Special Report

The Worst Counties to Live In

Source: Jerrye & Roy Klotz, MD / Wikimedia Commons

15. Leflore County, Mississippi
> 5-yr. pop. change: -6.5%
> Poverty rate: 40.3%
> Bachelor’s degree attainment: 17.9%
> Life expectancy: 72.7 years

Leflore County, Mississippi, is one of the poorest counties in the United States. About one in every four area households earn less than $10,000 a year, and over 40% of the population lives in poverty. The widespread financial hardship is partially attributable to the area’s weak job market. As of the end of last year, 7.3% of Leflore County’s labor force was unemployed.

As is the case in many counties with high poverty and unemployment rates, people are leaving Leflore. In the last five years, the number of county residents declined by 6.5%.

Source: Thomas R Machnitzki (thomas@machnitzki.com) / Wikimedia Commons

14. Coahoma County, Mississippi
> 5-yr. pop. change: -6.9%
> Poverty rate: 36.2%
> Bachelor’s degree attainment: 16.9%
> Life expectancy: 71.1 years

Coahoma County is located in Mississippi’s Delta region. The broader region has faced serious economic challenges for decades, as increasing mechanization in agriculture has reduced the need for labor, and a once promising manufacturing sector has been hollowed out. With an unemployment rate of 7.1%, Coahoma County has not been spared.

In Coahoma County, high unemployment goes hand in hand with low incomes. More than one in every three county residents live below the poverty line, more than double the 14.6% national poverty rate.

Source: BOB WESTON / Getty Images

13. Phillips County, Arkansas
> 5-yr. pop. change: -9.8%
> Poverty rate: 33.0%
> Bachelor’s degree attainment: 11.3%
> Life expectancy: 71.3 years

Phillips County, located along the banks of the Mississippi in the Arkansas Delta region, is the second-oldest county in the state. It is also the worst county to live in in the state. Life expectancy is an indicator of local conditions, and in Phillips County, the average life expectancy is just 71.3 years, about eight years below the national life expectancy.

Many of the worst counties to live in are losing residents rapidly, but few are shrinking as fast as Phillips County. In the last five years, the number of people living in Phillips County fell by 9.8%, even as the U.S. population grew by 3.8%. Currently, the county is home to fewer than 20,000 people, down from a peak of over 46,000 in 1950.

Source: 35875480@N05 / Flickr

12. Union County, Florida
> 5-yr. pop. change: -0.6%
> Poverty rate: 21.4%
> Bachelor’s degree attainment: 8.3%
> Life expectancy: 67.6 years

Union County is located in northern Florida and is the only county in the state to rank on this list. The average life expectancy fell by over half a year between 2010 and 2014 in Union County and is now just 67.6 years, more than 11 years below life expectancy nationwide.

Unlike most counties on this list, Union County has relatively low unemployment rate. Just 2.9% of the county’s labor force was unemployed at the end of 2018, below the 3.8% national unemployment rate. Many of the jobs in the county, however, are stressful and dangerous. The local economy relies heavily on the Union Correctional Institution, a maximum security prison.

Source: kenlund / Flickr

11. Madison Parish, Louisiana
> 5-yr. pop. change: -4.1%
> Poverty rate: 36.4%
> Bachelor’s degree attainment: 13.4%
> Life expectancy: 71.6 years

The only county equivalent in Louisiana to rank on this list, Madison Parish is located in the eastern part of the state along the Mississippi River. Like many of the counties and parishes along the Mississippi River, Madison Parish is poor, and people are leaving it. More than one in every three parish residents live in poverty, and the population shrunk by 4.1% in the last five years.

A stronger job market in Madison Parish would likely go a long way in alleviating economic conditions and slow population decline. As of the end of last year, 7.4% of the area’s labor force was unemployed, compared to the 3.8% national unemployment rate.