There’s a common denominator that all bad mid-sized cities have.
They are the places that have bad economies. They are the places where the school systems are in bad shape. They’re the places where people are out of work, and where residents earn low salaries.
If home prices are low, it’s a sign that there’s not a lot of demand to live there.
And certainly, if crime is really high, no one wants to be there at all.
The cities we used in this report are mid-sized cities that have populations between 68,000 and 108,000. Many are suburbs of major cities where things aren’t going very well right now, at least according to data, which measures the good things that people say they want in a city.
There might be some surprises on this list, but when you look at the unbiased data, it’s hard to argue against. We had more than 10 million people read our worst cities in a state series, which was featured in hundreds of media outlets, including an NPR feature.
So we know what we’re talking about.
After analyzing all 250 mid-sized cities in the country, here is our list of the worst such cities to live in America:
- Gary, IN
- Flint, MI
- Lehigh Acres, FL
- Hemet, CA
- Albany, GA
- Medford, OR
- Hesperia, CA
- West Palm Beach, FL
- Spring Hill, FL
- Redding, CA
You might be surprised to see some of these cities on this list. We understand there’s a lot of good in every place. However, according to data (which doesn’t measure things like beauty, ‘friendly people’ and community involvement), there are far better options in America for making a place home.
The best mid-sized city to live in America? Newton, Massachusetts. More on that later.
How do you decide if a place is lousy or not?
In order to rank the worst mid-sized cities to live in America, we had to determine what criteria people like or dislike about a place. It isn’t a stretch to assume that people like low crime, solid education, things to do and a stable economy.
So we scraped the internet for those criteria, asked for the opposite of those, and it spit out the answer. Like magic.
How we crunched the numbers
We threw a lot of criteria at this one in order to get the best, most complete results possible. Using FBI crime data, the government census, Bureau of Labor Statistics and Sperling’s Best Places, this is the criteria we used:
- Population Density (The lower the worse – meaning there’s less to do for indoor entertainment)
- Highest Unemployment Rates
- Adjusted Median Income (Median income adjusted for the cost of living)
- High Housing Vacancy Rate
- Education (Low expenditures per student and high Student Teacher Ratio)
- High Crime
If you’d like to see the complete list of cities, scroll to the bottom of this post to see a link to the entire data set.
Note: We get the crime numbers from the FBI, which gets its crime numbers from the cities themselves. This list is based on data, and is entirely unbiased.
1. Gary, Indiana
Home values: 2nd worst in America
Crime: 3rd highest in America
Median household income: $26,956
It wasn’t surprising when you look at the data on the top two ‘worst’ mid-sized cities to live in America. Gary, Indiana and Flint Michigan are both crime ridden, poor cities.
With Gary, average households bring in salaries that are just about at the poverty level in America. Meaning most people in Gary struggle to make ends meet every day. An unemployment rate that’s the 9th highest in the nation doesn’t help matters here, either.
There were 54 murders in this decaying city two years ago, and there aren’t any signs that things are going to improve any time soon.
The fact is, Gary gets an F when it comes to livability, when you take into account the desirable factors people say they want in a home town.
2. Flint, Michigan
Crime: 11th worst in the nation
Home values: Lowest in America
Income levels: Lowest in America
Detroit is the 3rd worst place in America, according to our analysis. Flint isn’t too far behind when you look at mid-sized cities. Income levels are even lower than they are in Flint, and homes average $50,500 each. That’s a sign that there is absolutely zero demand to live in Flint.
You see more expensive homes in the far reaches of Iowa.
Flint’s troubles continue at the school level. Public kids attend the 2nd most crowded schools in the nation for similarly sized cities. Sometimes, in the worst cities, the schools still get a lot of funding as a way to try and turn things around.
Not so in Flint. It’s almost as if the entire system has given up trying to make a change here.
3. Lehigh Acres, Florida
Unemployment rate: 5th highest in the nation
Home values: 10th lowest
Crime: 9th highest in the U.S.
Just about everyone outside of Florida hasn’t heard of Lehigh Acres, a pretty bad place to live on Florida’s west coast – just outside of Fort Myers.
Crime is really bad in Lehigh Acres, among other factors. Perhaps the 11.6% unemployment rate is a reason there are so many crimes occur here every year.
And when home prices are under $90,000, you can bet many other people in the area are aware of the unattractive factors that are at play in this Florida community.
4. Hemet, California
Income levels: 14th lowest in America
Schools: 18th most crowded
If you value good quality public schools, then you wouldn’t want to consider living in Hemet. Not only are the public schools some of the most overcrowded in the country, but there aren’t too many private schools to choose from in the area, either.
