The 10 Worst Places To Live In Michigan For 2021


We used science and data to determine which cities in the Wolverine need a little TLC right about now.

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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 Michigan.

Thrillist just ranked Michigan as the best state in the nation, which should really come as no surprise to anyone. With its four legitimate seasons, natural wonders, regional diversity and seemingly endless waterfront, it's no wonder that Michigan would top all 49 of the lesser states on any list you might want to throw together.

All the same, anyone familiar with Michigan knows there are places that need some real TLC right now. And it's not just Detroit. In fact, there are cities that might need a hug even more than Detroit. Here are the 10 cities in the Great Lakes State who have it a little rough right now.

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 Michigan? That would be River Rouge.

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 Michigan reading, check out:

The 10 Worst Places To Live In Michigan For 2021

River Rouge, MI

Source: Public domain
Overall SnackAbility

3
/10

Population: 7,502
Rank Last Year: 3 (Up 2)
Median Home Value: $36,300 (2nd worst)
Unemployment Rate: 24.0% (worst)
More on River Rouge:  Data | Photos

River Rouge is built along the Detroit River, across the water from Canada. It sits just south of Detroit, about 15 minutes from the city center. Like many rust-belt communities, River Rouge has been hit hard by a changing economy, turning it into one of the worst places to live in Michigan.

Jobs are scarce in the area. The unemployment rate runs a depressing 24.0%. Wages are low as well, with a median income of$25,517. As a result, 42.2% of the residents make due below the poverty line.

There are pleasant aspects of life in River Rouge. The river provides scenic views and the community supports a vibrant nightlife.

Dowagiac, MI

Source: Public domain
Overall SnackAbility

2
/10

Population: 5,743
Rank Last Year: 7 (Up 5)
Median Home Value: $71,100 (15th worst)
Unemployment Rate: 11.5% (10th worst)
More on Dowagiac:  Data | Photos

Located in the southwest portion of the state, Dowagiac serves as the key community for the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians. Times are tough for the 5,743 residents of the community. A rough economy and weak schools make it one of the least appealing places in Michigan to put down roots.

Poverty runs rampant in town. In fact, 32.7% of the population has to struggle below the poverty line. This comes along with a 11.5% unemployment rate and a median income sits of $33,520.

Given the lack of funds, it's not surprising that the educational system suffers. Schools in the area top out at 6/10 on Great Schools.

Still, Dowagiac holds much cultural significance. Check out the town's Heddon Museum or its Dowagiac Area History Museum for examples.

Detroit, MI

Overall SnackAbility

3
/10

Population: 674,841
Rank Last Year: 4 (Up 1)
Median Home Value: $49,200 (8th worst)
Unemployment Rate: 15.7% (5th worst)
More on Detroit:  Data | Photos

Blame the unions. Blame free trade. Blame innovation. Whoever you want to pin the blame on for Detroit's demise, you'd probably be correct.

Entire areas of Detroit have been demolished and turned back to nature. Crime is deplorable. Half of the murders in the whole state are within Detroit's city limits. And the covid thing and the blm protests have made murders spike here even higher.

We know how bad the crime here is and how poor a lot of people are. It's top five in the nation for both. And we hear about a Detroit renaissance happening. But man...

Here's an interesting note: It's estimated that up to 70% of the murders in Detroit are drug related. Okay, so that's refreshing. Stay out of trouble, and your chances of dying here drop drastically.

BUT: Thank you to the people of Detroit for all of the work you did in building our first cars and other vehicles. Thanks to the people of this state for the huge part you played in World War 2! Much of our nation's innovation and growth was due to the hard working people in the metro Detroit area a long time ago.

Highland Park, MI

Overall SnackAbility

3
/10

Population: 10,867
Rank Last Year: 1 (Down 3)
Median Home Value: $45,700 (6th worst)
Unemployment Rate: 22.6% (2nd worst)
More on Highland Park:  Data | Photos

Highland Park is entirely surrounded by Detroit, and it is so bad that Detroit's government won't even consider absorbing Highland Park into the larger city due to the fact that all of Detroit's unflattering crime and unemployment statistics would instantly be made worse. If you live in Detroit and you're passing through Highland Park, give a friendly wave and a smile. You need each other's support right about now.

