Special Report

The Worst City to Live in Every State

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Hawaii: Makaha
> Population: 8,404
> Median home value: $404,900 (state: $615,300)
> Poverty rate: 31.0% (state: 9.4%)
> 5-yr. avg. unemployment: 12.7% (state: 4.0%)

Makaha, Hawaii, is a coastal community on the island of O’ahu. The worst place to live in the state, Makaha’s poverty rate of 31.0% is more than three times the statewide poverty rate of 9.4%. Quality of life in the area is further undermined by how unaffordable homeownership is for so many. The typical area home is worth $404,900, nearly eight times the median household income of $50,992. For context, the typical home nationwide is worth about 3.5 times more than the median household income. Likely partially as a result, the local homeownership rate is just 39.6%, compared to the 64.0% U.S. average.

Financial security among Makaha residents would likely improve with a stronger job market. The average unemployment rate in the area over the last five years of 12.7% is more than triple the 4.0% average across Hawaii over that time.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Idaho: Mountain Home
> Population: 14,166
> Median home value: $144,200 (state: $212,300)
> Poverty rate: 16.4% (state: 13.1%)
> 5-yr. avg. unemployment: 6.6% (state: 4.3%)

Due in large part to economic conditions, Mountain Home, located in the southern half of Idaho, ranks as the worst place to live in the state. An average of 6.6% of the local labor force have been unemployed in the last five years, nearly the highest jobless rate of any city or town in the state. Additionally, only 36.9% of the local population are working, by far the smallest share in the state and well below the 47.7% share of all Americans who are working.

Job opportunities have gotten increasingly scarce in the area in recent years. The number of people working in Mountain Home fell by 7.4% between 2015 and 2019. Over the same period, employment climbed by 6.2% nationwide.

Source: Wiszo8 / Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en / Wikimedia Commons

Illinois: Sauk Village
> Population: 10,423
> Median home value: $70,400 (state: $194,500)
> Poverty rate: 31.8% (state: 12.5%)
> 5-yr. avg. unemployment: 16.3% (state: 5.9%)

Sauk Village, located about 30 miles south of Chicago, ranks as the worst place to live in Illinois in part because of the share of the population that face financial hardship. Nearly 32% of the population live below the poverty line, and more than one in every 10 households earn less than $10,000 a year. Across all of Illinois, the poverty rate is 12.5%, and 6.3% of households earn less than $10,000 annually.

Adjusting for population, Sauk Village also has the highest concentration of violent crime of any city or town tracked by the FBI in the United States. There were a total of 5,485 violent crimes reported in the area for every 100,000 people in 2019 compared to the national violent crime rate of 367 incidents per 100,000 people.

Source: Lotzman Katzman / Wikimedia Commons

Indiana: Gary
> Population: 76,010
> Median home value: $66,100 (state: $141,700)
> Poverty rate: 30.6% (state: 13.4%)
> 5-yr. avg. unemployment: 12.4% (state: 4.8%)

Gary, a Rust Belt city in northern Indiana, ranks as the worst place to live in the state. The five-year average unemployment rate in Gary is 12.4%, making it the only place in the state with a double digit jobless rate — well above the 4.8% five-year state average. The lack of economic opportunity partially explains the poverty rate, which at 30.6% is more than double the state poverty rate of 13.4%.

A lack of economic opportunity also means Gary residents are more likely to depend on the government to meet their basic needs. An estimated 27.0% of local households receive SNAP benefits, compared to the 11.7% recipiency rate nationwide.

Iowa: Fort Madison
> Population: 10,513
> Median home value: $81,600 (state: $147,800)
> Poverty rate: 15.9% (state: 11.5%)
> 5-yr. avg. unemployment: 8.9% (state: 3.7%)

Fort Madison, in southeastern Iowa, is the worst place to live in the state. There were 664 violent crimes for every 100,000 city residents in 2019, well above the 367 violent crimes for every 100,000 people nationwide the same year.

High crime rates can push people out of an area and hamper economic growth and job creation. Over the last five years, an average of 8.9% of the local labor force have been unemployed, double the comparable 3.7% state unemployment rate. Additionally, the city’s population contracted by 3.8% over the last five years.