Special Report

Worst County to Live in Every State

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Massachusetts: Hampden County
> 5-yr. population change: +1.1% (state: +3.5%)
> Poverty rate: 17.2% (state: 11.1%)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 26.5% (state: 42.1%)
> Life expectancy: 78.9 years (state: 80.4 years)

Massachusetts is one of the wealthiest states in the country, and nearly every major county in the state has a median annual household income above the national median of $57,652. The county with the lowest median income is Hampden, which forms a large part of the state’s border with Connecticut and contains the city of Springfield. In Hampden, the typical household has an annual income of $52,205, which is not too much lower than the national figure but well below the state median of $74,167.

Poverty is a major indicator for the likelihood residents having poor diets and lacking access to quality medical care. This likely helps explain Hampden County’s rank as the least healthy county in the state.

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Michigan: Lake County
> 5-yr. population change: +1.1% (state: +0.3%)
> Poverty rate: 25.0% (state: 15.6%)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 11.4% (state: 28.1%)
> Life expectancy: 76.8 years (state: 78.3 years)

Lake County, located in western Michigan about 80 miles north of Grand Rapids, is the poorest county in the state. The typical income of a household in the county is just $32,309 a year, about $20,000 less than that of the typical Michigan household. The low incomes likely contribute to the prevalence of serious financial hardship in the county — one in every four residents live below the poverty line.

Incomes in the county would likely rise with an improved job market. Currently, 6.3% of workers in the county are unemployed, well above the 4.1% state and 3.6% national unemployment rates.

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Minnesota: Wadena County
> 5-yr. population change: -1.3% (state: +3.3%)
> Poverty rate: 15.0% (state: 10.5%)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 12.9% (state: 34.8%)
> Life expectancy: 78.8 years (state: 80.9 years)

Nearly every large county in Minnesota compares favorably to the majority of counties on this list. One exception is Wadena County, which is in the central part of the state. In the county, just 12.9% of adults have a bachelor’s degree, barely one-third of the state’s equivalent share of 34.8% of adults.

Low educational attainment tends to coincide with low incomes, and Wadena’s median annual household income of $45,018 is the lowest of any county in the state with a population of at least 10,000.

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Mississippi: Holmes County
> 5-yr. population change: -4.9% (state: +0.6%)
> Poverty rate: 46.5% (state: 21.5%)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 10.7% (state: 21.3%)
> Life expectancy: 71.0 years (state: 74.9 years)

Holmes County is located in the Mississippi Delta region. The county’s 46.5% poverty rate is nearly the highest of any U.S. county and more than triple the national poverty rate of 14.6%. Additionally, 29.2% of households in the country earn less than $10,000 a year, the largest share of any U.S. county.

The widespread financial hardship is partially attributable to a weak job market. As of the end of last year, 8.7% of county workers were unemployed, and among those who had a job, 44% commuted to work outside the county limits.

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Source: Brian Stansberry / Wikimedia Commons

Missouri: Pemiscot County
> 5-yr. population change: -5.2% (state: +1.6%)
> Poverty rate: 28.5% (state: 14.6%)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 12.0% (state: 28.2%)
> Life expectancy: 72.0 years (state: 77.7 years)

Pemiscot County, situated in the southeast corner of Missouri along the Mississippi River, ranks as the worst county to live in the state. The county’s poverty rate of 28.5% is nearly double the statewide poverty rate of 14.6%. Americans living below the poverty line are far more likely to be unhealthy than wealthier Americans, and in Pemiscot County, the life expectancy at birth is just 72 years, nearly six years less than the life expectancy statewide.

As is the case in many counties on this list, Pemiscot County is losing resident rapidly. In the last five years, the number of people living in the county fell by 5.2%, even as the state population as a whole grew by 1.6%.

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