Special Report

Worst County to Live in Every State

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Virginia: Petersburg
> 5-yr. population change: -0.6% (state: +4.4%)
> Poverty rate: 27.6% (state: 11.2%)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 17.5% (state: 37.6%)
> Life expectancy: 72.2 years (state: 79.2 years)

Like other independent cities in the state of Virginia, Petersburg operates as a county. The average life expectancy at birth in the city of just 72 years is nearly seven years less than the national life expectancy and is one of the lowest life expectancies of any U.S. county. The city’s low life expectancy is closely tied to its low incomes, as poorer residents tend to face a number of obstacles to maintaining good health. Of the city’s 32,000 residents, 27.6% live in poverty, compared to the state poverty rate of 11.2%.

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Washington: Adams County
> 5-yr. population change: +3.7% (state: +6.4%)
> Poverty rate: 23.1% (state: 12.2%)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 13.6% (state: 34.5%)
> Life expectancy: 79.2 years (state: 80.0 years)

Adams County is located in eastern Washington, southwest of Spokane. Adams is the only county in the state where fewer than two in every three adults have graduated high school. A high school education is often a prerequisite for employment, and the county’s low educational attainment rates may partially explain its high jobless rate. As of April 2019, 6.0% of county workers were unemployed, well above the unemployment rates of 4.7% statewide and 3.6% nationwide. With a 23.1% poverty rate, Adams County residents are nearly twice as likely to face serious financial hardship than the typical Washington resident.

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West Virginia: McDowell County
> 5-yr. population change: -10.3% (state: -0.7%)
> Poverty rate: 34.9% (state: 17.8%)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 4.9% (state: 19.9%)
> Life expectancy: 70.3 years (state: 76.0 years)

McDowell County is the worst county to live in West Virginia and one of the worst counties to live in nationwide. A coal county located in the southern part of the state, McDowell is characterized by population decline and poverty. Currently, the county is home to less than 20,000 people, down from nearly 100,000 in 1950. In the last five years alone, the county’s population shrunk by 10.3%. Of the remaining residents, more than a third live below the poverty line.

Opioid overdoses are contributing to lower life expectancy in the United States, and McDowell County has been hit especially hard by the opioid epidemic. Between 2010 and 2014, life expectancy in the county fell slightly from 70.4 years to 70.3.

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Wisconsin: Adams County
> 5-yr. population change: -3.8% (state: +1.3%)
> Poverty rate: 13.0% (state: 12.3%)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 12.5% (state: 29.0%)
> Life expectancy: 77.8 years (state: 79.8 years)

Adams County lags behind a majority of Wisconsin counties in several measures related to income, education, and health. The typical household in Adams County earns $44,003 a year, more than $13,000 less than the state median of $56,759. One factor contributing to low incomes is likely the low educational attainment of area residents. Just 12.5% of Adams County adults have a bachelor’s degree, the second smallest share of any county in Wisconsin and less than half the state’s 29.0% college attainment rate.

Income and education are some of the most significant factors that influence health and longevity. Life expectancy in Adams County is just 77.8 years, less than Wisconsin’s average of 79.8 years.

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Wyoming: Uinta County
> 5-yr. population change: -0.9% (state: +3.6%)
> Poverty rate: 14.9% (state: 11.1%)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 17.4% (state: 26.7%)
> Life expectancy: 77.4 years (state: 78.6 years)

Uinta County is located in the southwest corner of Wyoming. Just 17.4% of adults in Uinta County have a bachelor’s degree or higher, the smallest share of any county in the state. Incomes tend to rise with higher educational attainment, and in Uinta, the typical household earns $54,672 a year, slightly less than the median household income of $60,938 in Wyoming. Like many counties on this list, Uinta is shrinking. In the last five years, the number of people living in the county fell by 0.9%, even as the state’s population grew by 3.6%.

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