Special Report

The Worst County To Live In Every State

Source: BriYYZ / Flickr

New Mexico: McKinley County
> Largest place in county: Gallup
> 5-yr. population change: -0.9% (state: +0.6%)
> Poverty rate: 34.8% (state: 19.1%)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 11.4% (state: 27.3%)
> Life expectancy at birth: 71.9 years (state: 78.0 years)

McKinley County, located in northwestern New Mexico encompassing parts of the Navajo Nation and Zuni Pueblo, 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 McKinley County is no exception. An estimated 34.8% of the population live below the poverty line, well above the 19.1% share of New Mexico residents.

Life expectancy in the county also lags considerably behind much of the rest of the state. Average life expectancy at birth in McKinley County is only 71.9 years, compared to the 78.0 year average across New Mexico.

Source: ALT55-VictorM / Wikimedia Commons

New York: Bronx County
> Largest place in county: New York City
> 5-yr. population change: +1.5% (state: -0.1%)
> Poverty rate: 28.0% (state: 14.1%)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 20.1% (state: 36.6%)
> Life expectancy at birth: 80.9 years (state: 81.4 years)

Bronx County, one of the five boroughs of New York City, ranks as the worst place to live in New York state. The 28.0% poverty rate in the Bronx is the highest of any of New York’s 62 counties and nearly double the 14.1% state poverty rate. The area’s high poverty is likely due in part to widespread unemployment. As of May 2021, the unemployment rate in the Bronx was 13.5%, the highest of any county in the state and well above the 7.8% jobless rate across New York.

Widespread economic insecurity in the Bronx is likely due in part to low educational attainment rates. Only 72.8% of adults in the county have completed high school, and 20.1% have a bachelor’s degree. Meanwhile, across the state, 86.8% of adults have completed high school, and 36.6% of adults have a bachelor’s degree.

North Carolina: Robeson County
> Largest place in county: Lumberton
> 5-yr. population change: -1.7% (state: +5.3%)
> Poverty rate: 27.7% (state: 14.7%)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 13.7% (state: 31.3%)
> Life expectancy at birth: 72.8 years (state: 78.1 years)

Robeson County, North Carolina, which sits along the South Carolina border, ranks as the worst county to live in in the state. At just 72.8 years, life expectancy at birth in the county is over half a decade below the statewide average. Americans with a college education are statistically more likely to live longer, healthier lives than those with lower educational attainment. In Robeson County, only 13.7% of the 25 and older population have a bachelor’s degree, compared to 31.3% of adults in North Carolina.

Like many U.S. counties lagging in key socioeconomic indicators, Robeson County’s population is shrinking. Over the last five years, the number of people living there fell by 1.7%, even as North Carolina’s population expanded by 5.3%.

Source: Andrew Filer / Flickr

North Dakota: Rolette County
> Largest place in county: Belcourt
> 5-yr. population change: +1.2% (state: +7.3%)
> Poverty rate: 27.1% (state: 10.7%)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 19.6% (state: 30.0%)
> Life expectancy at birth: 72.3 years (state: 79.7 years)

Rolette County, a largely rural area in northern North Dakota along the Canadian border, ranks as the worst county to live in the state. Local residents are nearly three times as likely to live in poverty than the typical North Dakota resident, and at just 72.3 years, life expectancy at birth in the county is nearly eight years below the state average.

A college education is linked to longer life expectancies and greater financial security. In Rolette County, only 19.6% of adults have a bachelor’s degree or higher, well below the 30.0% share of adults across North Dakota who do.

Ohio: Scioto County
> Largest place in county: Portsmouth
> 5-yr. population change: -3.2% (state: +0.8%)
> Poverty rate: 22.6% (state: 14.0%)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 15.7% (state: 28.3%)
> Life expectancy at birth: 72.0 years (state: 77.0 years)

There are 88 counties in Ohio, and of them, Scioto County ranks as the worst place to live. The area, located along the state’s southern border, has the lowest life expectancy at birth of any Ohio county at just 72 years — half a decade shy of the statewide average.

Scioto County also has a poverty rate of 22.6%, which is nearly the highest of any county in Ohio and well above the 14.0% poverty rate across the state.