Special Report

The Worst County to Live in Every State

Andrew Burton / Getty Images News via Getty Images

The U.S. economy is currently the envy of the developed world. Real GDP growth returned to pre-pandemic levels in the U.S. faster than in any other country in the Group of Seven — a forum of seven industrialized democracies that includes Canada, France, Germany, Japan, and the United Kingdom. Among these same countries, the U.S. also reported the fastest deceleration of core inflation. Looking forward, American GDP growth is projected to outpace that of every other large, advanced economy in 2024, according to the International Monetary Fund. (This is how America’s 20 richest cities compare to China’s.)

But while some fundamental economic indicators are strong in the U.S., a more holistic measure from the United Nations Development Programme, designed to capture overall development potential, shows the U.S. ranking well behind many of its peers on the global stage.

The UNDP’s Human Development Index is a single measure made up of three components: life expectancy at birth, educational attainment, and financial stability. According to the latest HDI report, the United States ranks 21st in the world, trailing Canada, Germany, Japan, and several other European and Asian countries. When applied to geographies within the U.S., the HDI shows that many parts of the country are especially lagging.

Using an index inspired by the HDI, 24/7 Wall St. identified the worst county to live in in each state. Counties and county equivalents are ranked on a combination of three measures – average life expectancy at birth, the share of adults with a bachelor’s degree, and the poverty rate. Data used to calculate rankings are from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2022 American Community Survey and County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, a joint program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. All ACS data are five-year averages. Due to recent changes in county distinctions, ACS data for Connecticut is current as of 2021. Counties with incomplete data were excluded from analysis.

Nationwide, 34.3% of adults have a bachelor’s degree or higher, 12.5% of the population live below the poverty line, and average life expectancy at birth stands at 78.5 years. In the vast majority of states – even those where these indicators are well above the national average – there is at least one county or county equivalent where populations are less healthy, less educated, and less financially secure than the U.S. population as a whole.

While independent of one another, the measures used to calculate this ranking are strongly correlated. Americans without a college degree are far more likely to experience poverty in their lifetime than those with higher educational attainment. Additionally, less-educated populations living below the poverty line typically report worse health outcomes.

In most counties on this list, average life expectancy at birth is less than 75 years, including over a dozen counties where life expectancy is below 70 years. Bachelor’s degree attainment rates in these places range from about 31% down to less than 5%, and in many of these same places, over a third of the population live below the poverty line. (Here is a look at the poorest states in America.)

Alabama: Perry County

Source: BOB WESTON / iStock via Getty Images
  • Avg. life expectancy at birth: 70.8 years (State: 74.8 years)
  • Poverty rate: 32.8% (State: 15.7%)
  • Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 15.2% (State: 27.2%)
  • Median household income: $32,332 (State: $59,609)
  • Population: 8,479
  • County seat: Marion
  • Counties considered in state: 67

Alaska: Kusilvak Census Area

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons
  • Avg. life expectancy at birth: 67.7 years (State: 78.6 years)
  • Poverty rate: 34.3% (State: 10.5%)
  • Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 4.6% (State: 30.7%)
  • Median household income: $42,663 (State: $86,370)
  • Population: 8,372
  • County seat: None
  • County equivalents considered in state: 24

Arizona: Apache County

Source: kenlund / Flickr
  • Avg. life expectancy at birth: 70.1 years (State: 79.1 years)
  • Poverty rate: 32.5% (State: 13.1%)
  • Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 13.8% (State: 31.8%)
  • Median household income: $37,483 (State: $72,581)
  • Population: 66,054
  • County seat: St. Johns
  • Counties considered in state: 15

Arkansas: Lee County

Source: mtnorton / Flickr
  • Avg. life expectancy at birth: 71.6 years (State: 75.5 years)
  • Poverty rate: 27.6% (State: 16.2%)
  • Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 7.7% (State: 24.7%)
  • Median household income: $33,801 (State: $56,335)
  • Population: 8,666
  • County seat: Marianna
  • Counties considered in state: 75

California: Trinity County

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons
  • Avg. life expectancy at birth: 74.6 years (State: 81.0 years)
  • Poverty rate: 22.0% (State: 12.1%)
  • Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 19.2% (State: 35.9%)
  • Median household income: $47,317 (State: $91,905)
  • Population: 15,889
  • County seat: Weaverville
  • Counties considered in state: 57

