Massachusetts: Southbridge Town
> Population: 16,894
> Median home value: $193,500 (state: $366,800)
> Poverty rate: 19.2% (state: 10.8%)
> 5 yr. avg. unemployment: 8.1% (state: 5.4%)
Southbridge Town is one of a number of municipalities in Massachusetts that have kept the word Town in their names, despite cities. The city grew rapidly and thrived during the industrial revolution. Today, however, Southbridge Town is lagging behind much of the state in several socioeconomic measures.
Over the last five years, the unemployment rate in the city has been an average 8.1% — higher than the comparable 5.4% rate across Massachusetts. As is the case in much of the New England region, Southbridge Town and the surrounding area have also been hit hard by the opioid epidemic. The city is located in Worcester County, which has had about 35 fatal drug overdoses for every 100,000 people annually, in line with the comparable state rate, but far more than the national drug overdose rate of 22 per 100,000.
> Population: 9,128
> Median home value: $28,600 (state: $146,200)
> Poverty rate: 38.4% (state: 15.0%)
> 5 yr. avg. unemployment: 23.1% (state: 6.5%)
Beecher is a small Census designated place in Michigan, less than 10 miles north of Flint. The area is one of the most economically depressed in the country, with a five-year average unemployment rate of 23.1%. The lack of jobs means many residents face serious financial hardship. An estimated 38.4% of Beecher residents live in poverty, and about one in every five households earn less than $10,000 a year.
Economic problems likely exacerbate some social and health problems in the area. Across Genesee County, where Beecher is located, there are about 45 drug overdose deaths for every 100,000 people annually, the most of any county in the state.
> Population: 11,998
> Median home value: $142,500 (state: $211,800)
> Poverty rate: 14.9% (state: 10.1%)
> 5 yr. avg. unemployment: 5.9% (state: 3.9%)
Cloquet, located in northeastern Minnesota, about 20 miles west of Duluth, ranks as the worst place to live in the state. The city was founded over a century ago, when it depended heavily on the logging industry. Today, the largest employers are paper and pulp mills and metal ore mining operations, and joblessness is not as much of a problem in the city as it is in the vast majority of cities on this list. Still, for those who are working, incomes are relatively low. The median household income in Cloquet is $51,410 a year, far less than the median income statewide of $68,411.
A largely rural community, Cloquet does not have as many places like restaurants, hotels, and gyms and fitness centers per capita as the country as a whole on average. Also, across the surrounding county, about three in every four residents live in areas with limited access to places for fresh food, like grocery stores.
> Population: 15,188
> Median home value: $108,000 (state: $114,500)
> Poverty rate: 35.9% (state: 20.8%)
> 5 yr. avg. unemployment: 10.3% (state: 8.2%)
Natchez, a historic city in southwestern Mississippi, was originally established as French fort site in the early 1700s. When Mississippi first became a state in 1817, it served as its first capital. Today, the area depends largely on tourism, and many residents are struggling. More than one in every three people in the city live on poverty-level income, and about one in every 10 members of the labor force are unemployed. Over the last five years, the number of people working in Natchez has declined by 8.1%.
Housing is less affordable in Natchez than it is in much of the country. While the median home value in the area of $108,000 is lower than it is nationwide, it is over four times the area’s median annual household income of $26,288. Across Mississippi, the typical home is worth 2.6 times as much as the median household income.
Missouri: Spanish Lake
> Population: 18,048
> Median home value: $98,000 (state: $151,600)
> Poverty rate: 19.2% (state: 14.2%)
> 5 yr. avg. unemployment: 13.6% (state: 5.1%)
The population of Spanish Lake is in decline, shrinking by 9.6% in the last five years. The Census designated place, just a few miles north of St. Louis, has a median annual household income of $38,336, well below the U.S. median of $60,293 and the state median of $53,560. Spanish Lake’s five-year average unemployment rate of 13.6% is well more than double that of the state and the country.
Buying a home allows the owner to build wealth through equity. Yet the homeownership rate in Spanish Lake is just 47.8%, as compared to 63.8% nationwide and 66.8% across the state. Most homes in Spanish Lake are worth less than $100,000. Most Missouri homes are worth over $150,000 and over half of American homes are worth over $200,000.