Special Report

50 Worst Cities to Live In

Americans take into consideration a number of factors when deciding where to live, including the quality of schools, the strength of the local economy and job market, the area’s safety and culture, as well as its climate.

Most, if not all people do not control where they are born, live, or move to. Millions of Americans find themselves in places that lack jobs, amenities, and security. While people love and hate cities for any number of reasons, there are some objective measures by which all cities can be compared.

To determine America’s worst cities to live in, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed data on the 550 U.S. cities with populations of 65,000 or more as measured by the U.S. Census Bureau. Based on a range of variables, including crime rates, employment growth, access to restaurants and attractions, educational attainment, and housing affordability, 24/7 Wall St. identified America’s 50 worst cities to live.

Click here to see the worst cities to live in.

Income is highly associated with a range of other social and economic factors. Because of its importance, financial status was a major component of the ranking. Low-income families tend to live in communities with less stable housing, worse health systems, greater exposure to stressors such as violent crime, less secure employment, and higher exposure to poor air quality and environmental toxins. While prospering under these conditions is certainly possible, these factors dramatically lower the likelihood of doing so.

Residents of the worst cities to live in tend to have lower incomes and higher poverty rates. Of the 50 worst cities, only eight have median incomes higher than the nationwide median households income of $53,657 a year. In 29 of the 50 cities, more than 25% of the population lives in poverty, in contrast with the national poverty rate of 15.5%.

How far a paycheck can go in a given city is just as important as the size of the paycheck — and some cities are far more expensive than others. Housing usually dominates household budgets. Nationwide, the typical home costs 3.4 times the annual typical household income. Housing is less affordable than it is nationally in half of the worst cities to live in. In San Francisco, the typical home costs 10 times the city’s annual median household income.

In the cities where housing is relatively affordable, the advantage is overshadowed by abysmal home values and struggling housing markets. This is most notably the case in Great Lakes cities such as Flint, Detroit, and Lansing, Michigan, as well as Youngstown and Akron, Ohio. While for some people in these areas a home can be bought outright on less than a year’s salary, the affordability is a sign of poor economic health.

Old industrial cities in the Great Lakes and Midwest regions of the United States in particular have been characterized by urban decay for decades. Across the nation, some forms of manufacturing — most notably computers and electronics — has surged in recent years. Broadly speaking, however, the United States is increasingly seen as an unattractive base for manufacturing production. As a result, over the past half-century, U.S. manufacturing employment has fallen precipitously, and some of the worst cities have felt the repercussions of this decline more severely than most U.S. cities.

Violence is closely associated with a range of negative social and economic outcomes for all involved, including incarceration, unstable employment, lower cognitive functioning among children, and anxiety. The violent crime rates in almost all of the worst cities to live is higher than the national rate of 366 reported incidents per 100,000 people. Even compared to other cities where in general violence is more common, these cities are not especially safe. In half of the 50, the violent crime rate exceeds 1,000 incidents per 100,000 people.

Click here to read our methodology.

These are the worst cities to live in.

Correction: In a previous version of this article, we wrote the average income of the top 1% of earners in Miami was roughly $20 million. In fact, the average income among the top 1% of earners in the Miami area is roughly $2 million. The error has been corrected.   

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