The 10 Worst Places To Live In Illinois For 2021

We used science and data to determine which places in the Prairie State are the real pits.

RoadSnacks is reader-supported. When you click through real estate links on our site, we earn an affiliate commission. Learn more.

Illinois. America’s heartland. The Land of Lincoln. Green summers, cold winters. Farmers and gangsters. And everything in between.

It’s not a flyover state. In fact, when you consider Chicago is possibly the best city in America, Illinois can make a case that it’s the most important state in the entire midwest.

Where you’ve got corn fields, corn hole, and some of the hardest-working, down-to-earth people in the country.

But is it all roses in Illinois? Of course not. Just like every other state, Illinois has its issues. The sore spots, if you will. The purpose of this post is to use science and data to determine which Illinois cities need a little tender loving care.

After analyzing 329 of the Prairie State’s most populous cities, we came up with this list as the 10 places that could use a hug right about now:

The 10 Worst Places To Live In Illinois For 2021

  1. Harvey
  2. Riverdale
  3. Dolton
  4. Markham
  5. Cahokia
  6. Hoopeston
  7. East St. Louis
  8. Kankakee
  9. Calumet Park
  10. Beardstown

What? Where are these places you wonder? And before you get all riled up and say we’re picking on small town America, that’s not the case.

We understand there’s a lot of good in every place.

However, according to data (which doesn’t measure things like beauty and ‘friendly people’), there are far better options in the state for making a place home. And the worst place to live in Illinois? That would be Harvey.

Read on below to see how we crunched the numbers and see how your city fared in 2021.

If you’re looking for something more national, check out the worst cities in America or the worst states in America.

For more Illinois reading, check out:

The 10 Worst Places To Live In Illinois For 2021

Harvey, IL

Overall SnackAbility


Population: 24,386
Rank Last Year: 12 (Up 11)
Median Home Value: $73,700
Unemployment Rate: 15.1%
More on Harvey:  Data | Photos

Part of a web of suburbs just south of Chicago, Harvey sits in the northeast part of the state, close to the Indiana border. The area is known for its severe problems with poverty and crime, making it one of the worst places to live in Illinois.

The 24,386 residents of Harvey suffer with a 15.1% unemployment rate and a median income of $30,306. Even the city itself is poor. In 2018, the city had its revenue garnished to make sure it paid pension liabilities.

Not everything in Harvey is bleak, though. Residents can head to the Kickapoo Meadows forest preserve on the north end of town, a spot famous for model airplane flying.

Riverdale, IL

Overall SnackAbility


Population: 12,793
Rank Last Year: 2 (No Change)
Median Home Value: $79,000
Unemployment Rate: 20.1%
More on Riverdale:  Data | Photos

Riverdale is another example of a group of rough suburbs located south of Chicago. Its 12,793 residents struggle with crushing unemployment, high crime, and an uninspiring education system. As a result, the town rate as the number 2 least appealing location in Illinois.

The economy is the main problem in the area. The unemployment runs a frightening 20.1%. The median income comes in at $35,711. These financial limitation lead to other challenges. The crime rate hovers more than 40% above the national average, and the local schools top out at a 5/10 on Great Schools.

Locals can find sanctuary in the outdoors, however. For such an urban location, Riverdale has a significant amount of green space, being bordered on three sides by forest preserves, including the Whistler Woods Forest Preserve to the north.

Dolton, IL

Overall SnackAbility


Population: 22,737
Rank Last Year: 28 (Up 25)
Median Home Value: $102,600
Unemployment Rate: 17.6%
More on Dolton:  Data | Photos

For a town of just 22,737 people, Dolton has produced more than its fair share of famous people. Former NFL quarterback Donovan McNabb, prominent movie reviewer Richard Roeper, and Glee star Jane Lynch all hail from the area. No wonder they left: Dolton stands as the number 3 least attractive location in Illinois to put down roots.

Dolton sits just south of Chicago, one of a number of economically challenged suburbs in the area. Locals face a 17.6% unemployment rate and a median income of $46,614. With such a limited tax base, the education system suffers. The top school in town only grabs a 4/10 on Great Schools.

Overall SnackAbility


Population: 12,493
Rank Last Year: 23 (Up 19)
Median Home Value: $90,000
Unemployment Rate: 15.6%
More on Markham:  Data

Early settlers knew the area around Markham as an important crossroads. That continues to be true today, as two major highways (I-57 and I-294) intersect near town. Unfortunately, you probably wouldn’t want to do much more than pass through the area. It counts as the number 4 worst location in the state.

