5. Gadsden, Ala.
>Median household income: $33,313
>Population: 104,303 (29th lowest)
>Unemployment rate: 9.1% (144th highest)
>Pct. households below poverty line: 21.0% (47th highest)
The median household income in the Gadsden area dropped by about $4,500 between 2007 and 2011. Manufacturing is prominent in the region, with more than 17% of Gadsden residents in the labor force working in the industry. The proportion of people working in manufacturing was down from 22% back in 2007. The median home value in the area rose nearly 13% between 2010 and 2011, the fifth-largest growth percentage across all metro areas.
4. Albany, Ga.
>Median household income: $32,775
>Population: 161,617 (122nd lowest)
>Unemployment rate: 10.4% (77th highest)
>Pct. households below poverty line: 28.4% (7th highest)
A stunning 11.8% of households in Albany earned less than $10,000 in 2011, the largest percentage of any metropolitan area in the nation. Additionally, 28.4% of Albany residents lived below the poverty level, a considerable increase from the 21.5% who lived in poverty in 2007. The area’s unemployment also jumped, doubling between 2007, when it was just 5.2% of the labor force, to 2011, when it was 10.4%. Last year, the median home value in Albany was just $103,800, or nearly $70,000 less than the U.S. median, while 18.9% of homes were worth less than $50,000.
3. Valdosta, Ga.
>Median household income: $32,446
>Population: 140,599 (87th lowest)
>Unemployment rate: 9.2%(140th highest)
>Pct. households below poverty line: 27.6% (9th highest)
From 2007 to 2011, the unemployment rate in Valdosta increased by 130%, from 4% of workers to 9.2%. The number of employed workers declined by more than 6,000 during that time. Those jobs remaining often pay a lower salary. Last year, nearly 17% of the workforce were employed in the generally low-paying retail industry, the sixth-highest percentage of all metro areas. In 2007, just 11.3% of the labor force worked in retail. Valdosta, however, has an improving and active housing market. Home prices rose nearly 12% between 2007 and 2011. Despite these positives, 14.4% of housing units were vacant last year, higher than the national vacancy rate of 13.1%. Also, 15.3% of homes were worth less than $50,000 versus 8.8% nationwide.
2. Brownsville-Harlingen, Tex.
>Median household income: $32,070
>Population: 414,123 (124th highest)
>Unemployment rate: 11.8% (36th highest)
>Pct. households below poverty line: 34.1% (2nd highest)
Brownsville, located in the very southern portion of Texas, has its fair share of economic woes. About 34% of households lived in poverty, the second-highest percentage of all metro areas, and 10.6% of all households earned less than $10,000 a year. More than a third of residents did not have health insurance in 2011, the third-highest rate in the country. Yet the region showed some signs of improvements. While still the second-lowest in the country, median home values rose more than 5% between 2010 and 2011 as values fell or remained nearly flat for the majority of metro areas.
1. McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, Tex.
>Median household income: $31,077
>Population: 797,810 (68th highest)
>Unemployment rate: 12% (34th highest)
>Pct. households below poverty line: 37.7% (the highest)
While median income fell by $642 across the U.S. between 2010 and 2011, median income in the McAllen area fell by a whopping $3,653 over the same period. More than 37% of the population did not have health insurance, which was the highest percentage of all metro areas in the U.S. The median home value of $77,600, while up more than 11% since 2007, was still the second-lowest among all metro areas in the country. Nearly 29% of all homes were worth less than $50,000, the highest-rate of all metro areas.
-Michael B. Sauter, Alexander E.M. Hess, Sam Weigley