Special Report

50 Worst American Cities to Live In

Detailed Findings

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. Struggling with many such factors, residents often find it hard to escape the cycle of poverty.

Poverty has wide-reaching effects, not just on those living in poverty but on entire communities and neighborhoods. It can coincide with higher violent crime and generally worse economic development, factors which these cities tend to have in common.

In the worst cities to live in, incomes tend to be lower and poverty rates higher. Of the 50 worst cities, none have incomes higher than the nationwide median households income of $53,657 a year. In 31 of the 50 cities, more than 25% of the population lives in poverty, compared 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 expenses usually dominate household budgets. Nationwide, the typical home costs 3.5 times the annual median household income. Housing is less affordable in half of the worst cities to live in. In Miami Beach, the typical home costs nine times the city’s annual median household income.

However, 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 cities such as Flint, Detroit, and Lansing, Michigan, as well as Youngstown and Canton, 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 extremely poor economic health.

Violence is closely associated with a range of negative social and economic outcomes for all involved, unstable employment, lower cognitive functioning among children, and anxiety. The violent crime rates in almost all of the worst cities to live in is higher than the national rate of 373 reported incidents per 100,000 people. In about half of the 50 worst cities, the violent crime rate exceeds 1,000 incidents per 100,000 people.

Correction: Due to an editing error, Birmingham was incorrectly identified as the capital of Alabama. The capital of Alabama is Montgomery. The error has been corrected.

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