Special Report

Worst County to Live in Every State

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Alabama: Wilcox County
> 5-yr. population change: -6.7% (state: +1.5%)
> Poverty rate: 31.9% (state: 18.0%)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 12.0% (state: 24.5%)
> Life expectancy: 72.2 years (state: 75.7 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. The county’s April unemployment rate of 7.0% is nearly double the national unemployment rate of 3.6%.

Likely due in part to a lack of available work, people are leaving Wilcox County. In the last five years, the county’s population shrank by 6.7%, even as the U.S. population grew by 3.8%.

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Source: Travis / Flickr

Alaska: Bethel Census Area
> 5-yr. population change: +4.5% (state: +3.9%)
> Poverty rate: 27.0% (state: 10.2%)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 12.6% (state: 29.0%)
> Life expectancy: 74.3 years (state: 78.4 years)

Life expectancy at birth in Alaska’s Bethel Census Area — a designation specific to Alaska that is treated as a county equivalent by the U.S. Census Bureau — is just 74 years, four years below the average life expectancy of 78.4 years across the state as a whole. Poverty can be detrimental to personal health, and in Bethel, 27% of the population lives below the poverty line, nearly triple the 10.2% statewide poverty rate.

The county’s low median household income is partially the result of a weak job market. The county’s unemployment rate stands at 13.7%. Nationwide, the unemployment rate is just 3.6%.

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Source: CampPhoto / Getty Images

Arizona: Apache County
> 5-yr. population change: +0.0% (state: +6.2%)
> Poverty rate: 35.9% (state: 17.0%)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 11.5% (state: 28.4%)
> Life expectancy: 74.3 years (state: 79.6 years)

Apache County is located in the northeastern corner of Arizona, sharing a border with Utah and New Mexico. The Navajo Nation Reservation comprises much of Apache County; native American reservations often struggle with social and economic challenges. In the county, more than one in every three residents live below the poverty line. The financial hardship is partially attributable to the lack of job opportunities in the county. As of April 2019, 8.6% of the county’s labor force was out of work, compared to the 3.6% national unemployment rate.

In addition to economic struggles, the county also struggles with/faces several health issues. Unhealthy habit are relatively common in Apache County. County adult residents are more likely to smoke and less likely to lead physically active lifestyles than the typical Arizona resident. Also, average life expectancy in the county is just 74 years, and Apache ranks as the least healthy county in Arizona.

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Source: BOB WESTON / Getty Images

Arkansas: Phillips County
> 5-yr. population change: -9.8% (state: +2.1%)
> Poverty rate: 33.0% (state: 18.1%)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 11.3% (state: 22.0%)
> Life expectancy: 71.3 years (state: 76.2 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 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 the 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.

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Source: 54144402@N03 / Flickr

California: Lake County
> 5-yr. population change: -0.4% (state: +4.4%)
> Poverty rate: 22.8% (state: 15.1%)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 15.3% (state: 32.6%)
> Life expectancy: 75.8 years (state: 80.8 years)

California’s population grew by 4.4% in the last five years, outpacing the comparable 3.8% national population growth. Lake County, however, was one of the few counties in the state to report population decline. Over the last five years, the number of people living in the county fell by 0.4%.

Sub-optimal economic conditions may be driving people out of the county. The county’s April unemployment rate of 5.1% is above both the 4.3% state unemployment rate and the 3.6% national rate. For those who are working in Lake County, incomes are generally low. The typical area household income is just $40,446 a year compared to the median annual household income across the state as a whole of $67,169.

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