The infamy of being the worst city to live in a state can have very different implications, depending on the state. In some of the more prosperous parts of the country, the worst-rated major cities may actually provide better living conditions, job prospects, and amenities than many cities in other states.
Several of the cities on this list as here not so much because their living conditions are so poor, but because other large cities in the state perform very well. Anchorage, for example, is technically the worst city to live in Alaska, but this is largely because the other major city in the state, Juneau, performs even better. Anchorage has, for example, a poverty rate of 8.2%. While this is higher than Juneau’s 6.6% rate, it is far lower than the national poverty rate of 14.7%.
Other cities on this list, however, are truly not just the worst city in their state, but the worst in the country. For example, Detroit, Michigan and Reading, Pennsylvania, have poverty rates of nearly 40%.
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.
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 than this 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 often overshadowed by abysmal home values and struggling housing markets. This is most notably the case in cities such as Detroit, Michigan, Gary, Indiana, 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, which can have many
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 each state is higher than the national rate of 373 reported incidents per 100,000 people. In eighteen of the 50 worst cities, the violent crime rate exceeds 1,000 incidents per 100,000 people.
To determine the worst city to live in each state, 24/7 Wall St. considered the roughly 550 cities that the U.S. Census Bureau reported as having populations of more than 65,000 residents in 2015. When one or fewer cities had populations of at least 65,000, we reduced the population limits by increments of 10,000 until at least two cities could be compared. Data were collected in nine major categories: crime, demography, economy, education, environment, health, housing, infrastructure, and leisure.
Within each category, specific measures contributed to a city’s overall category score. For example, the economy category included median household income adjusted for cost of living, the ratio between a city’s and its state’s median household income, poverty and unemployment rates, as well as a city’s three-year employment growth.
Cities with negative five- or 10-year population growth rates were excluded. Population figures are from the Census Bureau’s 2015 American Community Survey (ACS). The crime category consists of both violent and property crime rates from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s 2015 Uniform Crime Report. High crime rates have the potential to make a city less desireable. As a result, cities with crime rates lower than the national rates were rewarded, while cities with higher crime rates were penalized.
The economy category includes a city’s 2015 unemployment rate and employment growth from 2013-2015, both from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. We also considered the poverty rate in this category. Cities were penalized for having poverty rates above the national rate of 14.7%. Cities were penalized if cost-adjusted incomes were less than $44,000 or more than $112,000 a year, roughly 80% to 200% of a typical household’s income nationwide. Poverty rates and median income came from the 2015 ACS. Cost of living data came from property and real estate data provider ATTOM Data Solutions.
As a proxy for school system strength, we considered high school standardized test scores relative to state scores from ATTOM Data Solutions. Test score data are for 2015 or the most recently available year. Additionally, the education category included the percentage of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree from the ACS, as well as the number of colleges and universities in a city per 100,000 residents from the Department of Education. Both measures are as of 2015.
Whereas other measures in this index are specific to an individual city, many metrics in this category describe the county in which the city is located because weather is likely similar, if not the same, in these two geographies. In this category, we included an air quality index to assess the levels of a variety of pollutants on a given day. Additionally, we considered an index measuring natural hazard risk, as well as average monthly rainfall. All data in this category came from ATTOM Data Solutions.
From the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), we calculated 30-day risk-adjusted mortality rates of heart attacks, COPD, heart failure, pneumonia, and stroke. Also from CMS, we examined the rate at which individuals were readmitted to a hospital within 30 days of being discharged. This category also includes preventable hospitalizations — the share of hospitalizations that could have been treated with outpatient or ambulatory care for every 1,000 Medicare recipients from County Health Rankings.
In our housing index, we considered the ratio of a city’s median home value to the statewide median home value. Cities were penalized if a city’s home values were worth less than 90% of statewide home values. Conversely, if home values were typically 25% higher than across the state, high barriers to entry exist that can make a city unaffordable. As an additional measure of affordability, we included the ratio of median home value to median annual household income. This ratio — called a price-to-income ratio — helps identify cities that are liveable for a broad audience. We also considered median property taxes as a percentage of median home value. All data in this category came from the 2015 ACS.
According to the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, Americans waste nearly 7 billion hours — or $160 billion — due to commuter traffic congestion. From the ACS, we considered the percentage of commuters travelling to work by foot or public transportation. Additionally, we reviewed the average time it takes to travel to work each day. Lastly, we included the number of airports in the metro area in which the city is located. There are, for example, no airports in New York County, the primary county of New York City. However, at least three major airports exist outside county limits — and within the metro area — that service people who live in the city. Airport data came from the Federal Aviation Administration and only consider operational public-use and commercial airports as of 2015.
We included in this index the number of zoos, nature parks, ski resorts, and golf courses in the counties surrounding the city. All data in this category were aggregated to the city level from 2014 Zip Code Business Patterns, a program maintained by the Census and adjusted for the city’s 2015 population.
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