Special Report

50 Worst Cities to Live In

Source: davehogg / Flickr

5. Highland Park, Michigan
> Population: 10,955
> Poverty rate: 49.0% (top 10%)
> 2017 violent crimes per 100,000 people: 1,701 (top 10%)
> Median home value: $33,500 (bottom 10%)

Highland Park, Michigan, ranks as the fifth worst city to live in the country in part because it is the poorest American city by a wide margin. Highland Park’s median annual household income is $15,699, nearly $42,000 lower than the U.S. median. It is the only city in the nation in which most households earn less than $20,000 a year.

In Highland Park, which is within the Detroit metro area, 49% of residents live below the poverty line — one of the highest poverty rates nationwide. The city’s five-year average unemployment rate of 13.2% is well above the comparable U.S. rate of 4.1%. The economic situation in Highland Park has worsened in recent years. From 2012 to 2017, employment has dropped more than 15%.

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4. Makaha, Hawaii
> Population: 8,832
> Poverty rate: 30.1% (top 10%)
> 2017 violent crimes per 100,000 people: N/A
> Median home value: $407,200 (top 25%)

Makaha is the worst city to live in in Hawaii and among the five worst in the country. Like other cities in the state, Makaha ranks poorly largely because of its high cost of living and low affordability. Goods and services are 61.4% more expensive in the city than they are on average nationwide. Housing is particularly unaffordable. The typical home in Makaha is worth nearly $564,000 — about eight times the median annual household income in the city of $51,833. Meanwhile, the typical American home is worth $193,500 — just 3.4 times the median income of $57,652.

Makaha is also struggling with a high jobless rate. The Census estimates that an average of 9.7% of the city’s labor force has been out of work over the last five years, more than double the comparable national unemployment rate of 4.1%.

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3. California City, California
> Population: 13,495
> Poverty rate: 29.9% (top 10%)
> 2017 violent crimes per 100,000 people: 640 (top 25%)
> Median home value: $102,000 (bottom 25%)

California City, California, residents are some of the most likely to be unemployed. Over the past five years, the average unemployment rate in city was 10.7%, according to Census estimates. Over the same period, employment in the city fell by 11.3%. This lack of jobs likely contributes to the city’s 29.9% poverty rate, which is more than double that of the U.S. as a whole.

Home values in California are some of the highest in the nation, with a $443,400 median value statewide. Yet, in California city, the median home value is just $102,000 — a reflection of lower incomes in the area. At least half of all households earn less than $46,000 a year.

Source: Ebyabe / Wikimedia Commons

2. Florida City, Florida
> Population: 12,149
> Poverty rate: 41.2% (top 10%)
> 2017 violent crimes per 100,000 people: 2,276 (top 10%)
> Median home value: $110,800 (bottom 25%)

Florida City is the most dangerous city in the state. There were 2,276 violent crimes reported for every 100,000 residents in 2017 — nearly six times higher than the national violent crime rate. The city, located about 35 miles south of Miami, also has a high property crime rate. Property crimes include burglary, larceny, and motor vehicle theft, and there were 7,925 reported incidents of these crimes for every 100,000 residents in 2017, more than triple the national property crime rate.

High crime areas are often lower income, and the share of people living below the poverty line in Florida City is staggering. Florida City’s 41.2% poverty rate is higher than in over 90% of all other U.S. cities.

Source: RichardHarrison / Wikimedia Commons

1. Mendota, California
> Population: 11,396
> Poverty rate: 49.5% (top 10%)
> 2017 violent crimes per 100,000 people: 646 (top 25%)
> Median home value: $139,000

For both individuals and broad populations, incomes tend to rise with educational attainment. In Mendota, California, just 1.8% of adults have a bachelor’s degree, the smallest share of any U.S. city. The city also has one of the poorest populations in the country. Half of all households earn less than $27,500 a year, and 49.5% of the population lives below the poverty line.

The widespread financial insecurity is partially attributable to a lack of jobs. The Census estimates that an average of 15.4% of the city’s labor force were unemployed in the last five years, the highest unemployment rate of any U.S. city and more than triple the comparable 4.1% national rate.

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