Sandy.”

3. New Mexico
> Pct. severe drought: 86.2%
> Pct. extreme drought: 33.3% (6th highest)
> Pct. exceptional drought: 4.5% (5th highest)

More than 86% of New Mexico was covered in severe drought as of last week, more than any state except for Nevada and California. Additionally, one-third of the state was in extreme drought, worse than just a month earlier, when only one-quarter of the state was covered in extreme drought. However, conditions were better than they were one year ago, when virtually the entire state was in at least severe drought, with more than 80% in extreme drought conditions. NOAA forecasts conditions may improve in much of the state this summer.

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Advertisements and packaging increase consumer awareness of a product and provide information so that customers can make educated choices. Oftentimes, however, marketing strategies are focused more on raising sales than providing accurate product information.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) handles numerous cases each year as part of its goal to protect consumers from unfair or deceptive practices. Last year, the FTC ruled that advertisements and packaging of various lines of clothing from a number of companies — including Sears, Amazon.com, and Macy’s — were misleading and unsubstantiated. In these cases, the companies marketed the products as environmentally friendly bamboo, when in fact the manufacturing process involved toxic chemicals.

This incident is one of a slew of recent confrontations companies have had with a number of groups. Regulators, customers and advocacy groups have especially targeted “all-natural” labelled foods. The growth in such labeling is not surprising given the spike in demand for so-called “natural” products in recent years. Other products under scrutiny have ranged from shoes to cars. Based on recent FTC and media reports, 24/7 Wall St. has reviewed the most misleading product claims.

Due to the high volume of litigations in recent years, the word “natural” is slowly disappearing from labels, despite the lucrative sales growths of products with this label. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) is one consumer advocacy group that is at the forefront of lawsuits related to food, beverages and health.

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In an interview with 24/7 Wall St., Stephen Gardner, Litigation Director at CSPI, explained that food and health-related litigation probably get more media attention because “Americans are increasingly interested in eating [healthy foods].” The problem is that the terms used to identify healthy foods are often inconsistent or vague. Citric acid, for example, can be either natural or artificially produced, which means seeing it listed as an ingredient does not tell a consumer very much, Gardner explained.

Kashi, Emergen-C, and Kellogg’s Frosted Mini-Wheats all claimed to be healthier than they actually were. Kashi, which claims to be all all-natural, actually contains artificial ingredients. Emergen-C vitamin C supplement’s effectiveness at preventing or curing the common cold is controversial. Kellogg’s Frosted Mini-Wheats do not improve children’s attention span.

To make matters worse, information found on packaging is often unreliable. These strategies are anti-competitive, Gardner argued. “If people don’t want to buy food with high-fructose corn syrup, they shouldn’t be tricked into buying it.” Additionally, if you are a victim of deceptive practices, “You’re not getting what you paid for, and that’s a failure of the marketplace,” Gardner said.

24/7 Wall St. has identified the major government actions and private lawsuits directed at companies on the basis of deceptive practices or false advertising. In order to be considered, a product had to be involved in some major settlement since the start of last year. We excluded incidents that were related to services rather than specific products, such as cases of predatory lending.

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These are nine of the most misleading product claims.

1. Sears’ Bamboo fabric
> Parent Company: Sears
> Ad changed: yes
> Settlement Amount: $475,000

Sears Holdings agreed to pay $475,000 and remove false advertising from its line of “100% pure bamboo” products, which were anything but. Sears was the find the most out of several large companies, including Amazon.com and Macy’s, that agreed to pay fines totaling nearly $1.3 million for violating for violating the Textile Products Identification Act last year. The FTC charged the companies for labelling clothing products as made of bamboo, when they were actually made of rayon. While using bamboo to make clothing is arguably “green,” rayon — a synthetic cellulose fiber — is manufactured using toxic chemicals in a process known for its hazardous byproducts, the FTC noted. These companies had previously received warnings from the FTC in 2010 but did not alter their marketing strategies until last year, when the settlement was reached.

2. Vibram FiveFinger
> Parent Company: Vibram USA
> Ad changed: Yes
> Settlement Amount: $3.75 million

So-called minimalist running gear has gained popularity in recent years, most notably the Vibram FiveFinger shoe, a close-fitting mimicry of the bare foot. The FiveFinger shoe’s initial reception was lukewarm. The glove-like shoe was simply too weird for many Americans.Since then, the market for minimalist shoes has boomed, due in part to the success of author Christopher McDougall’s best-selling book, “Born to Run,” which touted the benefits and freedom of barefoot running.While the best-selling book did not explicitly endorse FiveFinger shoes, Vibram sales soared after the book was released in 2009. However, following a recent settlement, Vibram has agreed to stop making any claims that its shoes strengthen muscles or prevent injuries, and has agreed to refund customers who bought its shoes. In its settlement, the company noted “Vibram expressly denied and continues to deny any wrongdoing alleged in the Actions, and neither admits nor concedes any actual or potential fault, wrongdoing or liability”

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3. Kellogg’s Frosted Mini-Wheats
> Parent Company: Kellogg
> Ad changed: Yes
> Settlement Amount: $4 million

Approximately five years ago, Kellogg claimed that “Eating a bowl of Kellogg’s Frosted Mini-Wheats cereal for breakfast is clinically shown to improve attentiveness by nearly 20%.” While Kellogg did not admit to false advertising, it did create a $4 million fund last year to reimburse misled customers who bought the cereal between January 2008 and October 2009. The agreement was part of a settlement in a class-action lawsuit charging Kellogg with false advertising. The company settled similar accusations in the past, when the FTC charged Kellogg with misleading health claims on its Rice Krispies cereal. Cereal boxes at that time claimed the food would boost immunity and provide essential portions of healthy nutrients.

4. Snapchat
> Parent Company: Snapchat
> Ad changed: Yes
> Settlement Amount: N/A

Snapchat is a smartphone application designed to send disappearing photos, or “snaps,” to friends. The FTC, however, charged the company for misleading consumers into believing the photos would actually disappear forever, when there are actually a number of simple ways to preserve the snaps. The FTC also accused the company of misrepresenting the extent to which it collected personal information, including geolocation data. This is not the first misstep for the company. Earlier this year, Snapchat leaked the phone numbers and names of millions of users. The incident was particularly embarrassing for the company as it dismissed a security warning it received shortly before the leak. In January, Snapchat finally apologized for the fiasco, detailing how it would prevent further abuse of its application.

5. Kashi
> Parent Company: Kellogg
> Ad changed: Yes
> Settlement Amount: $5 million

Earlier this month, Kellogg agreed to stop including terms such as “nothing artificial” and “all natural” on its Kashi brand of products. The agreement was part of a $5 million settlement filed at the beginning of May. The class action lawsuit accused Kellogg of misleading its customers with claims that its Kashi line of cereal contained “all natural” ingredients. The FDA currently has a vague definition of the term “natural.” According to the FDA, “From a food science perspective, it is difficult to define a food product that is ‘natural’ because the food has probably been processed and is no longer the product of the earth.” Kashi cereal contains pyridoxine hydrochloride, calcium pantothenate, and hexane-processed soy. According to The New York Times, “such ingredients do occur naturally,” but food companies often use synthetic versions of the ingredients.

Visit 24/7 Wall St. to see the remaining claims on the list.

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