Special Report

Worst County to Live in Every State

Source: cmh2315fl / Flickr

21. Hampden County, Massachusetts
> 5-yr. population change: +1.1%
> Nov. unemployment rate: 4.4%
> Poverty rate: 17.6%
> Life expectancy at birth: 78.9 years

With Springfield as its largest city, Hampden County in Massachusetts straddles the Connecticut border. A relatively wealthy state, Massachusetts has a median household income of $70,954, which is about $15,000 more than the comparable national figure. Even in Hampden County, the state’s poorest county, the the typical household earns $51,005, only $4,000 less than the country’s median.

Median incomes in the county would likely improve with a better job market. Currently, the unemployment rate in Hampden County is 4.4%, nearly the highest rate for any Massachusetts county and just slightly higher than the nation’s 4.1% rate.

Source: ryangs / Flickr

22. Lake County, Michigan
> 5-yr. population change: -1.5%
> Nov. unemployment rate: 6.9%
> Poverty rate: 27.2%
> Life expectancy at birth: 76.8 years

Lake County scores lower than any other county in Michigan in a number of measures assessing income, education and health. The typical Lake County household earns just $30,824 a year, far less than the state median of $52,492 and the lowest of any county in Michigan. One factor contributing to low incomes in Lake County may be low educational attainment. Just 9.0% of adults in Lake County have a bachelor’s degree, the lowest rate of any county in the state and among the least of any in the country.

Income and education are two of the major factors influencing health and longevity. The life expectancy in Lake County is just 76.8 years, less than Michigan’s average of 78.3 years and the national average of 79.1.

Source: Greg Gjerdingen / Flickr

23. Wadena County, Minnesota
> 5-yr. population change: -0.5%
> Nov. unemployment rate: 4.6%
> Poverty rate: 15.5%
> Life expectancy at birth: 78.8 years

Wadena County lags behind all the rest of Minnesota’s counties on many measures. Median household income in Wadena County is $42,689 a year, nearly the lowest median of any county in the state and far less than the $63,217 the typical Minnesota household earns annually. One factor contributing to low incomes in the area may be low educational attainment. While throughout Minnesota 34.2% of adults have at least a bachelor’s degree, just 13.0% of adults in Wadena County do — the second lowest rate of any county in the state. Relatively high unemployment in the county might also contribute to the low incomes there, and adding more jobs might mean the difference between poverty and financial security for some residents. Wadena County’s unemployment rate is 4.6%, and 15.5% of the population lives in poverty; both measures are among the highest for the state’s counties.

24. Holmes County, Mississippi
> 5-yr. population change: -4.3%
> Nov. unemployment rate: 8.1%
> Poverty rate: 45.0%
> Life expectancy at birth: 71.0 years

Across a range of socioeconomic measures, few counties in the country rank as poorly as Holmes County in Mississippi. The typical household in the county has an income of only $20,800 a year, the lowest median for any county in the state and less than half the nation’s median of $55,322. Additionally, a disproportionate 45.0% of Holmes County residents live below the poverty line, the highest such rate in the state and the sixth highest rate for any county nationwide.

Poorer Americans are less likely than those with relatively high incomes to live long healthy lives and the poverty rate in Holmes County may help explain some negative health outcomes there. Average life expectancy in the county is just 71 years, well below Mississippi’s average of 75 and the national average of 79.

Source: Ken Ratcliff / Flickr

25. Pemiscot County, Missouri
> 5-yr. population change: -4.5%
> Nov. unemployment rate: 6.1%
> Poverty rate: 29.1%
> Life expectancy at birth: 72.0 years

In a departure from the national trend, life expectancy is declining in Pemiscot County. The county’s average life expectancy fell from 72.2 years in 2010 to 72.0 years in 2014, while the U.S. life expectancy rose from 78.8 years to 79.1 years. Poorer populations often report worse health outcomes than wealthier ones, and Pemiscot County is one of the poorest counties in Missouri. Pemiscot County’s 29.1% poverty rate is nearly double the state’s rate of 15.3%.

Pemiscot’s poor job market does little to help economic conditions in the area. The county’s unemployment rate is 6.1%, the worst rate of any county in the state. A lack of jobs may also be driving some residents out of the county. In the last five years, Pemiscot County’s population declined 4.5%, even as the U.S. population grew 3.9%.

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