Colorado: Bent County

Source: chapin31 / iStock Editorial via Getty Images
  • Avg. life expectancy at birth: 74.0 years (State: 80.0 years)
  • Poverty rate: 27.1% (State: 9.6%)
  • Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 15.5% (State: 43.7%)
  • Median household income: $45,776 (State: $87,598)
  • Population: 5,561
  • County seat: Las Animas
  • Counties considered in state: 59

Connecticut: Windham County

Source: DenisTangneyJr / iStock via Getty Images
  • Avg. life expectancy at birth: 78.0 years (State: 80.1 years)
  • Poverty rate: 11.3% (State: 10.0%)
  • Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 24.4% (State: 40.6%)
  • Median household income: $71,418 (State: $83,572)
  • Population: 116,503
  • County seat: None
  • Counties considered in state: 8

Delaware: Kent County

Source: Kptan123 / iStock via Getty Images
  • Avg. life expectancy at birth: 77.1 years (State: 78.0 years)
  • Poverty rate: 12.3% (State: 11.1%)
  • Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 26.3% (State: 34.5%)
  • Median household income: $69,278 (State: $79,325)
  • Population: 182,400
  • County seat: Dover
  • Counties considered in state: 3

Florida: Hamilton County

Source: Simplyphotos / iStock via Getty Images
  • Avg. life expectancy at birth: 75.4 years (State: 79.7 years)
  • Poverty rate: 26.4% (State: 12.9%)
  • Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 9.2% (State: 32.3%)
  • Median household income: $47,668 (State: $67,917)
  • Population: 13,492
  • County seat: Jasper
  • Counties considered in state: 67

Georgia: Clinch County

Source: BOB WESTON / iStock via Getty Images
  • Avg. life expectancy at birth: 71.6 years (State: 77.3 years)
  • Poverty rate: 32.5% (State: 13.5%)
  • Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 12.9% (State: 33.6%)
  • Median household income: $53,350 (State: $71,355)
  • Population: 6,713
  • County seat: Homerville
  • Counties considered in state: 158

Hawaii: Hawaii County

Source: steinphoto / iStock via Getty Images
  • Avg. life expectancy at birth: 81.0 years (State: 82.3 years)
  • Poverty rate: 14.1% (State: 9.6%)
  • Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 30.7% (State: 34.7%)
  • Median household income: $74,238 (State: $94,814)
  • Population: 202,163
  • County seat: Hilo
  • Counties considered in state: 4

Idaho: Butte County

Source: Wayne Broussasrd / iStock via Getty Images
  • Avg. life expectancy at birth: 77.1 years (State: 79.2 years)
  • Poverty rate: 22.1% (State: 11.0%)
  • Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 16.2% (State: 30.2%)
  • Median household income: $37,358 (State: $70,214)
  • Population: 2,605
  • County seat: Arco
  • Counties considered in state: 42

Illinois: Alexander County

Source: BOB WESTON / Getty Images
  • Avg. life expectancy at birth: 70.5 years (State: 78.6 years)
  • Poverty rate: 21.4% (State: 11.8%)
  • Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 10.3% (State: 36.7%)
  • Median household income: $40,365 (State: $78,433)
  • Population: 5,261
  • County seat: Cairo
  • Counties considered in state: 102

Indiana: Crawford County

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons
  • Avg. life expectancy at birth: 74.2 years (State: 76.5 years)
  • Poverty rate: 21.9% (State: 12.3%)
  • Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 12.2% (State: 28.2%)
  • Median household income: $46,706 (State: $67,173)
  • Population: 10,511
  • County seat: English
  • Counties considered in state: 92

Iowa: Clarke County

  • Avg. life expectancy at birth: 76.0 years (State: 78.7 years)
  • Poverty rate: 16.9% (State: 11.1%)
  • Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 15.2% (State: 30.3%)
  • Median household income: $63,120 (State: $70,571)
  • Population: 9,737
  • County seat: Osceola
  • Counties considered in state: 99

Kansas: Edwards County

Source: BOB WESTON / iStock via Getty Images
  • Avg. life expectancy at birth: 64.7 years (State: 77.8 years)
  • Poverty rate: 13.6% (State: 11.6%)
  • Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 17.9% (State: 34.7%)
  • Median household income: $52,750 (State: $69,747)
  • Population: 2,849
  • County seat: Kinsley
  • Counties considered in state: 102

Kentucky: Wolfe County

Source: BOB WESTON / iStock via Getty Images
  • Avg. life expectancy at birth: 68.0 years (State: 75.1 years)
  • Poverty rate: 36.8% (State: 16.1%)
  • Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 7.0% (State: 26.5%)
  • Median household income: $28,666 (State: $60,183)
  • Population: 6,573
  • County seat: Campton
  • Counties considered in state: 120