Highland Park ranks 2nd in all of Michigan in unemployment, 8th in overall crime, 5th from the bottom in adult drop out rates, and it has the worst average income level in the state. In fact, the only thing saving Highland Park is a middle of the road population density, so there's at least something to do while you look for a job.

Benton Harbor, MI

Overall SnackAbility

2
/10

Population: 9,843
Rank Last Year: 5 (No Change)
Median Home Value: $63,300 (10th worst)
Unemployment Rate: 14.0% (6th worst)
More on Benton Harbor:  Data | Photos

Who is our 5th worst city in Michigan?

Benton Harlem.

Benton Harlem?

That's what everyone there calls it.

I think that's really insensitive. Why is Benton HarBOR so bad? Things are not good here. This little inner city along the Lake Michigan shoreline has the 6th highest unemployment rate and the 5th highest dropout rate. It's also the 6th highest in the state for crime.

The unemployment rate here is insane and so many people are on welfare. There were riots here in 2003, and parts of this community still haven't recovered. But they are making a comeback - they've cleaned up downtown, built a championship PGA golf course, some new trendy restaurants and breweries, shops, marinas and hotels.

Romulus, MI

Overall SnackAbility

4
/10

Population: 23,527
Rank Last Year: 12 (Up 6)
Median Home Value: $97,300 (48th worst)
Unemployment Rate: 10.6% (13th worst)
More on Romulus:  Data | Photos

The impressively named Romulus (as in the mythical founder of Rome) doesn't quite live up to its lofty namesake. In fact, the town ranks as one of the least impressive spots in all of Michigan.

Located in the southeast section of the state, Romulus faces serious economic and safety issues. The unemployment rate sits at 10.6%, while 17.2% don't make enough to live above the poverty level. Meanwhile, the crime rate is more than 50% above the U.S. norm.

Romulus does provide a significant transportation hub for the area. It contains the Detroit airport, as well as a key interstate intersection, making it an important gateway to the region.

Pontiac, MI

Overall SnackAbility

3
/10

Population: 59,955
Rank Last Year: 8 (Up 1)
Median Home Value: $67,100 (12th worst)
Unemployment Rate: 11.9% (9th worst)
More on Pontiac:  Data | Photos

There would be a temptation to put Pontiac on this list simply because the Silverdome, with its deflated roof and gutted interior, is one of the biggest eyesores in the state. It's hard to think of it as the site where 93,000 fans once gathered to watch Wrestlemania III.

An eyesore that definitely landed Pontiac on this list of worst cities is the city's unemployment rank, which was second from the bottom, incomes and home values in Michigan's lowest 20 percent, and a crime rate in the top 20 percent. With statistics like that, we couldn't keep Pontiac off this list even if the Silverdome's ruins were made of actual silver.

The people of Pontiac are undoubtedly trying to pull themselves up from their bootstraps and could use a kind thought right about now.

Poor Pontiac - They've been neglected a lot. First, in the 60s, they covered over the Clinton River in concrete. That sucks. Then in 2002 the Lions moved from the Silverdome to downtown. Then the Silverdome got demolished. Then in 2009, Pontiac Motors shut down as did other car makers, leaving 20,000 people out of work. Then in 2011, Pontiac's police department shut down. A year later, the fire department shuttered. Then a lot of the school closed.

I mean how much neglect can one city take my god my god.

They're trying to make a comeback here. There was lots of discussion about how Pontiac is no longer under water financially, and how new businesses and developments are beginning here. So that's fabulous!

Muskegon Heights, MI

Overall SnackAbility

3
/10

Population: 10,748
Rank Last Year: 9 (Up 1)
Median Home Value: $43,900 (5th worst)
Unemployment Rate: 16.5% (4th worst)
More on Muskegon Heights:  Data | Photos

Okay folks for our next worst place to live in Michigan is Muskegon Heights -- a teeny place with a population of about 10,000 people.

