Special Report

Worst County to Live in Every State

31. McKinley County, New Mexico
> 5-yr. population change: +4.3%
> Nov. unemployment rate: 8.2%
> Poverty rate: 38.1%
> Life expectancy at birth: 74.9 years

Located in western New Mexico and with a county seat of Gallup, McKinley County is one of the poorest counties in both the state and the nation. The county takes in parts of the Zuni and Navajo Nation reservations. For a variety of reasons, Indian reservations often have high levels of economic hardship. More than 1 in 4 residents of the county identify as American Indian.

About 31% of the population lives below the poverty line. This is much higher than New Mexico’s poverty rate of 20.9% and more than double the nation’s rate of 15.1%. A poor job market contributes to the financial hardship in the state. The county’s 8.2% unemployment rate is among the highest of any county in the state and double the U.S. unemployment rate.

Source: Timothy Vogel / Flickr

32. Bronx County, New York
> 5-yr. population change: +4.5%
> Nov. unemployment rate: 5.6%
> Poverty rate: 30.5%
> Life expectancy at birth: 78.7 years

Bronx County is coterminous with the Bronx, the northernmost of the five boroughs that comprise New York City. By some measures, the county has the poorest and least educated population in the state. Only 71.2% of adults in Bronx County have a high school diploma, the smallest share of any county New York state. Less-educated populations are more likely to be experience financial difficulty, and in Bronx County 30.5% of the population lives below the poverty line, the highest poverty rate of any county in the state.

While most counties on this list have lost residents in recent years, the Bronx is a notable exception. The county’s population expanded 4.5% in the last five years, outpacing New York state’s 1.0% growth rate and the 3.9% national rate.

Source: Gerry Dincher / Flickr

33. Robeson County, North Carolina
> 5-yr. population change: +1.2%
> Nov. unemployment rate: 6.5%
> Poverty rate: 30.8%
> Life expectancy at birth: 73.7 years

Native Americans comprise 38.7% of Robeson County’s population, and a majority of them are members of the Lumbee Tribe. While the Lumbee are recognized by the government of North Carolina, the federal government has not officially recognized the tribe, which makes them ineligible for much-needed federal benefits related health care and education. While Robeson County is home of the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, just 12.6% of the county’s adults have a bachelor’s degree. This is less than half the comparable 29.0% state college-attainment rate. An estimated 30.8% of Robeson County’s population lives in poverty, the third largest share in the state and one of the highest poverty rates in the country. Robeson County’s life expectancy is just 73.7 years, five years lower than the nation’s average.

Source: Andrew Filer / Flickr

34. Rolette County, North Dakota
> 5-yr. population change: +5.2%
> Nov. unemployment rate: 7.7%
> Poverty rate: 31.6%
> Life expectancy at birth: 73.0 years

Resource extraction in the Bakken shale region of North Dakota has been a boon for the state’s economy. The state’s unemployment rate is 2.6%, nearly the lowest rate among states. Not all parts of the state are experiencing such low unemployment, however. In Rolette County, 7.7% of the labor force is jobless, the highest unemployment rate of any county in the state. A poor job market may partly explain other economic challenges in the region. For example, 31.6% of Rolette County residents live in poverty, roughly three times the 11.2% poverty rate for North Dakota as a whole.

Poorer Americans have less access to healthy options related to diet and lifestyle, and pervasive financial hardship in Rolette County may partially explain low life expectancy in the area. Life expectancy in the county is only 73 years, about seven years shy of state average.

Source: Bill Eichelberger / Flickr

35. Adams County, Ohio
> 5-yr. population change: -1.5%
> Nov. unemployment rate: 5.9%
> Poverty rate: 24.5%
> Life expectancy at birth: 75.2 years

Adams County lags behind the majority of counties in Ohio in a number of measures related to income, education, and health. A college education increases a person’s likelihood of earning a high income, and a large number of college-educated adults can attract advanced advanced, high-paying industries to an area.

In Adams County, just 10.9% of adults have a bachelor’s degree, far less than the state’s 26.7% rate and the nation’s 30.3%. The typical Adams County household earns $34,709 a year, the second lowest amount of any county in Ohio. About 25% of Adam’s residents live in poverty, the second highest poverty rate in the state. Low college attainment and widespread poverty are likely depressing health outcomes in the county. Life expectancy in Adams County is just 75.2 years, compared to the 77.9-year life expectancy for Ohio as a whole and the 79.1-year national figure.

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