Ah, the P.A. Where you’ve got two liberal bookends, and in between, some pretty rural stretches of conservatism. The only place in the country where all the sports teams have the same colors, and where the fans actually know what the heck they’re talking about.
And then there’s the food and the culture. Plus, Pittsburgh has been named as one of the best cities in the nation many times over now.
Pennsylvania might be one of the most interesting and unique states in the nation.
Is it all good in the Keystone State? Of course not. Just like every other state, PA has its least desirable spots. The purpose of this post is to use science and data to determine which places are the worst you could possibly live in if you make Pennsylvania your home.
After analyzing 258 of the state’s most populous cities (over 5,000 people), we came up with this list as the 10 worst places to live in the state of Pennsylvania:
You’re probably thinking, “Where the heck are those places?” Before you get all riled up, we understand there’s a lot of good in every place. We’re not picking on rural America.
However, according to data (which doesn’t measure things like beauty and friendly people), there are far better options in Pennsylvania for making a place home.
Read on below to see how we crunched the numbers and see how your city fared. Pittsburgh is somewhere in the middle. Philadelphia trends toward worse, and State College is one of the best places you can live in the state.
The best place to live in Pennsylvania? That would be Penn Wynne, by far. And everyone can take solace in the fact that, at the very least, none of these places are in New Jersey.
How do you decide if a place has some real issues or not?
In order to rank the worst places to live in PA, 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, great weather, 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.
1. New Castle
When you’re looking at science and data, the city of New Castle is by far the worst place you can live in the state of Pennsylvania. Let’s see why.
First off, New Castle has the 6th highest crime rate in the state of Pennsylvania. Is that a surprise? You have a 1 in 21 chance of being the victim of a property crime for every year you spend in New Castle city limits. That means a lot of stolen laptops, cell phones and hoagies.
Plus, in terms of violent crimes, you have a 1 in 108 chance of being the victim of a violent crime such as a rape or aggravated assault.
Additionally, at 6.7%, New Castle has the 11th highest unemployment rate in PA, and home values are only $58,000.
Considering New Castle falls well below the state average in all other statistics, it’s simply far and away the worst place you can live if you make Pennsylvania your home. No wonder the population here has dropped 11% in the last 10 years.
New Castle is located an hour north of Pittsburgh.
Just where is little Nanticoke? A little bit southwest of Scranton. And, boy are the schools pretty bad here, when comparing them to the rest of the state. Public school kids who live in Nanticoke get the 4th lowest spending per student and the 4th lowest amount of attention per student. That means overcrowded schools.
Additionally, the unemployment rate is at 6.5% and crime is in the worst 15% in the state. Home prices hover near $61,000. Not a good sign.
Welcome to Johnstown, which might be one of the poorest areas in the state. Residents average $25,000 a year in combined income, which is right at the poverty line. In fact, 26% of Johnstown residents live below the poverty level.
Homes here go for an average of $43,000 and the unemployment rate hovers near 7%. According to Wikipedia, several efforts have been made over the years to fix the eroding city, including cleaning up the drug use, as the population is leaving its city limits. The city has seen a 12% decrease in population in the last 10 years.
Johnstown is located two hours east of Pittsburgh on Route 119.
Wilkes-Barre, also just south of Scranton, is the largest city to make this list. Here, the public schools are also well underfunded. The unemployment rate is at 7%, and homes go for an average of $51,000 each.
Plus, the crime rate here is far above the state average. There were 12 murders here in 2013. Wow.
A thread on City-Data.com asking how Wilkes-Barre can be fixed is filled with comments ranging from job growth to cultural assimilation. For now, it’s a real pit, unfortunately.
Shenandoah is a borough located in the mining region 100 miles northwest of Philadelphia. Anyone with a pulse can purchase a home here; average homes sell for $33,000.
Say what you want about ‘cheap living.’ Homes are priced by demand, and there’s absolutely no demand to live in Shenandoah. The average family earns about $28,000 a year here.
Corry, PA is an isolated place along Route 6 near the New York state line. Besides the fact that residents might have to drive really far to get their Sheetz fix, the numbers indicate it’s a pretty lousy place, overall.
Homes sell for $65,000, income levels hover near $30,000, and the crime is above state average.
Hazleton really has a mess on its hands. The unemployment rate is sky high at 10.8%, which is the absolute highest in PA. The schools are the 3rd worst in the state. They’re underfunded and way overcrowded.
Plus, households bring in a paltry $31,200 a year in combined income.
It’s a former coal mining town south of Wilkes-Barre that’s seen its population shrink around 20% in the last 30 years. Not a very desirable place, indeed.
8. Dickson City
It’s official, the greater Scranton area is the worst place you can live in the state of Pennsylvania. Dickson City, a northern Scranton burb, has crime levels far above the state average, and an unemployment rate of 6.2%.
The public schools here are in the bottom 20% as well.
Tamaqua is another coal mining town in this same region of the state (south of Hazleton).
Here, homes are priced at $45,000, and residents earn around $31,000 a year, combined. Crime and education aren’t horrible, but they’re not great, either.
At least they have a Wawa within an hour distance in any direction.
Chester, PA needs a big hug right now. The unemployment rate here is 9%, the median income is just above the poverty line, and the crime is the 7th highest in the state. You have a 1 in 28 chance of being robbed here every year.
Oh yeah, and they had 22 murders in 2013.
Chester is right along the Delaware river, south of Philly. Youse could find a much better place to call home.
There You Have It
If you’re looking at areas in PA with the worst economic situations, where there’s higher than average crime and low-rated schools, this is an accurate list.
If you’re curious, Philadelphia has the 9th highest unemployment rate in the state (6.8%) and the 14th highest crime rate. Pittsburgh has the 20th highest crime rate, and its unemployment rate looks solid at 4.8%.
Mobile users: Here’s a link to the complete data chart.
If you’re also curious enough, here are the best places to live in Pennsylvania, according to science. They are all areas located on the western or northern side of Philadelphia.
- Penn Wynne (Pop. 5,912)
- Oreland (Pop. 5,692)
- Glenside (Pop. 7,467)
- Wyndmoor (Pop. 5,742)
- Montgomeryville (Pop. 12,905)
We also wrote a story on the 10 most redneck cities in PA. Click here to read it.
Disclaimer: This article is an opinion based on data. It should not be taken as fact.