Special Report

The Worst County To Live In Every State

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Virginia: Buchanan County
> Largest place in county: Grundy
> 5-yr. population change: -8.0% (state: +3.3%)
> Poverty rate: 28.4% (state: 10.6%)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 11.8% (state: 38.8%)
> Life expectancy at birth: 74.0 years (state: 79.5 years)

There are 133 counties and independent cities in Virginia, and of them, Buchanan County, located in the western part of the state along the West Virginia and Kentucky borders, ranks as the worst place to live. County residents are nearly three times as likely to live below the poverty line as the typical Virginia resident, and life expectancy at birth in the county is 74 years — over half a decade less than the average across the state.

Like many U.S. counties lagging in key socioeconomic indicators, Buchanan County’s population is shrinking. Over the last five years, the number of people living there fell by 8.0%, even as Virginia’s population expanded by 3.3%.

Washington: Adams County
> Largest place in county: Othello
> 5-yr. population change: +3.4% (state: +7.3%)
> Poverty rate: 25.6% (state: 10.8%)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 14.3% (state: 36.0%)
> Life expectancy at birth: 80.2 years (state: 80.4 years)

Adams County ranks as the worst county to live in in Washington state. It is the only one of the state’s 39 counties where fewer than 15% of adults have a bachelor’s degree or higher. The local bachelor’s degree attainment rate of 14.3% is less than half the comparable attainment rate of 36.0% statewide.

A college education is linked to greater financial security. In Adams County, about one in every four residents live below the poverty line, compared to only about one in every 10 Washington residents.

Source: Magnolia677 / Wikimedia Commons

West Virginia: McDowell County
> Largest place in county: Welch
> 5-yr. population change: -12.3% (state: -2.0%)
> Poverty rate: 33.2% (state: 17.6%)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 5.4% (state: 20.6%)
> Life expectancy at birth: 69.0 years (state: 74.8 years)

McDowell County, West Virginia, was the largest coal-producing county in the United States for many years in the early to mid 20th century. Like many coal-producing regions, it has suffered from long-term economic decline — and now, it ranks as the worst of West Virginia’s 55 counties to live in.

The local poverty rate of 33.2% is well above the 17.6% state poverty rate. Wide disparities also exist in health outcomes. Life expectancy at birth in McDowell County is only 69 years, nearly six years below life expectancy in West Virginia.

Wisconsin: Juneau County
> Largest place in county: Mauston
> 5-yr. population change: -0.5% (state: +1.2%)
> Poverty rate: 15.1% (state: 11.3%)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 13.7% (state: 30.1%)
> Life expectancy at birth: 78.2 years (state: 79.5 years)

Wisconsin’s Juneau County ranks as the worst of the 72 counties in the state to live in. A college education is linked to longer life expectancies, greater financial security, and a stronger sense of control over one’s life. In Juneau County, only 13.7% of adults have a bachelor’s degree or higher, less than half the 30.1% share of adults across Wisconsin who do.

The county’s bachelor’s degree attainment rate is the lowest in the state and may partially explain why the local poverty rate is higher than the state rate and why life expectancy at birth in the area is below the average across Wisconsin.

Source: Indy beetle / Wikimedia Commons

Wyoming: Big Horn County
> Largest place in county: Lovell
> 5-yr. population change: +0.5% (state: +1.0%)
> Poverty rate: 12.7% (state: 11.0%)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 19.0% (state: 27.4%)
> Life expectancy at birth: 76.1 years (state: 78.9 years)

Big Horn County, Wyoming, is located in the north-central part of the state along the Montana state border. The most consequential industries in the area include gas and oil extraction, mining, farming, and ranching — but jobs in these sectors do not appear to be providing for local residents in the same way jobs in much of the rest of the state are. The typical area household earns only $52,804 a year, well below the median household income across the state of $64,049. Additionally, local residents are slightly more likely to live below the poverty line than the typical Wyoming resident.

Life expectancy in the county also lags considerably behind much of the rest of the state. At birth, life expectancy in Big Horn County is 76.1 years, compared to the 78.9 year average across Wyoming.