Muskegon Heights is a struggling community just south of Muskegon, along the Lake Michigan shoreline. The out of work rate is the 4th worst in the state, where about 16.5% of the community hasn't worked in a long time, and many may not ever work again. It's called chronic unemployment. Or, lack of ambition.

But it's the crime that's so bad here. Statistically, this is the most violent place in the state, where you have a 1 in 20 chance of being the victim of a crime. The high school drop out rate here is 30%. And, the number of convenience stores per capita is the 4th highest in the state.

Highland Park is the most dangerous place, per capita in Michigan, and where half the community lives in poverty, sadly.

Lapeer, MI

Source: Public domain
Overall SnackAbility

4
/10

Population: 8,676
Rank Last Year: 2 (Down 7)
Median Home Value: $111,900 (57th worst)
Unemployment Rate: 7.0% (44th worst)
More on Lapeer:  Data | Photos

Lapeer is the birthplace of Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols, and it seems sadly appropriate that such one of the smallest cities on this list was able to produce one of the worst human beings on earth. The folks up here could use some kind thoughts right about now.

Although it has the highest home values of any city on this list, it still ranks in Michigan's bottom third in crime, and it's firmly in the state's bottom fifth in income, education and unemployment. Further contributing to Lapeer's ranking among the dregs of the state is the fact that it spends less money on its students that all but four cities in Michigan.

Flint, MI

Overall SnackAbility

3
/10

Population: 96,559
Rank Last Year: 10 (No Change)
Median Home Value: $29,500 (worst)
Unemployment Rate: 19.7% (3rd worst)
More on Flint:  Data | Photos

Flint needs some tough love.

Years ago, someone told me the sun never shines in Flint. That's not true, of course, but you can understand why she might say that when you analyze certain facts about Flint. Of the 145 cities considered in this ranking, Flint had the least to be proud of across the board.

Not only does Flint have Michigan's lowest home value rank, but it also had the 3rd and 28th highest rankings in unemployment and crime respectively. Statistics like that will certainly make the sun shine a bit dimmer, and it will win you are in contention for title of "Worst City in Michigan."

If you know anyone in Flint, tag them on Facebook and tell them you love them. They can probably use it right about now.

How we determined the worst places to live in Michigan 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 145 cities.

We then ranked each city from 1 to 145 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 Michigan -- River Rouge. Read on for a detailed look at the 10 worst cities in Michigan. 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 Michigan

If you're looking at areas in Michigan 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, River Rouge ranks as the worst city to live in Michigan for 2021.

If you're curious enough, here are the best cities to live in Michigan:

  1. Berkley (Pop. 15,372)
  2. East Grand Rapids (Pop. 11,759)
  3. Birmingham (Pop. 21,201)

For more Michigan reading, check out:

Where Are The Worst Places To Live In Michigan?

Rank City Population Unemployment Rate Home Value
1 River Rouge 7,502 24.0% $36,300
2 Dowagiac 5,743 11.5% $71,100
3 Detroit 674,841 15.7% $49,200
4 Highland Park 10,867 22.6% $45,700
5 Benton Harbor 9,843 14.0% $63,300
6 Romulus 23,527 10.6% $97,300
7 Pontiac 59,955 11.9% $67,100
8 Muskegon Heights 10,748 16.5% $43,900
9 Lapeer 8,676 7.0% $111,900
10 Flint 96,559 19.7% $29,500

How Is The Area In ?

35 thoughts on “The 10 Worst Places To Live In Michigan For 2021

  1. I am from Escanaba. I live in Las Vegas now but still have friends and family in Esky. This article is complete BS. The crime rate in Escanaba fits in a small column in the police blogger in the news paper. Two murders in 4 years is nothing compared to where I live now. The crime here daily would take up several pages of the newspaper. There are some beautiful buildings in downtown Esky and to take a picture of one of the worst buildings is just wrong. Escanaba depends a lot on tourism so saying it is one of the worst cities in Michigan is not helping anything. And why is Detroit not on this list?

