Special Report

Worst Cities to Live in Every State

Samuel Stebbins, Grant Suneson, Evan Comen

Detailed Findings

Economic and social conditions can vary considerably among the cities on this list, even though they each rank as the worst city in their respective state. In some cases, quality of life is truly poor for many city residents. Detroit is one such example. The quintessential Rust Belt city, Detroit’s violent crime rate of 2,037 incidents per 100,000 people and 10.9% unemployment rate are the highest in the state and nearly the highest in the country.

Not every city on this list is like Detroit, however. Several are on this list not because living conditions there are poor, but because conditions in other cities in the state are even better. For example, in Manchester — ranked as the worst city in New Hampshire — the 3.0% unemployment rate is well below the 4.9% national rate but not quite as low as the 2.8% statewide rate. Similarly, Manchester’s 14.1% poverty rate is almost exactly in line with the national poverty rate but higher than the poverty rates in both of the state’s other comparable cities, Concord and Nashua.

Socioeconomic measures can influence one another in any American city, and one weak economic measure often has ripple effects. For example, a high unemployment rate will often mean more families are financially strapped and poverty is more common. Of the 31 cities on this list with higher unemployment than the national rate, all but two also have a higher poverty rate than the 14.0% national rate.

The presence of violent crime in a city can also have wide reaching effects — making a city less attractive for businesses, dragging down property values, and affecting the mental and overall health of residents. Violent crime rates often are high in the cities on this list. In 42 of the worst cities to live in every state, the violent crime rate exceeds the national rate of 386 incidents per 100,000 people. In 30 of those cities, the violent crime rate is more than double the national rate.

In addition to these interconnected socioeconomic measures, 24/7 Wall St. also considered a range of other measures related to quality of life, including hospital quality, school quality, infrastructure, commute times, the concentration of entertainment and cultural venues, risk of natural disasters, air quality, and housing affordability.

Methodology

To determine the worst city to live in each state, 24/7 Wall St. considered all cities with populations of 65,000 or more residents in 2016. Population data came from U.S. Census Bureau 2016 American Community Survey. When a state had fewer than three cities with a population of at least 65,000, we reduced the population limits by increments of 10,000 until at least three cities could be compared. Data was collected in eight major categories: crime, 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 poverty and unemployment rates, as well as a city’s three-year employment growth, median household income adjusted for cost of living, and the ratio between a city’s and its state’s median household income.

The crime category consists of both violent and property crime rates from the FBI’s 2016 Uniform Crime Report. 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 2016 unemployment rate and employment growth from 2014-2016, 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 14.0%. Cities were penalized if cost-adjusted incomes were less than $46,093.60 or more than $115,234.00 a year, roughly 80% to 200% of a typical household’s income nationwide. Poverty rates and median income came from the 2016 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 2016 or the most recently available year. Additionally, the education category includes 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 2016.

Some metrics in the environment category are for the county in which the city is located because weather is likely similar, if not the same, in these two geographies. This category 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.

In the health category, 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 or more 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 population. We also considered median property taxes as a percentage of median home value. All data in this category came from the 2016 ACS.

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 considers operational public-use and commercial airports as of 2015.

We included in this index the number of restaurants, zoos, nature parks, ski resorts, and golf courses in the counties surrounding the city. All data in this category was aggregated to the city level from 2015 Zip Code Business Patterns, a program maintained by the Census and adjusted for the city’s 2016 population.