Quality of life in an American city often depends on the neighborhood one lives in, as abject poverty and crime can be found just blocks away from prosperity. Still, as much as a city can be judged on the whole, some cities face widespread problems that detract from their residents’ overall quality of life.
Americans take into consideration a number of factors when deciding where to live, including the quality of schools, the strength of the local economy and job market, the area’s safety and culture, as well as its climate. Cities that perform well by these measures are more likely to attract new residents, and those that do not tend to drive residents away.
To determine America’s worst cities to live in, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed data on the 551 U.S. cities with a population of 65,000 or more as measured by the U.S. Census Bureau. Based on a range of variables, including crime rates, employment growth, access to restaurants and attractions, educational attainment, and housing affordability, 24/7 Wall St. identified America’s 50 worst cities to live.
Here are the 10 worst cities on the list. To see the full list, Click here:
10. Wilmington, Del.
> Population: 71,957
> Median home value: $160,300
> Poverty rate: 26.0%
> Pct. with at least a bachelor’s degree: 25.4%
The typical Wilmington household earns $41,035 a year, far less than the median income nationwide of $55,755. However, adjusted for the city’s high cost of living — groceries cost 10% more in Wilmington than they do nationwide, housing costs 26% more, and utilities cost 37% more — real area incomes are even lower.
Poor cities with tough job markets tend to have the most crime, and Wilmington, where 26.0% of the population lives in poverty and 6.9% of the labor force is unemployed, is no exception. There were 1,708 violent crimes reported per 100,000 Wilmington residents in 2015, the fifth highest violent crime rate of any U.S. city.
9. Merced, Calif.
> Population: 82,440
> Median home value: $204,400
> Poverty rate: 35.1%
> Pct. with at least a bachelor’s degree: 19.5%
Merced is located about 75 miles east of San Jose, Calif. While it does not face the same level of risk as those cities closer to the San Andreas fault, a serious earthquake is not out of the question for the California city. More tangible difficulties making the city a less than desirable place to live include an annual unemployment rate of 10.7%, worse than nearly any other city in the United States. In addition, Merced’s poverty rate of 35.1%, which is more than double the national rate of 14.7%, is the 10th worst among the 551 cities considered.
Relative to the size of its population, Merced is generally lacking in amenities, including below average numbers of restaurants, bars, libraries, and museums per capita.
8. Hartford, Conn.
> Population: 124,014
> Median home value: $159,200
> Poverty rate: 28.3%
> Pct. with at least a bachelor’s degree: 16.9%
Hartford is one of many cities in New England where the population is shrinking as more residents move south in favor of a low cost of living and good job market. With goods and services costing 17 cents more on the dollar in Hartford than they do nationwide, the city is one of the most expensive in the country. Hartford is also tied with Flint, Mich., and Compton, Calif., as the city with the seventh highest unemployment rate. An estimated 10.4% of the Hartford labor force was unemployed in 2015, nearly double the 5.3% national figure. While the U.S. population grew 3.9% in the last five years, Hartford’s population declined by 0.7%.
Hartford’s economic decline has led to widespread crime and poverty. Some 28.3% of Hartford residents live below the poverty line, far more than the 14.7% national poverty rate. There were 1,141 violent crimes per 100,000 residents in Hartford in 2015, one of the worst violent crime rates of any city.
7. Albany, Ga.
> Population: 71,109
> Median home value: $92,600
> Poverty rate: 32.0%
> Pct. with at least a bachelor’s degree: 19.0%
Population trends are often indicative of the desirability of a city. New residents are often attracted by a healthy economy and job market, while residents flee areas with a poor economy, a high crime rate, and widespread poverty. As the national population expanded by 11.5% over the last decade, the population of Albany declined by 4.0%.
This decline appears to reflect some of the problems the southern Georgia city faces. Albany’s job market, for example, does not compare favorably to most U.S. cities. The city’s annual unemployment rate is 7.9%, compared to the 5.3% national unemployment rate. Similarly, while the U.S. workforce grew by 4.0% between 2013 and 2015, total employment in Albany declined by 1.7% over the same period, the second largest employment decline out of the 551 cities reviewed. Almost one-third of the city’s population lives in poverty, well more than double the national poverty rate.
> Population: 600,154
> Median home value: $114,000
> Poverty rate: 26.8%
> Pct. with at least a bachelor’s degree: 23.9%
Some 26.8% of Milwaukee residents live in poverty, the highest poverty rate of any city in the state and well above the 14.7% U.S. poverty rate. The city also has the lowest median household income, at $37,495 a year, and second lowest unemployment rate, at 6.7%, in the state.