Markham, located just south of Chicago has problems with high unemployment (15.6%) and low wages (median income: $43,011).

Still, the 12,493 residents of Markham have significant town pride. Take the story of the Lone Pine Tree. A German settler planted pine trees from Germany’s Black Forest in town in 1860. While the last of the original pines died in the 1980s, the town has planted a replacement. The Lone Pine now serves as the town’s symbol.

Cahokia, IL

Overall SnackAbility


Population: 14,162
Rank Last Year: 3 (Down 2)
Median Home Value: $47,900
Unemployment Rate: 13.4%
More on Cahokia:  Data | Photos

Cahokia is built on the eastern bank of the Mississippi River, across the water from St. Louis, Missouri. It was originally founded in the late 1600s – the town’s Church of the Holy Family is the oldest church on the western side of the Allegheny Mountains. These days, though, the town faces tough times. In fact, it serves as the number 5 worst spot to live in Illinois.

The 14,162 residents of the area face multiple problems. First, there’s the economy. The unemployment rate hangs at 13.4% and the median income comes in at $35,663. Second, there’s the town’s crime problem. The crime rate sits 170% above the U.S. norm. Along with these, Cahokia also suffers housing and education issues.

Hoopeston, IL

Overall SnackAbility


Population: 5,102
Rank Last Year: 6 (No Change)
Median Home Value: $62,500
Unemployment Rate: 8.8%
More on Hoopeston:  Data | Photos

If you’ve ever taken the backroads to or from Chicago, you might have passed through Hoopeston on Route 1. It seems to be a relatively quiet, clean place.

Here’s what science says about why Hoopeston needs some love: The unemployment rate is nearly 8.8%, residents earn about $43,914 a year, and home prices are just over $62,500. Across the board, those are in the bottom 10% in the state. Not absolutely horrible, but not desirable, either.

And there simply isn’t anything to do in Hoopeston. Don’t believe me? The city’s events calendar is…blank.

Maybe people in Hoopeston just need some friends. They don’t even have a Facebook page for their city. #FacebookforHoopeston

East St. Louis, IL

Overall SnackAbility


Population: 26,543
Rank Last Year: 5 (Down 2)
Median Home Value: $54,500
Unemployment Rate: 18.3%
More on East St. Louis:  Data | Photos

East St. Louis is clearly on this list. It’s a St. Louis suburb. You’ve heard of it if you live in Illinois. It was once 83,000 people. Now, it’s a third that size. And dropping by the month. This is the 328th poorest place in the state, and the 15th most violent, though it had the highest murder rate per capita in the nation at one point, and overall, a crime rate 18 times higher than the rest of the country. Crime used to be worse here, but as you can see, lots of the really bad areas were just knocked to the ground. So there’s less rundown areas in which to commit crimes these days.

What was once an all american city began its decline in the early 1970s when the middle class moved out of the area, and the resulting failed tax base meant basic city services, including police and fire departments, had trouble operating.

Much of the land outside of the city remains undeveloped, bypassed by folks who chose more affluent suburban areas. What’s left in city limits proper are widely scattered “inner city” neighborhoods, truck stops, adult venues, liquor stores and other blighted sections of town.

Most folks make about $24,343 a year on average.

Kankakee, IL

Overall SnackAbility


Population: 25,830
Rank Last Year: 4 (Down 4)
Median Home Value: $88,500
Unemployment Rate: 6.9%
More on Kankakee:  Data | Photos

Our 8th stop of the worst places in Illinois is in Kankakee, a little city of 25,830 people about a half hour south of the Chicago metro area along I-57.

A few years ago, Places Rated Almanac ranked Kankakee as the 354th best place to live in the country…out of 354 places. David Letterman heard that and made fun of the place, saying Kankakee put the Ill in Illinois, and the annoy in Illinois. He also said, “You’ll come for our payphone, and you’ll stay because your car’s been stolen.” But back in 1997, Readers Digest said this was one of the BEST places to live. So what happened? Like many of the cities we’ll talk about it was a loss of factory jobs beginning in the late 70s.

Even the Bears left from nearby Bourbonnais, where they had held training camp for like ever.

Today, 1 in 5 homes here is a single woman with kids and no father present. It’s also the 23rd most violent place in the state, too, because gangs are coming down here from Chicago’s south side. It’s also a relatively poor place. Kankakee ranks 284th for poverty, where about 30% of the community gets food stamps.

