Special Report

The Worst County To Live In Every State

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Alabama: Wilcox County
> Largest place in county: Camden
> 5-yr. population change: -6.0% (state: +1.2%)
> Poverty rate: 30.1% (state: 16.7%)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 12.5% (state: 25.5%)
> Life expectancy at birth: 70.8 years (state: 75.5 years)

Based on several key socioeconomic indicators, Wilcox County ranks as the worst county to live in Alabama. The local poverty rate of 30.1% means that local residents are nearly twice as likely to face serious financial hardship than the typical Alabama resident. High poverty in the area is partially the result of a weak job market. As of May 2021, the local unemployment rate stood at 8.8%, more than double the 3.4% jobless rate across the state.

In low-income areas, residents are less likely to be able to afford health care as well as a wide range of healthy options related to diet and lifestyle, and health outcomes suffer as a result. In Wilcox County, life expectancy at birth is just 70.8 years, nearly half a decade below the 75.5 year state average.

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Alaska: Bethel Census Area
> Largest place in census area: Bethel
> 5-yr. population change: +3.2% (state: +1.2%)
> Poverty rate: 28.3% (state: 10.7%)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 11.9% (state: 29.6%)
> Life expectancy at birth: 71.6 years (state: 79.0 years)

The Bethel Census Area, located in southwestern Alaska, ranks as the worst county equivalent to live in in the state. Life expectancy at birth in the area is just 71.6 years, well below the statewide average of 79.0 years. Additionally, the local poverty rate of 28.3% is nearly three times higher than the state rate of 10.7%.

Higher educational attainment is closely linked to both improved health outcomes and increased financial security. In the Bethel Census Area, only 11.9% of adults have a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to nearly 30% of adults in Alaska.

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Arizona: Apache County
> Largest place in county: Chinle
> 5-yr. population change: -0.9% (state: +7.4%)
> Poverty rate: 35.5% (state: 15.1%)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 12.3% (state: 29.5%)
> Life expectancy at birth: 73.1 years (state: 80.0 years)

Apache County, which spans over much of Arizona’s eastern border, ranks as the worst place to live in the state. An estimated 11.9% of the local labor force are unemployed, well above the 6.7% jobless rate across Arizona. A lack of sufficient employment opportunities may partly explain the county’s high poverty rate, which at 35.5% is more than double the 15.1% poverty rate across Arizona.

Financial hardship and job scarcity may be pushing people out of Apache County. In the last five years, the local population has contracted by 0.9%, even as Arizona’s population expanded by 7.4% over the same period.

Source: BOB WESTON / Getty Images

Arkansas: Phillips County
> Largest place in county: West Helena
> 5-yr. population change: -10.7% (state: +1.8%)
> Poverty rate: 34.5% (state: 17.0%)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 13.8% (state: 23.0%)
> Life expectancy at birth: 71.1 years (state: 76.0 years)

Phillips County ranks as the worst place to live in Arkansas. Located in the state’s Delta region, Phillips County is a former agricultural and transportation hub with a history of racial tensions and violence. After decades of economic decline, the local poverty rate stands at 34.5%, more than double the 17.0% state poverty rate. Well-educated areas tend to have lower rates of financial hardship, and only 13.8% of adults in the county have a bachelor’s degree, compared to 23.0% of adults in Arkansas.

As is often the case in parts of the country with high poverty, Phillips County is in a period of population decline. Over the last five years, the number of people living in the county has fallen by 10.7%, even as Arkansas’ population expanded by 1.8%.

Source: tupungato / Getty Images

California: Tulare County
> Largest place in county: Visalia
> 5-yr. population change: +2.4% (state: +3.2%)
> Poverty rate: 23.8% (state: 13.4%)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 14.6% (state: 33.9%)
> Life expectancy at birth: 78.7 years (state: 81.7 years)

Tulare County, centrally located in California’s Central Valley, ranks as the worst county to live in the state. Though the area is both an agricultural and manufacturing hub, the county struggles with both unemployment and poverty.. The county’s May 2021 unemployment rate of 10.2% is well above both the 5.8% national rate and 7.7% state rate. Additionally, 23.8% of the local population live below the poverty line, compared to California’s 13.4% poverty rate.

Economic security tends to improve with greater educational attainment, and across Tulare County, only 14.6% of adults have a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 33.9% of adults in California.