Economically stressed areas often struggle with higher rates of violent crime, and Milwaukee is no exception. There were 1,596 violent crimes for every 100,000 city residents in 2015, more than triple the violent crime rate in the next most dangerous Wisconsin city and the sixth-highest violent crime rate of U.S. cities. Due in part to the city’s high crime rate, Milwaukee was one of a handful of U.S. cities selected in 2016 to receive federal assistance to reduce violence.
5. Memphis, Tenn.
> Population: 655,760
> Median home value: $94,400
> Poverty rate: 26.2%
> Pct. with at least a bachelor’s degree: 24.9%
One of the largest cities to make this list, Memphis struggles with several issues that make it a less than desirable place to live. Chief among these is one of the worst crime rates of any major city. The city’s annual violent crime rate of 1,740 incidents for 100,000 residents, which is close to five times the national rate, is fourth highest of the 551 cities considered. The city’s property crime rate of 5,631 for every 100,000 residents is more than double the national rate.
Memphis’ housing is relatively inexpensive, but like many cities on this list, that likely largely reflects the ability of Memphis’ citizens to pay. Over one-quarter of the population lives in poverty, and the typical household’s income is less than $37,000, compared to the national median household income of $55,775.
4. St. Louis
> Population: 315,685
> Median home value: $130,800
> Poverty rate: 24.9%
> Pct. with at least a bachelor’s degree: 34.7%
St. Louis is representative of the economic decline that afflicted many large industrial cities over the latter part of the 20th century. Decades of manufacturing decline, white flight, and exclusionary zoning in St. Louis have led to some of the worst urban decay, racial segregation, and income inequality of any major city today. Some 24.9% of St. Louis residents live in poverty, far more than the 14.7% national figure. St. Louis has struggled with a high crime rate since the 1960s and today has the highest violent crime rate of any U.S. city. There were 1,817 violent crimes reported per 100,000 St. Louis residents in 2015, nearly five times the national rate.
Many of the economic problems in St. Louis are tied to the city’s rapid population decline. The city’s population is less than half of what it was during its 1950 peak of 860,000 people, and it continues to decline today. While the U.S. population grew 11.5% over the last 10 years, the number of residents in St. Louis fell 5.4%.
3. Flint, Mich.
> Population: 98,297
> Median home value: $25,900
> Poverty rate: 40.8%
> Pct. with at least a bachelor’s degree: 11.8%
Like many other rust belt cities, Flint’s downward spiral is closely tied to the decline of the American manufacturing industry. General Motors once provided some 30,000 at its Flint-based Buick manufacturing plant, all of which are now gone. Recently, the city was at the center of national attention when, in 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency announced the presence of dangerously high levels of lead in Flint’s public water.
A lack of reliable municipal services and the gutting of the city’s economic backbone has had major consequences. The typical Flint household earns only $25,342 a year, less than half the nationwide median income and the second lowest in the Great Lakes region. Additionally, the city’s 40.8% poverty rate is the highest in the nation. In the last 10 years, Flint’s population has declined by 12.2%, one of the steepest declines of any U.S. city.
2. Birmingham, Ala.
> Population: 214,911
> Median home value: $93,000
> Poverty rate: 29.2%
> Pct. with at least a bachelor’s degree: 25.3%
Declining population and declining jobs in a city is indicative of a struggling economy, particularly when the vast majority of major cities are growing. Of the 551 large cities reviewed, the population fell in only 42 over the past decade, and annual employment declined in less than 30 over the last two years. Birmingham is one of the exceptions in both cases, with a 3.3% 10-year population loss and a 0.9% employment decline between 2013 and 2015.
Birmingham is one of the poorest cities in the United States. About 29.2% of the city’s population lives in poverty, roughly double the 14.7% U.S. poverty rate, and the typical household earns just $32,378 a year, over $23,000 below the national median household income.
> Population: 677,124
> Median home value: $42,600
> Poverty rate: 39.8%
> Pct. with at least a bachelor’s degree: 14.2%
Once the fourth largest city by population and wealthiest by income per capita, Detroit’s economic decline over the past several decades may be the largest of any U.S. city. Detroit’s population is approximately one-third of what it was at its 1950 peak of 1.8 million people, and it continues to decline at a near nation-leading pace. The number people living in Detroit fell 19% over the past 10 years to just 677,124 today, the second largest population decline of any large city over that period. The typical Detroit household earns just $25,980 a year, less than half the $55,755 national median household income.
There were 1,760 violent crimes reported per 100,000 Detroit residents in 2015, the second highest violent crime rate of any U.S. city. Crime and overall urban decay have depressed real estate prices in the city to a fraction of their former value. The typical occupied home in Detroit is worth just $42,600, the lowest median home value of any city other than nearby Flint.
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