Calumet Park, IL

Overall SnackAbility


Population: 8,208
Rank Last Year: 54 (Up 45)
Median Home Value: $106,600
Unemployment Rate: 11.8%
More on Calumet Park:  Data | Photos

Another example of the uninviting suburbs that surround the South Side of Chicago, Calumet Park confers a significant number of challenges to its 8,208 residents. Jobs are hard to find, while housing and education are mediocre at best. As a result, Calumet Park ranks among the worst places to live in Illinois.

Locals struggle to find paying gigs. The unemployment rate stands at 11.8%, while 17.3% of people in the area make due with poverty wages. This, in turn, leads to a lackluster education, with schools in town reaching just a 5/10 on Great Schools.

Residents of Calumet Park due enjoy good access to amenities, however. Besides easy access to one of the country’s largest urban centers, the town sits just north of Whistler Woods Forest Preserve.

Beardstown, IL

Source: Public domain
Overall SnackAbility


Population: 5,682
Rank Last Year: 8 (Down 2)
Median Home Value: $68,900
Unemployment Rate: 8.8%
More on Beardstown:  Data | Photos

Situated in east-central Illinois, Beardstown has historically provided an economic hub for a largely rural area. Built along the Illinois River, it provided a key transportation center in the days before modern transportation. At one time, Abraham Lincoln served as a lawyer in a local murder trial.

These days, Beardstown has a different distinction. Now, it stands as the number 10 most unappealing place to put down roots in Illinois.

The local unemployment rate equals 8.8%, with 24.3% of the population toiling below the poverty line. Education and safety are also issues, with crime rate 120% above the U.S. norm.

How we determined the worst places to live in Illinois for 2021

To figure out how bad a place is to live in, we only needed to know what kinds of things people like and then decide what cities have the least amount of those things.

We don’t think it’s a stretch to assume that people like the following things:

  • Good education
  • Lots of jobs
  • Low crime
  • Low poverty
  • Nice homes
  • High incomes
  • High population density (Lots of things to do)
  • Short work commutes
  • Health insurance

The data comes from the Census’s most recent American Community Survey and from the FBI Uniform Crime Report.

We broke crime down into violent crime and property crime to give violent crime a larger weight — if you did a simple calculation of all crimes per capita, property crimes are normally 7x more common and really bias that ranking.

Furthermore, only cities with at least 5,000 people were considered — leaving 329 cities.

We then ranked each city from 1 to 329 for all the criteria with a #1 ranking being the worst for the particular criteria.

Next, we averaged the rankings into one “Worst Place To Live Score”.

Finally, we ranked every city on the “Worst Place To Live Score” with the lowest score being the worst city in Illinois — Harvey. Read on for a detailed look at the 10 worst cities in Illinois. You can download the data here.

This list is a scientific analysis based on real data and is completely unbiased.

Wrapping Up The Worst In Illinois

If you’re looking at areas in Illinois with the worst economic situations, where there’s higher than average crime, and not a lot to do, this is an accurate list.

And in the end, Harvey ranks as the worst city to live in Illinois for 2021.

If you’re curious enough, here are the best cities to live in Illinois:

  1. Chatham (Pop. 13,072)
  2. Western Springs (Pop. 13,272)
  3. Deerfield (Pop. 19,006)

For more Illinois reading, check out:

Where Are The Worst Places To Live In Illinois?

