Special Report

The Worst Counties to Live In

Source: 40943981@N00 / Flickr

20. Martin County, Kentucky
> 5-yr. pop. change: -5.9%
> Poverty rate: 29.8%
> Bachelor’s degree attainment: 8.2%
> Life expectancy: 72.6 years

Martin County, located in eastern Kentucky, is one of several counties on this list to be severely impacted by the decline of the U.S. coal industry. The number of coal jobs in the cunty fell by 63% between 2011 and 2015. Due in part to fewer employment opportunities, the number of people living in the county fell by nearly 6% in the last five years.

Currently, Martin County’s population is one of the poorest in the United States. Nearly 30% of county residents live in poverty, and most households earn less than $30,000 a year.

Source: diversey / Flickr

19. Wilcox County, Alabama
> 5-yr. pop. change: -6.7%
> Poverty rate: 31.9%
> Bachelor’s degree attainment: 12.0%
> Life expectancy: 72.2 years

Wilcox is a county in southern Alabama, west of Montgomery. Nearly 32% of county residents live below the poverty line, more than double the 14.9% national poverty rate. Joblessness is one hurdle to prosperity. Unemployment in the county stands at 8.5%, more than double the comparable 3.9% national unemployment rate. Likely due in part to a lack of available work, people are leaving Wilcox County. In the last five years, the county population fell by 6.7%, even as the U.S. population grew by 3.8%.

Source: 26519181@N06 / Flickr

18. Sunflower County, Mississippi
> 5-yr. pop. change: -7.9%
> Poverty rate: 32.5%
> Bachelor’s degree attainment: 14.5%
> Life expectancy: 71.6 years

Sunflower is one of several counties in Mississippi’s Delta region to rank among the worst places to live. As of the end of 2018, 8.5% of the county’s labor force was out of work, more than double the 3.9% national unemployment rate. Over a third of area residents who are employed travel to work outside the county limits.

The high jobless rate is contributing to increased financial hardship in Sunflower County. Nearly a third of the county population lives in poverty, more than double the 14.6% national poverty rate.

Source: Famartin / Wikimedia Commons

17. Mingo County, West Virginia
> 5-yr. pop. change: -5.7%
> Poverty rate: 28.9%
> Bachelor’s degree attainment: 9.2%
> Life expectancy: 71.4 years

Mingo County, West Virginia, is one of several counties on this list located in Appalachian coal country. Like in much of the region, jobs are scarce in Mingo County. The unemployment rate stands at 6.7%, and of those who are working, nearly 40% commute to jobs outside the county limits.

The weak economy may be driving people out of Mingo County. A continuation of a long-term trend, the number of people living in the county dropped by 5.7% in the last five years. Currently, about 25,000 people live in Mingo County, down from a peak of 47,400 in 1950.

Source: w.marsh / Flickr

16. Knox County, Kentucky
> 5-yr. pop. change: -1.4%
> Poverty rate: 34.7%
> Bachelor’s degree attainment: 10.0%
> Life expectancy: 73.3 years

Education can be critical to securing full-time employment and earning a living wage. In Knox County in southeastern Kentucky, only 68% of adults have a high school diploma, and just 10% have a bachelor’s degree — compared to 87% and 30% of adults nationwide, respectively. Low incomes are typical in places with such low educational attainment rates. In Knox County, more than one in every five households earn less than $10,000 a year as compared to 6.7% of the U.S. overall, and more than one in every three residents live below the poverty line.