Tracking education is so important that the federal government measures educational attainment in tiers. The first tier is people who have not graduated high school. This is followed by people who have a high school diploma, people who have attended college, people who have graduated from college and those with advanced degrees. Demographers analyze the relationship between education and such things as poverty, median income, jobs and health. The list of comparisons is long. One conclusion that does not change is that those who are undereducated lead lives that are near the bottom of the rungs of the American Dream.
Nationwide, an estimated 32.1% of American adults 25 and older have a bachelor’s degree or higher. Yet, across the country, there are towns where fewer than 5% of adults have a bachelor’s degree or higher.
Using education data from the U.S. Census Bureau, 24/7 Wall St. has identified the least-educated town in the United States. For the purposes of this analysis, towns are defined as any place covered by the national census within the 50 states and District of Columbia with a population between 1,000 and 25,000.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate among adults with a four-year college education was 5.5% in 2020. Meanwhile, the jobless rate among those with no more than a high school diploma was 9.0%.
In addition to being better protected from unemployment, Americans with a bachelor’s degree also tend to have higher salaries. The average weekly wage for a college-educated worker in the United States is about 67% higher than it is for those with no more than a high school diploma. In places with lower than average educational attainment, incomes also tend to be lower than average. In all but one town on the list of finalists, the typical household earned less in a year than the national median household income of $62,843.
The least educated town in America is Cactus, Texas. Here are the details:
- Adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 0.0% reported
- Adults with at least a high school diploma or equivalent: 27.3% (lowest of 10,738 towns)
- Median household income: $40,417 (tied for 2,011th lowest)
- Estimated unemployment rate 2015 to 2019: 0.5% (tied for 10,502nd highest)
- Population: 3,245
To determine America’s least educated town, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed five-year estimates of the percentage of adults 25 years and over with at least a bachelor’s degree in U.S. towns from the Census Bureau’s 2019 American Community Survey (ACS).
We used census “place” geographies, a category that includes 29,573 incorporated legal entities and census-designated statistical entities. We only considered the 29,320 places that had boundaries that fell within one of the 50 states or the District of Columbia.
We defined towns based on population thresholds (at least 1,000 people and less than 25,000), and 13,332 of the places fell within these thresholds.
Towns were then excluded if bachelor’s degree or higher attainment rates were not available in the 2019 ACS, if the town’s 25 and older population was less than 1,000, or if the sampling error associated with a town’s data was deemed too high.
The sampling error was defined as too high if the coefficient of variation (a statistical assessment of how reliable an estimate is) for a town’s bachelor’s or higher attainment rate was above 15% and greater than two standard deviations above the mean coefficient of variation for all towns’ bachelor’s or higher attainment rate. We similarly excluded towns that had a sampling error too high for their 25 and older population estimates, using the same definition.
The remaining 10,738 places were ranked based on the share of adults 25 years and over with at least a bachelor’s degree. To break ties, we used the percentage of adults 25 and over who have completed at least high school or its equivalent.
Additional information on the share of adults 25 years and over who have completed at least high school or its equivalent, median household income, unemployment rates for the 16 and older population in the civilian labor force, and population figures are also five-year estimates from the 2019 ACS.