Special Report

50 Worst Cities to Live In

50. Bellingham, Washington
> Population: 83,363
> Median home value: $303,900
> Poverty rate: 21.4%
> Pct. with at least a bachelor’s degree: 43.7%

Based on a range of economic and social factors and outcomes, Bellingham, Washington is among the 50 worst cities to live in. A typical home in the city is valued at more than $300,000, considerably higher than the national median home value of $181,200. While this suggests some level of prosperity among residents, compared to area income levels, area housing is not particularly affordable. The median home value is 7.3 times greater than the median income, making Bellingham one of the least affordable cities in the country.

The city’s population is relatively well educated — 43.7% of adults have at least a bachelor’s degree, compared to a national share of 30.1%. While greater educational attainment typically leads to higher incomes, Bellingham also has a higher than average poverty rate. In Bellingham, 21.4% of residents live in poverty, far more than the national 15.5% poverty rate.

49. Palo Alto, California
> Population: 66,968
> Median home value: 1,000,000+
> Poverty rate: 4.3%
> Pct. with at least a bachelor’s degree: 80.4%

Compared to the average American, Palo Alto residents are exceptionally affluent. The typical area household earns $151,370 a year, nearly three times the corresponding national figure. Additionally, only 4.3% of people live in poverty, one of the smallest such shares of any U.S. city. With such high incomes, it is perhaps not surprising that more than four in every five adults in the city have earned a bachelor’s degree, the highest proportion of all cities and over two and a half times the national bachelor’s attainment rate.

Incomes among Palo Alto households, while high, are likely inadequate for many to afford buying property. The median home value in Palo Alto is at least $1 million, 6.6 times greater than the area’s median household income, nearly double the comparable ratio for the nation.

48. Chico, California
> Population: 89,187
> Median home value: $275,600
> Poverty rate: 24.7%
> Pct. with at least a bachelor’s degree: 38.7%

Nearly 40% of adults in Chico have at least a bachelor’s degree, well above the national attainment rate. The high level of qualification among city residents, however, has not translated to high income. Chico’s median household income of $40,815 a year is well below the median income nationwide, and the area’s roughly 25% poverty rate is one of the highest in the country. Not only are area incomes relatively low, but also housing is relatively more expensive. The typical area home is valued at $275,600, well above the median home value nationwide and is 6.8 times the annual income level in the area. Across the nation, the typical home value is equal to 3.4 times the median income.

47. Boston, Massachusetts
> Population: 656,051
> Median home value: $413,500
> Poverty rate: 22.6%
> Pct. with at least a bachelor’s degree: 46.5%

While not nearly as large as New York City or Los Angeles, Boston is one of the nation’s largest cities. With some of the world’s largest research institutions and universities, which attract top talent from around the world, the city’s population is also very well educated. Close to half of Boston adults have at least a bachelor’s degree, one of the highest college attainment rates of any U.S. city. Despite the high level of education, incomes in Boston are relatively low, especially when the cost of living — including housing — is taken into account. The area’s median household income of $56,902 a year is only slightly higher than the national median income. Housing, however, is much more expensive. So while the typical home value nationwide is equal to 3.4 times the median income nationwide, housing costs in Boston are 7.3 times the area’s median income — one of the least affordable housing markets in the country.

Many of those working in the city’s high paying jobs likely live in Boston’s more prosperous, surrounding suburban areas such as Brookline and Cambridge.

46. Washington D.C.
> Population: 658,893
> Median home value: $486,900
> Poverty rate: 17.7%
> Pct. with at least a bachelor’s degree: 55.0%

The nation’s capital is home to some of the nation’s highest paying jobs — not just in government, but also in large defense companies such as Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics, which thrive on lucrative government contracts. Privately owned food manufacturer Mars is also based in the region. For every 100,000 Washington D.C. residents there are about five universities, and the city’s population is very well educated. More than half of adults have at least a bachelor’s degree. The prosperity is not well distributed, however, and living in D.C. is no guarantee of a high standard of living. The typical home is valued at $486,900, one of the highest median home values of any city in the country. With a poverty rate of 17.7% — higher than the national rate — some in the city struggle to afford housing. Many residents may also lack the peace of mind more common in safer areas. D.C.’s annual violent crime rate of 1,185 incidents per 100,000 people is one of the highest in the nation.

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