Special Report

The Worst City to Live in Every State

Source: usdagov / Flickr

Alabama: Atmore
> Population: 9,495
> Median home value: $94,300 (state: $142,700)
> Poverty rate: 34.6% (state: 16.7%)
> 5-yr. avg. unemployment: 15.7% (state: 5.9%)

Atmore, a city of just under 10,000 residents in southern Alabama, ranks as the worst place to live in the state. The area’s high poverty rate affects overall quality of life. At 34.6%, the city’s poverty rate is more than double the 16.7% poverty rate across all of Alabama. Widespread poverty is partially attributable to a lack of economic opportunity, as an average of 15.7% of the labor force have been unemployed over the past five years, nearly triple the comparable 5.9% rate statewide.

Financial hardship and a lack of jobs are likely driving people out of Atmore. In the last five years, the local population has contracted by 6.0%.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Alaska: Fairbanks
> Population: 31,551
> Median home value: $211,500 (state: $270,400)
> Poverty rate: 11.0% (state: 10.7%)
> 5-yr. avg. unemployment: 7.7% (state: 6.8%)

There are just over a dozen cities and towns in Alaska with sufficient data for analysis, and of them, Fairbanks ranks as the worst place to live. One of the more dangerous parts of the country, there were 784 violent crimes for every 100,000 people in Fairbanks in 2019, more than double the U.S. violent crime rate of 367 incidents per 100,000 people.

In some ways, Fairbanks residents are more likely to be financially disadvantaged than those in the rest of Alaska. Though the median household income in Fairbanks of $62,602 is closely in line with the national median, it is nearly the lowest of any city or town considered in the state. Across all of Alaska, the typical household earns $77,640 annually. Additionally, the homeownership rate in Fairbanks of 35.8% is well below the 64.3% rate statewide — and historically, homeownership has been one of the most practical ways to build wealth in the United States.

Source: Phototreat / Getty Images

Arizona: Douglas
> Population: 16,307
> Median home value: $100,300 (state: $225,500)
> Poverty rate: 30.1% (state: 15.1%)
> 5-yr. avg. unemployment: 11.4% (state: 5.9%)

Douglas, a small city located in southern Arizona along the U.S.-Mexico border, ranks as the worst place to live in the state. The area is poor with 30.1% of the population living below the poverty line and the typical household earning about $35,500 a year. Meanwhile, only 15.1% of the Arizona population live below the poverty line and the statewide median annual household income is $58,945. The greater financial insecurity in the area is partially the result of a weak job market, as average unemployment in the city over the last five years was 11.4%, well above the 5.9% five-year rate across Arizona.

Across Cochise County, where Douglas is located, residents have relatively limited access to public spaces for recreation and exercise. Less than 60% county residents have easy access to places like parks and recreation centers, compared to about 84% of all Americans.

Source: Thomas R Machnitzki (thomas@machnitzki.com) / Wikimedia Commons

Arkansas: Helena-West Helena
> Population: 10,749
> Median home value: $73,400 (state: $127,800)
> Poverty rate: 45.2% (state: 17.0%)
> 5-yr. avg. unemployment: 11.8% (state: 5.1%)

Helena-West Helena ranks as the worst place to live in Arkansas. The local poverty rate of 45.2% is among the highest of any city in the United States — well above both the 17.0% state poverty rate and 13.4% national rate. The city is also one of the most dangerous nationwide. There were 1,836 violent crimes for every 100,000 people in the city in 2019, many times higher than the national violent crime rate of 367 per 100,000.

Members of the labor force in Helena-West Helena are more than twice as likely as members of the labor force in all of Arkansas to be unemployed. With such weak economic conditions, residents are far more likely than average to depend on government assistance to meet their basic needs. An estimated 36.8% of area households receive SNAP benefits, more than triple the 11.7% national recipiency rate.

Source: Craig Dietrich / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic - creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en / Wikimedia Commons

California: California City
> Population: 13,826
> Median home value: $124,500 (state: $505,000)
> Poverty rate: 24.1% (state: 13.4%)
> 5-yr. avg. unemployment: 19.1% (state: 6.0%)

Based on a range of key socio-economic measures, California City ranks as the worst place to live in California.The city of about 14,000 residents located in the southern half of the state has one of the worst job markets in the country. Over the last five years, an average of 19.1% of the labor force were unemployed, more than triple the 6.0% statewide average over that time. The high unemployment is likely attributable in part to the relative lack of local businesses. There are a far lower than average concentration of places like bars, restaurants, hotels, gyms, theaters relative to the population in California City than there are nationwide.

Home values can be indicative of a given area’s desirability. In California City, the typical home is worth $124,500 — a fraction of the median home value across the state as a whole of over half a million dollars.