Special Report

Worst County to Live in Every State

Source: Tony Webster / Flickr

1. Wilcox County, Alabama
> 5-yr. population change: -6.3%
> Nov. unemployment rate: 9.3%
> Poverty rate: 34.9%
> Life expectancy at birth: 72.2 years

Wilcox County is one of the poorest counties in both Alabama and in the United States. The median household income in the county is only $24,442 a year, less than half the national median of $55,322 and considerably lower than median of $44,758 for Alabama as a whole. Additionally, 34.9% of the Wilcox County population lives below the poverty line, compared with the 15.1% national poverty rate and the state’s poverty rate of 18.4%.

Serious financial hardship in Wilcox County can be attributed at least in part to widespread joblessness. The unemployment rate in Wilcox County is 9.3%, more than double the 4.1% national unemployment rate. Like other counties reporting similarly poor conditions, Wilcox County’s population is shrinking. Over the last five years, the county’s population declined 6.3%, even as the U.S. count increased 3.9% over the same period.

Source: Travis / Flickr

2. Bethel Census Area, Alaska
> 5-yr. population change: +5.4%
> Nov. unemployment rate: 13.0%
> Poverty rate: 26.6%
> Life expectancy at birth: 74.3 years

The median household income in Alaska’s Bethel Census Area is $53,296 a year, well below Alaska’s $74,444 median, but only slightly less than the $55,322 national median. A large share of the Bethel area’s population faces serious financial hardship. Some 26.6% live below the poverty line, more than double the state’s 10.1% rate, but still lower than the nation’s 15.1 rate.

For many Bethel area residents, a lack of insurance coverage adds a further financial burden. About 1 in 4 area residents lack health insurance, well above the 11.7% U.S. uninsured rate. High poverty and uninsured rates might partially explain some poor health outcomes in the area. Life expectancy in the Bethel region is only 74.3 years, about four years less than the state average.

Source: mark byzewski / Flickr

3. Apache County, Arizona
> 5-yr. population change: +2.0%
> Nov. unemployment rate: 9.2%
> Poverty rate: 36.2%
> Life expectancy at birth: 74.3 years

Comprising much of Arizona’s eastern border, Apache County borders Utah and New Mexico and includes several Indian reservations — including Fort Apache and Navajo Nation. Today, 73.2% of the county’s population identifies as Native American. For a variety of historical and persisting reasons, Indian reservations often report far worse socioeconomic conditions than the rest of the country, and Apache County is no different.

In this county, 36.2% of residents live below the poverty line; this is the highest rate for any of the state’s counties and more than double the national rate. A weak job market in Apache County has contributed to widespread financial hardship. With an unemployment rate of 9.2%, Apache County has the second highest rate of any county in Arizona and more than double the U.S. rate of 4.1%.

4. Phillips County, Arkansas
> 5-yr. population change: -9.6%
> Nov. unemployment rate: 5.7%
> Poverty rate: 33.5%
> Life expectancy at birth: 71.3 years

Phillips County in Arkansas hugs the western banks of the Mississippi River and the county’s largest city is about 120 miles east of Little Rock. The poorest county in the state, about 1 in 3 Phillips County residents live in poverty. This is much higher than the state’s poverty rate of 18.8%. Poorer Americans have fewer healthy options available when it comes to managing their diet and lifestyle and so they often have a lower life expectancy. Life expectancy in Phillips County is just 71.3 years, about five years less than the state’s average and eight years less than the national average.

Phillips County’s population is also shrinking. Over the last five years, the number of people residing in Phillips County declined 9.6%, the largest contraction for any county in Arkansas.

Source: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

5. Lake County, California
> 5-yr. population change: -0.5%
> Nov. unemployment rate: 5.3%
> Poverty rate: 24.6%
> Life expectancy at birth: 75.8 years

Lake County is located in Northern California, and its county seat of Lakeport lies about 120 miles north of San Francisco. Though California is home to some of the country’s wealthiest regions, Lake County is not one of them. The median income in Lake County is only $36,132, almost half the state’s median of $67,739. Many high-paying jobs often require a college degree, but the county reports low educational attainment levels. Only 16.2% of adults in Lake County have received a bachelor’s degree, about half the rate for California.

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