Hemet is about an hour’s drive east of Los Angeles, in the part of Riverside County that’s near the desert. Crime is in the top 15% in the nation, nearly 1 in 10 people are without jobs, and families earn just about $33,000 a year on a very expensive California budget.
Out of all of the potential cities to live in the greater Los Angeles basin, Hemet is the absolute worst, according to the data.
5. Albany, Georgia
Income: 6th lowest in America
Crime: 4th highest in the U.S.
Albany is a mid-sized city with a university in town, and a Marine base nearby. According to the data, it’s one of the worst places you can live in the south.
Crime is horrible here. There were 8 murders here in 2013, which is off the charts for a city so small. In addition, for every year you spend in Albany, you have a 1 in 16 chance of being the victim of a property crime, including home robberies and stolen cars.
If you live in Albany, you earn a meager salary. The average person earns just above the poverty line, which, frankly, makes it one of the poorest cities in the country.
6. Medford, Oregon
Schools: 5th most crowded
Crime: 6th highest in America
You might be thinking Medford? We understand. When you look at the numbers, Medford has some serious issues, though.
Medford isn’t a really dangerous place – you have a 1 in 159 chance of being the victim of a murder, rape or attack every year you spend here. We’ve seen much higher rates than that. However, when it comes to thefts and vandalisms, residents have a 1 in 16 chance of being a victim.
Nationally, that’s really high, and for Oregon, it’s off the charts.
Another issue with Medford are the public schools. There are few other cities with more crowded classrooms than in Medford.
All other factors were far below average as well.
7. Hesperia, California
Unemployment rate: 7th highest in America
Schools: 18th most crowded
Sure, Hesperia isn’t particularly dangerous. This desert community just outside of the LA sprawl has many other factors against it (beyond the fact that it can be just plain boring here.)
More than 11% of the population of Hesperia is without work, and where there are abundant jobs are more than an hour’s drive away. Plus, the public school system here is underfunded and overcrowded.
Home prices and income levels are in the bottom 30% in the nation for mid-sized cities in Hesperia.
8. West Palm Beach, Florida
Crime: Worst 15% in the country
Public schools: 5th most crowded
This may or may not come as a surprise for people living in Florida, who could probably rattle off many other cities down there that they think would be far worse to live in, but when you look at the data, things are not looking so swell in West Palm Beach.
Crime is really high here. Plus, there were 15 murders here in 2013. That’s just unacceptable for a city of 100,000 people.
And, like several other cities on this list, the schools are in bad shape.
More than 7% of the population here is out of work, and households bring in $45,000 a year – which doesn’t go a long way in Florida.
9. Spring Hill, Florida
Crime: 28th worst
Unemployment rate: 19th highest
Another Florida city cracks the top 10 here. Spring Hill is up the coast from Lehigh Acres. Here, crime is one of the highest in the country, and nearly 1 in 10 residents is out of work.
Other economic factors that stand out: Low incomes and cheap homes.
Does that sounds like a desirable place to live?
10. Redding, Calfornia
Redding doesn’t really stand out as being one of the worst in any category we measured. Overall, though, Redding ranges from bottom 10% to below average in all of them.
Incomes are far below average for a northern California family, as are their home prices, which is a sign that desirability is pretty low. Crime isn’t out of this world high, but residents still have about a 1 in 20 chance of being robbed every year they’re within city limits.
The fact that, like all of the other cities on this list, there are simply far more desirable places to live.
The next 20
Here are the grades for the next 20 cities on the list. The complete scoring chart is at the bottom (desktop only).
11. Perris, CA. Grade: C
12. North Charleston, SC. Grade: C
13. Canton, OH. Grade: C
14. Decatur, IL. Grade: C
15. Merced, CA. Grade: C
16. Muncie, IN. Grade: C
17. Gastonia, NC. Grade: C
18. South Bend, IN. Grade: C
19. Yuma, AZ. Grade: C
20. Lakeland, FL. Grade: C
There You Have It
If you’re looking at mid-sized cities in the U.S. where crime is high, people are broke, and the public schools are lousy, this is an accurate list.
Mobile users: Here’s a link to the complete data chart.
If you’re also curious enough, here are the best mid-sized cities in America, according to science.
- Newton, MA (Pop. 113,416)
- Plymouth, MN (Pop. 96,730)
- Arlington Heights, IL (Pop. 77,171)
- The Woodlands, TX (Pop. 105,509)
- Sugar Land, TX (Pop. 107,719)
We also wrote a story on the worst states in America to live. Click here to read it.
Disclaimer: This article is an opinion based on data. It should not be taken as fact.
Desktop users: Below is a chart of the worst mid-sized cities to live in America, from 1-250.