Special Report

50 Worst American Cities to Live In

Source: Thinkstock

25. Cincinnati, Ohio
> Population: 298,537
> Median home value: $119,000
> Poverty rate: 27.4%
> Pct. with at least a bachelor’s degree: 34.3%

Cincinnati is a relatively dangerous city. There were 925 violent crimes for every 100,000 city residents in 2015, more than double the national violent crime rate of 373 incidents per 100,000 Americans. Experts partially attribute the city’s crime problem to the availability of guns — which are often available on the streets for less than $100 — as well as a shortage of drugs, which is sparking turf wars. The prevalence of violent crime in the city led to the 2015 firing of Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell.

Though the 34.2% share of city residents with at least a bachelor’s degree is slightly larger than the 30.6% U.S. rate, the typical Cincinnati household earns only about $35,000 a year, well below the $55,775 median income nationwide.

Source: Thinkstock

24. Fort Smith, Arkansas
> Population: 88,195
> Median home value: $116,300
> Poverty rate: 29.8%
> Pct. with at least a bachelor’s degree: 19.0%

The typical Fort Smith household earns just $33,534 a year, far less than the national median household income of $55,775. While area incomes are higher when adjusted for the city’s low cost of living, a larger-than-average share of residents earn poverty wages. Some 29.8% of Fort Smith residents live in poverty, nearly double the 14.7% national poverty rate. One factor contributing to low earnings in Fort Smith may be the low educational attainment among city residents. Just 19.0% of adults in Fort Smith have a bachelor’s degree compared to 30.6% of adults nationwide.

Fort Smith is also one of the most dangerous places in the United States. There were 804 violent crimes and 5,892 property crimes per 100,000 city residents in 2015, well more than double the corresponding national rates of 373 violent crimes and 2,487 property crimes per 100,000 Americans.

Source: Thinkstock

23. Knoxville, Tennessee
> Population: 185,312
> Median home value: $125,900
> Poverty rate: 25.8%
> Pct. with at least a bachelor’s degree: 29.2%

More than one in four Knoxville residents live in poverty, a far larger share than the nationwide poverty rate of 14.6%. As is common in economically depressed areas, crime is high in Knoxville. There were about 6,000 property crimes such as arson, burglary, and vehicle theft for every 100,000 Knoxville residents in 2015, one of the highest property crime rates of any U.S. city and more than double the U.S. property crime rate that year.

Violent crime is also prevalent in Knoxville. There were 927 violent crimes in the city in 2015 per 100,000 people, including aggravated assaults, robberies, and murders. Police attribute many of the fatal shootings to gang violence.

Source: Thinkstock

22. Buffalo, New York
> Population: 258,066
> Median home value: $75,800
> Poverty rate: 33.0%
> Pct. with at least a bachelor’s degree: 23.9%

Buffalo is the second largest city in New York, and by many measures the most economically and socially distressed. The typical Buffalo household earns only $32,509 a year, and about one in three area residents live below the poverty line. In comparison, the median annual household income across the state is $60,850, and about 15.4% of state residents live in poverty. Financial prosperity is undercut by a lack of employment opportunities. The city’s 7.1% unemployment rate is the highest of any city in the state and well above the 5.3% statewide rate.

An economic turnaround may be in the city’s near future, however. In a joint venture with Tesla, Panasonic invested several hundred million dollars in a South Buffalo solar cell manufacturing plant. Once the plant hits production capacity in 2019, the venture is anticipated to add some 1,400 new jobs. The deal is one of several major investments that have been announced in the last few years.

Source: Thinkstock

21. Youngstown, Ohio
> Population: 64,609
> Median home value: $42,600
> Poverty rate: 35.7%
> Pct. with at least a bachelor’s degree: 12.1%

Once among the largest steel manufacturers in the United States, Youngstown is emblematic of the decline and urban decay that has taken hold in many Midwestern cities since the industry collapsed in the latter half of the 20th century. The city’s population plateaued at around 170,000 people between 1930 and 1960, and has steadily declined since. While the U.S. population grew 3.9% over the past five years, the number of residents in Youngstown fell 3.3%.

Today, the typical Youngstown household earns just $23,984 a year, less than half the national median household income of $55,775. The unemployment rate remains high at 7.7%, and more than one in three Youngstown residents live in poverty. The city’s industrial legacy may also have lingering effects on the region’s air quality. Mahoning County has good air quality for approximately 338 days out of the year on average, less than the U.S. as a whole.