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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.
For more Michigan reading, check out:
- Best Places To Live In Michigan
- Cheapest Places To Live In Michigan
- Most Dangerous Places in Michigan
The 10 Worst Places To Live In Michigan For 2021
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.
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.
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 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.
Who is our 5th worst city in Michigan?
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.
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.
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!
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 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 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
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:
- Berkley (Pop. 15,372)
- East Grand Rapids (Pop. 11,759)
- Birmingham (Pop. 21,201)
For more Michigan reading, check out:
Where Are The Worst Places To Live In Michigan?