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"Welcome to Montana. Now leave."
That should be the state motto.
Montana is truly one of the nation's gems. One of the most beautiful states in all the land, you could get lost there for months and not even care. At least, the truly adventurous could.
A bunch of tough, hard-working, meat-eating, and all-around friendly bunch of folks, they'll welcome you with open arms as long as you act respectfully and keep their state awesome.
You could do a lot worse when you pick a place to live, that's for sure.
But is it all good in Big Sky Country? Of course not. Just like every other state, Montana has its least desirable spots. The purpose of this post is to use science and data to determine which cities are the worst you could possibly live in if you make Montana your home.
After analyzing 32 of the state's most populous cities (over 2,100 people), we came up with this list as the 10 worst places to live in the state of Montana:
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 Montana? That would be Hardin.
Read on below to see how we crunched the numbers and see how your city fared in 2020.
For more Montana reading, check out:
The 10 Worst Places To Live In Montana For 2020
About three or four beers east of Billings is the small town of Hardin. Here, the unemployment rate is sky high at 10.1%, which is the 3rd highest in Montana. As you might guess, the families here are bringing in less than it takes to be comfortable, at least for what most people would consider a decent living.
And, like we're seeing in other towns with economic issues, the crime is far above the norm for Montana.
Polson ranks as the 2nd worst place to live in Montana for 2020.
The issues Polson has is with its local economy. The unemployment rate is the 6th highest in Montana (7.7%), and as you might expect, the household salaries and home prices are both towards the bottom of Montana.
Welcome to Cut Bank, which might be one of the poorest areas in Montana. Residents average $36,485 a year in combined income, which is right at the poverty line. In fact, 23.4% of Cut Bank residents live below the poverty level.
Homes here go for an average of $119,900 and the unemployment rate hovers near 4.3%.
Shelby is a hot mess right now. There are some big economic problems here AND crime is really high. In fact, Shelby is the 10th most dangerous place you can live in Montana.
Residents in Shelby have a 1 in 28.7 chance of being the victim of a property crime. That's a lot of stolen laptops, cell phones and sunglasses.
When you're considering home prices, you can't do much lower than in Shelby, where average homes are valued at only$148,800. That's the 12th-lowest in the state. But residents earn far less than in other cities, so their mortgage payments might still seem overwhelming.
If you're looking to live in Montana, Malta might not be the best choice as it places 5th in our ranking of the worst places to live for 2020.
The unemployment rate here is 9.4%, and households bring in a combined $45,242 a year in income. That's not too far from the poverty line, even though money goes a lot further in the boonies of Montana.
Crime is the 10th highest in the state in Malta as well. Just not a very desirable place at all to make home.
South of Missoula on Route 93 is the beautiful city of Hamilton, tucked away at the base of the Bitterroot Mountains. However, while people here might 'hack out a living' to a certain extent, the economic outlook here is pretty bleak.
The average household brings in about $30,361 a year, and 19.2% of them live below the poverty line. Plus, in Montana terms, the crime rate is really high. Residents here have a 1 in 27.2 chance of being the victim of a property crime, meaning car and home break ins and other thefts. We're pretty sure Montana people know how to handle a gun.
Additionally, you have a 1 in 220 chance of being the victim of an attack, rape or outright murdered when you're within Hamilton city limits.
Perhaps they need to lay down the law more aggressively out here.
South of Missoula is the small town of Stevensville. Income levels are far lower than the state average, and the schools are some of the least funded in the state. Plus, you have a 1 in 98.3 chance of being robbed every year.
Rocker Huey Lewis has a permanent residence here now. Perhaps he'll write a song about Stevensville from his ranch one day.
LIttle Libby is having a hard time, at least when you look at the data. More than 11.6% of the people here are unemployed, and 17.6% live below the poverty line. The area was largely supported by logging and mining, which have since closed down. Tourism has helped the locals make up for that loss in jobs.
Additionally, the area around Libby has been dealing with a Superfund clean up for the last 15 years. Apparently, the soil is contaminated, and there have been major medical concerns as a result.
Beyond these facts, the schools are poorly rated and crime is above average, even way out here.
Libby is on Route 2 near the Idaho panhandle.
Livingston needs some tough love.
Years ago, someone told me the sun never shines in Livingston. That's not true, of course, but you can understand why she might say that when you analyze certain facts about Livingston. Of the 32 cities considered in this ranking, Livingston had the least to be proud of across the board.
Not only does Livingston have Montana's 26th lowest home value rank, but it also had the 21st and 14th 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 Montana."
If you know anyone in Livingston, tag them on Facebook and tell them you love them. They can probably use it right about now.
Here in Lewistown, you have some of the highest crime and the highest unemployment rates in Montana. That's not a good combination.
Located in Fergus County, you have a 1 in 76.6 chance of being the victim of a property crime when inside Lewistown city limits every year. Some of those crimes might be due to the relatively high unemployment rate (2.8%). That's good for the 22nd highest unemployment rate in Montana.
How we determined the worst places to live in Montana for 2020
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 2,000 people were considered -- leaving 32 cities.
We then ranked each city from 1 to 32 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 Montana -- Hardin. Read on for a detailed look at the 10 worst cities in Montana. 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 Montana
If you're looking at areas in Montana 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, Hardin ranks as the worst city to live in Montana for 2020.
If you're curious enough, here are the best cities to live in Montana:
- Glendive (Pop. 5,232)
- Glasgow (Pop. 3,348)
- Colstrip (Pop. 2,446)
For more Montana reading, check out:
Where Are The Worst Places To Live In Montana?