    1. You haven’t been back lately , call the hospital with all the crack an meth babies. The jail is so full their releasing criminals every day . Wake up , the old u.p. is gone!

  2. Not only did the author not know where Escanaba is, they apparently don’t know that Beecher is NOT a city. The Beecher district is in FLINT, so basically the first two worst cities to live in are Flint and Flint.

    1. Please do not ever consider moving to Escanaba or any place in the Yoop!! It is awful up here! The snow….. I have to get work by sled dog! No indoor plumbing and the worst is firing up the propane phone!

      1. That’s what i would expect yoopers to say they don’t really like visitors….its funny all them ppl above saying dont come to escanaba

    1. I wonder if the “reporters” who wrote this article have ever visited Lapeer. If they had, they would notice a vibrant, growing, beautiful city. I have lived in Lapeer my entire 47 years, and I have never been a victim of a crime. In addition to that, they may be grouping the county in with their “facts” on crime and unemployment. It is true that Lapeer County has a higher unemployment rate, but the county is made up of numerous rural communities. Lapeer city itself is absolutely a perfect place to raise a family. I don’t know why I let these idiotic biops make me mad, but this one hits home, literally.

  3. The lakefront property in Muskegon is absolutely beautiful and far from the horrible area that skews the numbers for his statistics.

  4. LOL this article is truly a joke and completely false…..for several reasons! Any one can pull up a photo that looks like a run down , pre-demo building and pull up some statistics …. but that doesn’t mean squat to what the rest of the town looks like, thrives on, or has to offer in regards to safety, scenery, family values,actually knowing your neighbors and feeling safe in your homes or walking down the street! Escanaba has the most beautiful park and marina and the small town mentality that’s evaporating out of this crazy fast paced “lost” world. Just Ask Gust Asp – is a Landmark!! Its the place I use to buy penny candy! The memories so many of us share going back there whether its been being born and raised there, left and come back to visit, summer camping, hunting trips….etc…..The best place to be from! Gods Country!

    1. I agree, until you have been visited the area you have no clue what the area has to offer, the beauty is breath taking, the air is so fresh. LOVE it up their.

  5. Escanaba being on the list and not Detroit just made this entire article non-creditable. This cannot be serious journalism.

  6. This is bs I moved to Lapeer from clinton township I have never felt more safe then here and detroit is not even on here someone should sue him for slander causing out homes value down. He is an ass come here and check it out I dare him to !!!!!!

  7. I totally disagree with the choice of Greenville. Greenville has excellent schools that have excellent educators, miles of trails to walk or bicycle, the crime rate in the city is not high, what has been factored in the crime rate of Montcalm County and the same is true of the low income. The picture chosen does not represent Greenville. Greenville has a large medical community, an excellent hospital and medical staff is top notch. Likewise the Public Safety Department is top notch and they are not dodging bullets as this piece seems to imply. The festival referred to is one that celebrates the heritage of the city which is Danish and of which Greenville is very proud.

    The person writing this article has obviously not visited or researched the cities that he is writing about. Better look in your own backyard before you reach out to destroy other communities. Get your facts correct before you make yourself look like an idiot.

    1. Greenville has the worst public safety dept. I have ever experienced, when the police officers hang out in the local bars on weekends, in a town with a population of 8500 that’s a serious problem!

  8. I think Gelding and Orleans should both be on the list cause neither city has any place to go for any age. Both are low jobs and many homes up for sell. And drugs.

  9. The lack of legitamacy in this article is obvious just because Detroit is not even on it. Plus, the fact that u included quality of school tells me this is inaccurate. Michigans system for grading school districts is a complete joke. Whoever wrote this a

  10. I totally agree with most of the others posters about Escanaba should NOT be on this list. I have lived most of my life here in the good ole UP of Michigan and I have traveled the world being military. The only thing I ever found disagreeable about Esky is the streets and drivers more so than streets. Other than that it is one of the nicest friendliest places to live here in the UP.
    I am a YOOPER and I am PROUD!!!
    The writer should go and do some real research on these cities instead of just writing crap for his report.
    Oh and by the way Detroit most definitely should have been on this list.