Louisiana: East Carroll Parish

Source: nataliemaynor / Flickr
  • Avg. life expectancy at birth: 71.3 years (State: 75.2 years)
  • Poverty rate: 40.3% (State: 18.7%)
  • Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 11.8% (State: 26.1%)
  • Median household income: $30,856 (State: $57,852)
  • Population: 7,371
  • Parish seat: Lake Providence
  • Parishes considered in state: 64

Maine: Somerset County

Source: BWFolsom / iStock via Getty Images
  • Avg. life expectancy at birth: 76.6 years (State: 78.6 years)
  • Poverty rate: 16.8% (State: 10.9%)
  • Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 19.7% (State: 34.1%)
  • Median household income: $53,527 (State: $68,251)
  • Population: 50,656
  • County seat: Skowhegan
  • Counties considered in state: 16

Maryland: Somerset County

Source: kenlund / Flickr
  • Avg. life expectancy at birth: 75.8 years (State: 78.6 years)
  • Poverty rate: 19.8% (State: 9.3%)
  • Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 16.8% (State: 42.2%)
  • Median household income: $52,149 (State: $98,461)
  • Population: 24,672
  • County seat: Princess Anne
  • Counties considered in state: 24

Massachusetts: Hampden County

Source: DenisTangneyJr / Getty Images
  • Avg. life expectancy at birth: 77.4 years (State: 80.2 years)
  • Poverty rate: 15.8% (State: 9.9%)
  • Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 28.6% (State: 45.9%)
  • Median household income: $66,619 (State: $96,505)
  • Population: 464,575
  • County seat: Springfield
  • Counties considered in state: 14

Michigan: Clare County

Source: Roberto Galan / iStock Editorial via Getty Images
  • Avg. life expectancy at birth: 74.3 years (State: 77.5 years)
  • Poverty rate: 22.1% (State: 13.1%)
  • Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 12.2% (State: 31.1%)
  • Median household income: $47,816 (State: $68,505)
  • Population: 30,998
  • County seat: Harrison
  • Counties considered in state: 83

Minnesota: Mahnomen County

Source: Andrew Filer (afiler) / Wikimedia Commons
  • Avg. life expectancy at birth: 71.0 years (State: 80.4 years)
  • Poverty rate: 20.6% (State: 9.3%)
  • Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 13.7% (State: 38.2%)
  • Median household income: $52,739 (State: $84,313)
  • Population: 5,389
  • County seat: Mahnomen
  • Counties considered in state: 87

Mississippi: Holmes County

Source: BOB WESTON / iStock via Getty Images
  • Avg. life expectancy at birth: 69.0 years (State: 73.9 years)
  • Poverty rate: 35.0% (State: 19.2%)
  • Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 14.7% (State: 23.9%)
  • Median household income: $28,818 (State: $52,985)
  • Population: 16,848
  • County seat: Lexington
  • Counties considered in state: 81

Missouri: Pemiscot County

Source: Roberto Galan / iStock Editorial via Getty Images
  • Avg. life expectancy at birth: 69.1 years (State: 76.6 years)
  • Poverty rate: 29.3% (State: 12.8%)
  • Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 11.6% (State: 31.2%)
  • Median household income: $37,426 (State: $65,920)
  • Population: 15,555
  • County seat: Caruthersville
  • Counties considered in state: 115

Montana: Roosevelt County

Source: J.B. Chandler / Wikimedia Commons
  • Avg. life expectancy at birth: 64.5 years (State: 78.4 years)
  • Poverty rate: 31.5% (State: 12.4%)
  • Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 19.8% (State: 34.0%)
  • Median household income: $51,038 (State: $66,341)
  • Population: 10,799
  • County seat: Wolf Point
  • Counties considered in state: 48

Nebraska: Thurston County

Source: Ammodramus / Wikimedia Commons
  • Avg. life expectancy at birth: 66.6 years (State: 79.0 years)
  • Poverty rate: 19.0% (State: 10.4%)
  • Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 19.8% (State: 33.5%)
  • Median household income: $63,459 (State: $71,722)
  • Population: 6,716
  • County seat: Pender
  • Counties considered in state: 79

Nevada: Mineral County

Source: kenlund / Flickr
  • Avg. life expectancy at birth: 71.6 years (State: 78.1 years)
  • Poverty rate: 18.5% (State: 12.7%)
  • Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 14.6% (State: 26.5%)
  • Median household income: $46,625 (State: $71,646)
  • Population: 4,568
  • County seat: Hawthorne
  • Counties considered in state: 16

