5. Lake Havasu City-Kingman, Ariz.
> Median household income: $34,445
> Population: 203,334 (156th lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 9.9% (55th highest)
> Poverty rate: 21.7% (44th highest)
The Lake Havasu City area has long been popular with tourists, and is a favorite spring break destination for college students. But the area also had one of the nation’s lowest median incomes in 2012, despite its seasonal popularity. Lake Havasu City’s workforce was heavily concentrated in the low-paying entertainment and accommodation, and retail sectors. Last year, the area’s unemployment rate was close to 10%, well above the nationwide rate of 8.1%. Job growth in the area has also yet to recover from the last decade’s housing downturn and recession. One potential reason for the area’s poor job market may be a lack of formal education among residents. Just 11.2% had at least a bachelor’s degree last year, the lowest percentage in the U.S.
4. Gadsden, Ala.
> Median household income: $34,264
> Population: 104,392 (29th lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 7.2% (144th lowest)
> Poverty rate: 21.2% (52nd highest)
One in five workers in Gadsden was employed in manufacturing last year. Residents, however, earn considerably smaller incomes than the nation as a whole. Nearly one in three Americans completed a bachelor’s degree or higher level of education in 2012, while in Gladsden the rate was only 15%. About one quarter of the homes in Gadsden was valued under $50,000 in 2012. Further, between 2008 and last year, median home value dropped by over $20,000.
3. McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, Texas
> Median household income: $33,761
> Population: 806,552 (67th highest)
> Unemployment rate: 11.0% (28th highest)
> Poverty rate: 34.5% (2nd highest)
As of 2012, 34.5% of McAllen area residents lived below the poverty line, the second highest percentage in the nation and more than double the national rate of 15.9%. The area also had the nation’s highest percentage of residents without health insurance, at nearly 37%. In 2009, McAllen became a focal point in the national health care debate, due to the area’s extremely high medical costs, in spite of its poor population. However, health care is not the only vital service many residents lack. In 2012, more than 2% of housing units did not have complete plumbing facilities, one of the worst rates in the nation. Finding work was also difficult for many residents, less than 64% of whom had a high school education as of 2012, one of the lowest rates in the nation. Despite decent job growth, the area’s unemployment rate was 11% last year.
2. Dalton, Ga.
> Median household income: $32,858
> Population: 142,751 (87th lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 11.5% (20th highest)
> Poverty rate: 21.6% (46th highest)
No metro area in the U.S. has a higher percentage of workers employed in manufacturing than Dalton, at over 40% last year. The major source of these jobs is the area’s carpet industry — the city of Dalton bills itself as “The Carpet Capital of the Word.” The industry took a hit as the housing market flopped, however, and a large portion of the area’s manufacturing jobs were lost. As of last year, the area’s unemployment rate was 11.5%, one of the highest in the nation. Between 2008 and 2012, median household income fell from $44,847 to less than $33,000. But there has been some good news lately. According to the Chattanooga Times Free Press, the Dalton area’s largest carpet manufacturer, Shaw Industries, announced plans to add a new factory and hire more workers as the economy improves.
1. Brownsville-Harlingen, Texas
> Median household income: $30,953
> Population: 415,557 (125th highest)
> Unemployment rate: 10.5% (37th highest)
> Poverty rate: 36.10% (the highest)
Nearly two out of five Brownsville-Harlingen residents were living in poverty as of 2012, the highest rate of the 366 metropolitan areas reviewed. According to PewResearch, Brownsville had one of the largest Hispanic populations in 2012, and the highest rate of poverty among Hispanics in large metropolitan areas, at 40%. Additionally, more than one in three people were living without health insurance that year, the second highest rate in the U.S.. Home values were also low in 2012. Over 26% of homes were worth less than $50,000, about three times more than the median for the U.S., and one of the highest percentages of low-valued homes out of all metropolitan areas.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that 42.9% of adults over 25 had a college degree in 2012. In fact, the national rate was 29.1%.