Special Report

50 Worst American Cities to Live In

Source: Thinkstock

10. Wilmington, Delaware
> Population: 71,957
> Median home value: $160,300
> Poverty rate: 26.0%
> Pct. with at least a bachelor’s degree: 25.4%

The typical Wilmington household earns $41,035 a year, far less than the median income nationwide of $55,755. However, adjusted for the city’s high cost of living — groceries cost 10% more in Wilmington than they do nationwide, housing costs 26% more, and utilities cost 37% more — real area incomes are even lower.

Poor cities with tough job markets tend to have the most crime, and Wilmington, where 26.0% of the population lives in poverty and 6.9% of the labor force is unemployed, is no exception. There were 1,708 violent crimes reported per 100,000 Wilmington residents in 2015, the fifth highest violent crime rate of any U.S. city.

Source: Thinkstock

9. Merced, California
> Population: 82,440
> Median home value: $204,400
> Poverty rate: 35.1%
> Pct. with at least a bachelor’s degree: 19.5%

Merced is located about 75 miles east of San Jose. While it does not face the same level of risk as those cities closer to the San Andreas fault, a serious earthquake is not out of the question for the California city. More tangible difficulties making the city a less than desirable place to live include an annual unemployment rate of 10.7%, worse than nearly any other city in the United States. In addition, Merced’s poverty rate of 35.1%, which is more than double the national rate of 14.7%, is the 10th worst among the 551 cities considered.

Relative to the size of its population, Merced is generally lacking in amenities, including below average numbers of restaurants, bars, libraries, and museums per capita.

Source: Thinkstock

8. Hartford, Connecticut
> Population: 124,014
> Median home value: $159,200
> Poverty rate: 28.3%
> Pct. with at least a bachelor’s degree: 16.9%

Hartford is one of many cities in New England where the population is shrinking as more residents move south in favor of a low cost of living and good job market. With goods and services costing 17 cents more on the dollar in Hartford than they do nationwide, the city is one of the most expensive in the country. Hartford is also tied with Flint, Michigan and Compton, California as the city with the seventh highest unemployment rate. An estimated 10.4% of the Hartford labor force was unemployed in 2015, nearly double the 5.3% national figure. While the U.S. population grew 3.9% in the last five years, Hartford’s population declined by 0.7%.

Hartford’s economic decline has led to widespread crime and poverty. Some 28.3% of Hartford residents live below the poverty line, far more than the 14.7% national poverty rate. There were 1,141 violent crimes per 100,000 residents in Hartford in 2015, one of the worst violent crime rates of any city.

Source: Jud McCranie / Wikimedia Commons

7. Albany, Georgia
> Population: 71,109
> Median home value: $92,600
> Poverty rate: 32.0%
> Pct. with at least a bachelor’s degree: 19.0%

Population trends are often indicative of the desirability of a city. New residents are often attracted by a healthy economy and job market, while residents flee areas with a poor economy, a high crime rate, and widespread poverty. As the national population expanded by 11.5% over the last decade, the population of Albany, Georgia declined by 4.0%.

This decline appears to reflect some of the problems the southern Georgia city faces. Albany’s job market, for example, does not compare favorably to most U.S. cities. The city’s annual unemployment rate is 7.9%, compared to the 5.3% national unemployment rate. Similarly, while the U.S. workforce grew by 4.0% between 2013 and 2015, total employment in Albany declined by 1.7% over the same period, the second largest employment decline out of the 551 cities reviewed. Almost one-third of the city’s population lives in poverty, well more than double the national poverty rate.

Source: Thinkstock

6. Milwaukee, Wisconsin
> Population: 600,154
> Median home value: $114,000
> Poverty rate: 26.8%
> Pct. with at least a bachelor’s degree: 23.9%

Some 26.8% of Milwaukee residents live in poverty, the highest poverty rate of any city in the state and well above the 14.7% U.S. poverty rate. The city also has the lowest median household income, at $37,495 a year, and second lowest unemployment rate, at 6.7%, in the state.

Economically stressed areas often struggle with higher rates of violent crime, and Milwaukee is no exception. There were 1,596 violent crimes for every 100,000 city residents in 2015, more than triple the violent crime rate in the next most dangerous Wisconsin city and the sixth highest violent crime rate of U.S. cities. Due in part to the city’s high crime rate, Milwaukee was one of a handful of U.S. cities selected in 2016 to receive federal assistance to reduce violence.

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