Rank City Population Unemployment Rate Home Value
1 Harvey 24,386 15.1% $73,700
2 Riverdale 12,793 20.1% $79,000
3 Dolton 22,737 17.6% $102,600
4 Markham 12,493 15.6% $90,000
5 Cahokia 14,162 13.4% $47,900
6 Hoopeston 5,102 8.8% $62,500
7 East St. Louis 26,543 18.3% $54,500
8 Kankakee 25,830 6.9% $88,500
9 Calumet Park 8,208 11.8% $106,600
10 Beardstown 5,682 8.8% $68,900
11 Harvard 9,281 9.3% $124,800
12 University Park 6,947 9.0% $124,100
13 Alton 26,640 9.2% $79,900
14 Robbins 5,037 10.3% $76,400
15 Salem 7,027 11.5% $78,500
16 Centralia 12,356 10.1% $69,400
17 Vandalia 6,909 6.5% $83,700
18 Metropolis 6,129 5.2% $73,800
19 Mount Vernon 14,742 8.6% $78,600
20 Danville 31,246 9.3% $66,700
21 Chicago Heights 29,856 13.1% $105,900
22 Blue Island 22,611 10.0% $122,700
23 Zion 23,858 9.1% $124,000
24 Chicago 2,709,534 8.1% $258,000
25 Summit 11,260 8.7% $170,800
26 Staunton 5,066 6.8% $99,700
27 Rockford 147,070 10.7% $91,600
28 Wood River 10,169 6.2% $81,600
29 Hillside 8,080 8.0% $171,900
30 Posen 6,149 13.5% $121,100
31 Waukegan 87,297 7.7% $132,200
32 Matteson 19,385 9.1% $165,100
33 Lansing 27,904 11.0% $129,900
34 Maywood 23,578 11.5% $151,300
35 Lynwood 9,279 10.9% $150,800
36 Pontoon Beach 5,793 6.6% $95,200
37 Broadview 7,755 11.6% $158,900
38 Carbondale 25,597 10.0% $117,500
39 Kewanee 12,547 7.6% $60,000
40 Carlinville 5,540 10.3% $91,600
41 East Moline 20,916 6.1% $110,800
42 Country Club Hills 16,758 16.7% $131,800
43 Bridgeview 16,124 7.1% $183,400
44 Richton Park 13,504 13.2% $146,000
45 East Alton 6,061 6.3% $81,100
46 Harrisburg 8,994 10.1% $69,800
47 Alsip 19,022 7.8% $171,400
48 Steger 9,366 8.4% $105,200
49 Galesburg 30,689 6.3% $75,900
50 Robinson 7,614 7.0% $77,600
51 South Holland 21,677 12.6% $150,600
52 Decatur 72,359 9.2% $83,000
53 Murphysboro 7,757 10.7% $70,500
54 Cicero 82,330 5.3% $165,100
55 Bartonville 6,249 4.5% $109,800
56 Herrin 12,827 6.2% $87,700
57 LaSalle 9,147 7.1% $92,600
58 Bellwood 18,996 8.9% $151,200
59 Hazel Crest 13,549 10.3% $113,200
60 DeKalb 42,908 9.5% $157,900
61 Rantoul 13,218 6.0% $85,900
62 Peoria 113,532 9.3% $125,700
63 Joliet 147,826 6.0% $181,100
64 Streator 12,653 6.7% $70,800
65 North Chicago 29,971 7.2% $108,100
66 Belleville 41,585 5.7% $93,700
67 Northlake 12,290 6.2% $181,700
68 Benton 6,971 8.7% $72,300
69 Rochelle 9,160 6.0% $114,500
70 Olney 8,723 8.0% $86,700
71 Chicago Ridge 14,153 6.6% $160,500
72 Belvidere 25,027 7.1% $110,300
73 Round Lake Park 7,817 4.1% $121,900
74 Monmouth 8,763 11.6% $75,800
75 River Grove 10,076 5.5% $211,200
76 Freeport 24,119 10.5% $72,100
77 South Beloit 7,900 6.0% $125,800
78 Rock Island 38,111 7.9% $104,600
79 Crete 8,118 8.4% $171,200
80 Beach Park 13,181 6.1% $150,900
81 Fox Lake 10,721 6.0% $161,100
82 Creve Coeur 5,213 7.1% $82,400
83 North Riverside 6,646 7.3% $249,400
84 Poplar Grove 5,270 7.1% $159,900
85 Schiller Park 11,621 5.3% $203,200
86 Fairfield 5,082 2.9% $74,800
87 West Frankfort 7,715 12.4% $62,700
88 Jacksonville 18,859 7.3% $103,900
89 Du Quoin 5,761 8.4% $66,400
90 Paris 8,372 5.9% $74,900
91 Loves Park 23,710 7.2% $111,900
92 Mattoon 17,394 6.6% $85,400
93 Springfield 115,888 7.1% $133,400
94 Elgin 112,653 5.7% $186,000
95 Round Lake Beach 27,507 4.9% $142,900
96 Melrose Park 25,605 4.6% $192,000
97 Crestwood 10,831 5.1% $154,300
98 Lincoln 13,652 8.1% $88,300
99 Manteno 8,539 6.0% $177,500
100 Plano 11,752 7.2% $165,500

How Is The Area In ?

Editor’s Note: This article is an opinion based on facts and is meant as infotainment. Don’t freak out we updated this article for 2021. This is our seventh time ranking the worst places to live in Illinois.

About Nick Johnson

Nick Johnson earned his masters in Business Administration from the Drucker School At Claremont Graduate University. He has written for 39 publications across the country and ran the media relations department at Movoto, a real estate portal based in San Francisco. He has been featured in over 500 publications as an expert in real estate and as an authority on real estate trends.

Nick's the creator of the HomeSnacks YouTube channel that now has over 260,000 subscribers and is an excellent source to learn about different parts of the country.