Special Report

The Worst Counties to Live In

Samuel Stebbins

Perhaps the most frequently cited bellwether of economic vitality is GDP growth. Rapid growth is indicative of a flourishing economy, while slow or negative growth suggests the opposite. Economic growth alone, however, often reveals very little about an area’s capacity for development and about the quality of life in that area. 

To address these shortcomings, the United Nations Development Programme created the Human Development Index, a comprehensive measure that factors in education levels, health, and income across a population. 

24/7 Wall St. created an index inspired by the U.N.’s HDI model to identify the worst counties to live in. We ranked all U.S. counties and county equivalents, including independent cities and Census areas, based on an index score of three key measures: life expectancy at birth, the poverty rate, and the share of adults with a bachelor’s degree.  

Many of the counties on this list are in rural Appalachian coal country — an area that has been decimated by the decline of coal mining in the United States. Up against environmental regulations and relatively cheap natural gas, coal mining — once an economic pillar in communities across West Virginia and Kentucky — has become one of the fastest dying industries in the United States. Here is a look at America’s 25 dying industries.

Most of the remaining counties on this list are located in or around American Indian reservations. Native Americans commonly face generational poverty resulting, in part, from their historical mistreatment by the U.S. government. Certain existing conditions in some reservations also affect upward economic mobility. For example, reservation land is often communally-owned, making it difficult for local residents to build wealth through homeownership. Here is a look at the states with the most Indian reservations and tribal areas.

Click here to see the worst counties to live in
Click here to read our methodology