  11. I wonder if the “reporters” who wrote this article have ever visited Lapeer. If they had, they would notice a vibrant, growing, beautiful city. I have lived in Lapeer my entire 47 years, and I have never been a victim of a crime. In addition to that, they may be grouping the county in with their “facts” on crime and unemployment. It is true that Lapeer County has a higher unemployment rate, but the county is made up of numerous rural communities. Lapeer city itself is absolutely a perfect place to raise a family. I don’t know why I let these idiotic biops make me mad, but this one hits home, literally.

  12. I have to say Escanaba being on this list is complete BS. I’m from Ishpeming, proudly, but our community is far worse than Escanaba and can think of dozens of communities across Michigan and the UP that are worse.

    Escanaba is a leader in the UP in technological manufacturing, one of the more beautiful shorelines in the UP and a sense of community as well. Escanaba has a top notch school system, several local golf courses, amazing restaurants and shops and a unique charm.

    I would suggest traveling to Escanaba before you even consider putting this community on the list.

  13. I have one thing to say, and I know the other Hooper’s may disown me…
    Yeah, Ishpeming is bad….Esky isn’t great……but u forgot K.I. Sawyer!!!!

  14. Alpena should be #1. rudest people you will ever meet starting with the hospital. Half of the time it smells. Tried to find an upscale place to have dinner and there are none.

  15. If you grew up near Escanaba, have friend and family there, then it’s actually a cool little town. Otherwise Don’t even waste your time. There is really nothing here except endless fast food restaurants, dive bars, pill and meth’d out welfare white trash. Then they want to build more low income house units to fill the town with more trash. There are not very many attractive people there. You can find a house for cheap, but you will also find a lot of young punk kids that never get put in jail. You will also have crooked cops which includes off duty drunk drivers. Some of these guys get a hard on putting people away for minor crimes. Years ago Escanaba was much better. Unfortunately it’s turning into a really bad place to live. Detroit is so much better. Sooner or later Escanaba will be about number ten on that list at this rate.

  16. Niles? What the Niles area is not that bad. The people in Niles are great people. Love going to the Apple Fest/ ice fest. The people there support the community. Benton Harbor, St Joseph, Niles and Dowagiac. Yeah I will admit Benton Harbor has had its problems. But I have driven through this small city with no problems. The schools are improving believe it or not. They have a good plan to turn things around. St Joseph nice beaches great food downtown. Dowagiac nice community. Great food downtown. Dowagiac’s Sister Lakes resort area fun in the summer. Dowagiac schools are in the middle of a 36 million improvements. Dowagiac a lot of history. Very interesting area.

  17. Dowagiac ! I don’t think your statistics are accurate. Why would so many Chicago residents own summer homes on the lakes around this town. Why would they come to shop and dine in the restaurant’s downtown Dowagiac. A Michigan travel magazine listed downtown Dowagiac in the top 10 best in Michigan. If their was so many low income families then why would the residence invest 36 million into there schools. I have lived in this town most of my life and I have never felt afraid to walk anywhere. Apparently the Chicago residents don’t either. The Dowagiac/Sister Lakes area population triples in the Summer months. It’s good place to live. You are within 30 minutes from Lake Michigan beaches, Major shopping Centers less than 30 minute drive in South Bend / Mishawaka. Snowmobile trails, hiking trails, nice parks, canoeing , cross country downhill skiing at Swiss Valley. Many lakes to fish , tube and ski. Southwestern Michigan College nice campus with many students from all over the Midwest live on campus dorms and the all say “WE LOVE IT HERE!”

  18. Highland park never asked to be part of Detroit infant they do all they can to stay separate also it’s not totally inside of Detroit it touches Hamtramck who also did all it could to stay separate from Detroit. River Rouge & Ecorse are pretty much also surrounded inside of Detroit & much of Downriver is bleak & a continuation of Detroit as it is also Wayne County.

  19. And since I pastied my way around the U.P., I can honestly say, IMHO, that Escanaba makes the best of the best. Of course, none that I ate were bad. It’s just that the pasties in Escanaba stood out.

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