South Dakota: Todd County
> Largest place in county: Rosebud
> 5-yr. population change: +3.4% (state: +4.3%)
> Poverty rate: 55.5% (state: 13.1%)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 15.6% (state: 28.8%)
> Life expectancy at birth: 67.4 years (state: 78.9 years)
Todd County, located in southern South Dakota, encompassing parts of the Rosebud Indian Reservation, ranks as the worst place to live in the state. Due to a number of historical and contemporary factors, many Indian reservations are among the poorest communities in the United States — and Todd County is no exception. An estimated 55.5% of the population live below the poverty line, more than four times the 13.1% share of South Dakota residents.
Life expectancy in the county also lags considerably behind much of the rest of the state. At birth, life expectancy in Todd County is only 67.4 years, compared to the 78.9 year average across South Dakota.
Tennessee: Cocke County
> Largest place in county: Newport
> 5-yr. population change: +0.3% (state: +4.0%)
> Poverty rate: 23.5% (state: 15.2%)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 11.6% (state: 27.3%)
> Life expectancy at birth: 71.5 years (state: 76.0 years)
Cocke County is located in eastern Tennessee along the North Carolina border. Though it is located in the Smoky Mountains, offering plenty of outdoor recreation opportunities and picturesque landscapes, it lags behind much of the rest of the state in several key socioeconomic measures.
For example, life expectancy at birth in Cocke County is only 71.5 years, well below the 76.0 year state average. Additionally, the local poverty rate of 23.5% is considerably higher than the 15.2% poverty rate across Tennessee.
Texas: Zavala County
> Largest place in county: Crystal City
> 5-yr. population change: +0.2% (state: +8.3%)
> Poverty rate: 33.8% (state: 14.7%)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 10.9% (state: 29.9%)
> Life expectancy at birth: 76.0 years (state: 79.2 years)
Of the 254 counties that make up Texas, Zavala County ranks as the worst place to live. Quality of life in the area, located southwest of San Antonio, is undermined by widespread financial insecurity. An estimated 33.8% of the local population live below the poverty line, more than double the 14.7% poverty rate across Texas. Additionally, at just 76 years, life expectancy at birth in the county is over three years below that statewide average.
A college education is linked to longer life expectancies and greater financial security. In Zavala County, only 10.9% of adults have a bachelor’s degree or higher, well below the 29.9% share of adults across Texas who do.
Utah: San Juan County
> Largest place in county: Blanding
> 5-yr. population change: +2.4% (state: +8.4%)
> Poverty rate: 25.0% (state: 9.8%)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 18.3% (state: 34.0%)
> Life expectancy at birth: 76.4 years (state: 80.1 years)
There are 29 counties in Utah, and of them, San Juan County, located in the southeastern corner of the state, ranks as the worst place to live. The 25% local poverty rate is the highest of any county in the state and more than double the 9.8% poverty rate across Utah.
Americans with college educations are generally less exposed to economic slowdown than those with lower educational attainment, and in San Juan County, only 18.3% of the adult population have a bachelor’s degree, compared to 34.0% of Utah residents over age 24. Indeed, San Juan County’s monthly jobless rate of 5.3% is nearly double the comparable 2.7% rate across Utah.
Vermont: Orleans County
> Largest place in county: Newport
> 5-yr. population change: -1.0% (state: -0.3%)
> Poverty rate: 13.1% (state: 10.9%)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 21.5% (state: 38.0%)
> Life expectancy at birth: 78.5 years (state: 79.8 years)
A geographically small state, Vermont has only 14 counties. As a result, even though Orleans County ranks as the worst county to live in the state, the disparity between the county and the state as a whole in several key socioeconomic indicators is not especially pronounced. The county’s poverty rate of 13.1% is only slightly higher than the 10.9% state rate. Similarly, at 78.5 years, life expectancy at birth in the county is within 1.5 years of the 79.8 year average across the state.
However, adults living in Orleans County are considerably less likely to have a four-year college degree than the typical adult in Vermont. Only 21.5% of the 25 and older population in the county have a bachelor’s degree compared to 38.0% of Vermont’s 25 and older population.