Special Report

50 Worst American Cities to Live In

Source: Thinkstock

5. Memphis, Tennessee
> Population: 655,760
> Median home value: $94,400
> Poverty rate: 26.2%
> Pct. with at least a bachelor’s degree: 24.9%

One of the largest cities to make this list, Memphis struggles with several issues that make it a less than desirable place to live. Chief among these is one of the worst crime rates of any major city. The city’s annual violent crime rate of 1,740 incidents for 100,000 residents, which is close to five times the national rate, is fourth highest of the 551 cities considered. The city’s property crime rate of 5,631 for every 100,000 residents is more than double the national rate.

Memphis’ housing is relatively inexpensive, but like many cities on this list, that likely largely reflects the ability of Memphis’ citizens to pay. Over one-quarter of the population lives in poverty, and the typical household’s income is less than $37,000, compared to the national median household income of $55,775.

Source: Thinkstock

4. St. Louis, Missouri
> Population: 315,685
> Median home value: $130,800
> Poverty rate: 24.9%
> Pct. with at least a bachelor’s degree: 34.7%

St. Louis is representative of the economic decline that afflicted many large industrial cities over the latter part of the 20th century. Decades of manufacturing decline, white flight, and exclusionary zoning in St. Louis have led to some of the worst urban decay, racial segregation, and income inequality of any major city today. Some 24.9% of St. Louis residents live in poverty, far more than the 14.7% national figure. St. Louis has struggled with a high crime rate since the 1960s and today has the highest violent crime rate of any U.S. city. There were 1,817 violent crimes reported per 100,000 St. Louis residents in 2015, nearly five times the national rate.

Many of the economic problems in St. Louis are tied to the city’s rapid population decline. The city’s population is less than half of what it was during its 1950 peak of 860,000 people, and it continues to decline today. While the U.S. population grew 11.5% over the last 10 years, the number of residents in St. Louis fell 5.4%.

Source: Thinkstock

3. Flint, Michigan
> Population: 98,297
> Median home value: $25,900
> Poverty rate: 40.8%
> Pct. with at least a bachelor’s degree: 11.8%

Like many other rust belt cities, Flint’s downward spiral is closely tied to the decline of the American manufacturing industry. General Motors once provided some 30,000 at its Flint-based Buick manufacturing plant, all of which are now gone. Recently, the city was at the center of national attention when, in 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency announced the presence of dangerously high levels of lead in Flint’s public water.

A lack of reliable municipal services and the gutting of the city’s economic backbone has had major consequences. The typical Flint household earns only $25,342 a year, less than half the nationwide median income and the second lowest in the Great Lakes region. Additionally, the city’s 40.8% poverty rate is the highest in the nation. In the last 10 years, Flint’s population has declined by 12.2%, one of the steepest declines of any U.S. city.

Source: Thinkstock

2. Birmingham, Alabama
> Population: 214,911
> Median home value: $93,000
> Poverty rate: 29.2%
> Pct. with at least a bachelor’s degree: 25.3%

Declining population and declining jobs in a city is indicative of a struggling economy, particularly when the vast majority of major cities are growing. Of the 551 large cities reviewed, the population fell in only 42 over the past decade, and annual employment declined in less than 30 over the last two years. Birmingham is one of the exceptions in both cases, with a 3.3% 10-year population loss and a 0.9% employment decline between 2013 and 2015.

Birmingham is one of the poorest cities in the United States. About 29.2% of the city’s population lives in poverty, roughly double the 14.7% U.S. poverty rate, and the typical household earns just $32,378 a year, over $23,000 below the national median household income.

Source: Thinkstock

1. Detroit, Michigan
> Population: 677,124
> Median home value: $42,600
> Poverty rate: 39.8%
> Pct. with at least a bachelor’s degree: 14.2%

Once the fourth largest city by population and wealthiest by income per capita, Detroit’s economic decline over the past several decades may be the largest of any U.S. city. Detroit’s population is approximately one-third of what it was at its 1950 peak of 1.8 million people, and it continues to decline at a near nation-leading pace. The number people living in Detroit fell 19% over the past 10 years to just 677,124 today, the second largest population decline of any large city over that period. The typical Detroit household earns just $25,980 a year, less than half the $55,755 national median household income.

There were 1,760 violent crimes reported per 100,000 Detroit residents in 2015, the second highest violent crime rate of any U.S. city. Crime and overall urban decay have depressed real estate prices in the city to a fraction of their former value. The typical occupied home in Detroit is worth just $42,600, the lowest median home value of any city other than nearby Flint, Michigan.

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