New Hampshire: Coos County

Source: BOB WESTON / iStock via Getty Images
  • Avg. life expectancy at birth: 77.2 years (State: 79.6 years)
  • Poverty rate: 11.6% (State: 7.3%)
  • Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 20.4% (State: 39.0%)
  • Median household income: $55,247 (State: $90,845)
  • Population: 31,430
  • County seat: Lancaster
  • Counties considered in state: 10

New Jersey: Cumberland County

Source: dougtone / Flickr
  • Avg. life expectancy at birth: 74.6 years (State: 79.5 years)
  • Poverty rate: 15.5% (State: 9.7%)
  • Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 17.3% (State: 42.3%)
  • Median household income: $62,310 (State: $97,126)
  • Population: 153,588
  • County seat: Bridgeton
  • Counties considered in state: 21

New Mexico: McKinley County

Source: wolfgangstaudt / Flickr
  • Avg. life expectancy at birth: 67.9 years (State: 76.9 years)
  • Poverty rate: 33.6% (State: 18.3%)
  • Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 12.4% (State: 29.1%)
  • Median household income: $44,029 (State: $58,722)
  • Population: 72,073
  • County seat: Gallup
  • Counties considered in state: 32

New York: Bronx County

Source: dhdezvalle / iStock via Getty Images
  • Avg. life expectancy at birth: 78.0 years (State: 80.3 years)
  • Poverty rate: 26.9% (State: 13.6%)
  • Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 21.2% (State: 38.8%)
  • Median household income: $47,036 (State: $81,386)
  • Population: 1,443,229
  • County seat: None
  • Counties considered in state: 62

North Carolina: Robeson County

Source: gerrydincher / Flickr
  • Avg. life expectancy at birth: 71.7 years (State: 77.7 years)
  • Poverty rate: 27.1% (State: 13.3%)
  • Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 14.6% (State: 33.9%)
  • Median household income: $39,393 (State: $66,186)
  • Population: 117,573
  • County seat: Lumberton
  • Counties considered in state: 100

North Dakota: Sioux County

Source: Andrew Filer / Wikimedia Commons
  • Avg. life expectancy at birth: 65.2 years (State: 78.8 years)
  • Poverty rate: 39.7% (State: 10.8%)
  • Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 11.5% (State: 31.4%)
  • Median household income: $41,201 (State: $73,959)
  • Population: 3,896
  • County seat: Fort Yates
  • Counties considered in state: 50

Ohio: Scioto County

Source: dok1 / Flickr
  • Avg. life expectancy at birth: 70.8 years (State: 76.5 years)
  • Poverty rate: 23.8% (State: 13.3%)
  • Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 17.6% (State: 30.4%)
  • Median household income: $46,360 (State: $66,990)
  • Population: 73,716
  • County seat: Portsmouth
  • Counties considered in state: 88

Oklahoma: Okfuskee County

Source: Pigdogx / Wikimedia Commons
  • Avg. life expectancy at birth: 69.2 years (State: 75.5 years)
  • Poverty rate: 26.7% (State: 15.2%)
  • Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 12.5% (State: 27.3%)
  • Median household income: $45,429 (State: $61,364)
  • Population: 11,349
  • County seat: Okemah
  • Counties considered in state: 77

Oregon: Malheur County

Source: icetsarina / Public Domain / Flickr
  • Avg. life expectancy at birth: 77.4 years (State: 79.7 years)
  • Poverty rate: 18.9% (State: 11.9%)
  • Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 14.6% (State: 35.5%)
  • Median household income: $48,371 (State: $76,632)
  • Population: 31,538
  • County seat: Vale
  • Counties considered in state: 35

Pennsylvania: Forest County

Source: zrfphoto / Getty Images
  • Avg. life expectancy at birth: 77.2 years (State: 78.0 years)
  • Poverty rate: 19.2% (State: 11.8%)
  • Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 11.6% (State: 33.8%)
  • Median household income: $46,188 (State: $73,170)
  • Population: 6,959
  • County seat: Tionesta
  • Counties considered in state: 67

Rhode Island: Providence County

Source: SeanPavonePhoto / iStock via Getty Images
  • Avg. life expectancy at birth: 78.7 years (State: 79.4 years)
  • Poverty rate: 13.6% (State: 11.2%)
  • Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 31.2% (State: 36.3%)
  • Median household income: $72,579 (State: $81,370)
  • Population: 657,984
  • County seat: Providence
  • Counties considered in state: 5

South Carolina: Dillon County

Source: gerrydincher / Flickr
  • Avg. life expectancy at birth: 70.6 years (State: 76.4 years)
  • Poverty rate: 31.6% (State: 14.4%)
  • Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 11.9% (State: 30.6%)
  • Median household income: $42,454 (State: $63,623)
  • Population: 28,255
  • County seat: Dillon
  • Counties considered in state: 46

South Dakota: Oglala Lakota County

Source: Steve Elliott from UK - SD and Oglala Lakota Nation / Wikimedia Commons
  • Avg. life expectancy at birth: 62.8 years (State: 78.2 years)
  • Poverty rate: 55.8% (State: 12.3%)
  • Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 8.1% (State: 30.4%)
  • Median household income: $32,279 (State: $69,457)
  • Population: 13,695
  • County seat: None
  • Counties considered in state: 61

Tennessee: Hancock County

Source: By Brian Stansberry - Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8860959
  • Avg. life expectancy at birth: 71.8 years (State: 75.3 years)
  • Poverty rate: 32.3% (State: 14.0%)
  • Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 9.9% (State: 29.7%)
  • Median household income: $31,809 (State: $64,035)
  • Population: 6,726
  • County seat: Sneedville
  • Counties considered in state: 95

Texas: Dimmit County

Source: BOB WESTON / iStock via Getty Images
  • Avg. life expectancy at birth: 76.6 years (State: 78.4 years)
  • Poverty rate: 43.6% (State: 13.9%)
  • Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 14.6% (State: 32.3%)
  • Median household income: $27,374 (State: $73,035)
  • Population: 8,672
  • County seat: Carrizo Springs
  • Counties considered in state: 237

Utah: San Juan County

Source: kenlund / Flickr
  • Avg. life expectancy at birth: 75.2 years (State: 79.7 years)
  • Poverty rate: 20.7% (State: 8.5%)
  • Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 19.1% (State: 36.1%)
  • Median household income: $52,108 (State: $86,833)
  • Population: 14,524
  • County seat: Monticello
  • Counties considered in state: 27

Vermont: Essex County

Source: Doug Kerr / Wikimedia Commons
  • Avg. life expectancy at birth: 79.8 years (State: 79.7 years)
  • Poverty rate: 13.2% (State: 10.4%)
  • Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 20.2% (State: 41.7%)
  • Median household income: $55,247 (State: $74,014)
  • Population: 5,976
  • County seat: Guildhall
  • Counties considered in state: 14

Virginia: Norton (independent city)

Source: Eli Christman / Wikimedia Commons
  • Avg. life expectancy at birth: 71.3 years (State: 79.1 years)
  • Poverty rate: 29.1% (State: 10.0%)
  • Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 19.4% (State: 41.0%)
  • Median household income: $36,974 (State: $87,249)
  • Population: 3,668
  • County seat: None
  • Counties and county equivalents considered in state: 133

Washington: Adams County

Source: afiler / Flickr
  • Avg. life expectancy at birth: 80.1 years (State: 80.2 years)
  • Poverty rate: 20.9% (State: 9.9%)
  • Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 14.7% (State: 38.0%)
  • Median household income: $63,105 (State: $90,325)
  • Population: 20,557
  • County seat: Ritzville
  • Counties considered in state: 39

West Virginia: McDowell County

Source: Coal town guy / Wikimedia Commons
  • Avg. life expectancy at birth: 67.7 years (State: 74.3 years)
  • Poverty rate: 33.3% (State: 16.8%)
  • Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 6.6% (State: 22.7%)
  • Median household income: $28,235 (State: $55,217)
  • Population: 18,911
  • County seat: Welch
  • Counties considered in state: 55

Wisconsin: Menominee County

Source: Michael-Tatman / iStock via Getty Images
  • Avg. life expectancy at birth: 69.5 years (State: 78.9 years)
  • Poverty rate: 20.0% (State: 10.7%)
  • Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 18.9% (State: 32.0%)
  • Median household income: $62,194 (State: $72,458)
  • Population: 4,279
  • County seat: Keshena
  • Counties considered in state: 72

Wyoming: Niobrara County

Source: Jllm06 / Wikimedia Commons
  • Avg. life expectancy at birth: 78.7 years (State: 78.1 years)
  • Poverty rate: 18.3% (State: 10.7%)
  • Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 20.0% (State: 29.0%)
  • Median household income: $54,375 (State: $72,495)
  • Population: 2,460
  • County seat: Lusk
  • Counties considered in state: 23

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