“Tennessee is a lot more than country music and barbecue.”
Well said, random internet comment. Well said.
Tennessee has tons of history and culture. Friendly people, great food, and it’s one of the most beautiful states in the nation.
You could do a lot worse when you pick a place to live, that’s for sure.
But is it all good in the Volunteer State? Of course not. Just like every other state, Tennessee 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 Tennessee your home.
After analyzing 92 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 Tennessee:
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 Tennessee? That would be Covington.
Read on below to see how we crunched the numbers and see how your city fared in 2021.
For more Tennessee reading, check out:
- Best Places To Live In Tennessee
- Cheapest Places To Live In Tennessee
- Most Dangerous Cities In Tennessee
The 10 Worst Places To Live In Tennessee For 2021
Covington is just down the road from Ripley. Here, the public schools are some of the least funded in the state. If you value a good education, this isn’t a place for you. Kids who attend Covington public schools see the 10th lowest spending levels in terms of per-student ratios and teacher to student ratios.
Crime is far above average here, and the unemployment rate is 5.0%, which is the 49th highest in Tennessee. And, as you can imagine, many of the folks in Covington live at or below the poverty line.
Welcome to Ripley, Tennessee, where more people are out of work than anywhere else in the state. 1 in 7.6 people is without a job, and families bring in a combined $33,533 a year.
Crime is the 22nd highest in Tennessee, where you have a 1 in 27.7 chance of being the victim of a property crime, and every year, you have a 1 in 66 chance of being raped, attacked or murdered when you’re within Ripley city limits.
Plus, they’re completely isolated out here, What do you do for entertainment when you’re an hour north of the nearest Memphis suburbs?
Come to Morristown for a taste of American History. Davy Crockett once ran a tavern in town. You can still see a recreation of the establishment at the Crockett Tavern Museum.
How about life in modern Morristown? Not so tasty. This community in the northeast part of the state, about an hour outside of Knoxville, has serious problems.
More than a quarter of the town lives below the poverty line. That comes as a result of a 7.7% unemployment rate and a $32,193 median income. Housing and education fall below expectations. Meanwhile, the crime rate more than doubles the national average.
In the late 19th century, two brothers, Harvey and Grant LaFollette, founded a coal and iron company in north-central Tennessee. It closed down a few decades later, but a town named after the businessmen survives.
So what does a town based on a 100-year-old failed business venture look like? Well, you’ve probably already guessed: like one of the worst communities in the state. La Follette sports a jaw-dropping unemployment rate of 20.4% and a poverty rate approaching one-third.
Still, La Follette is located in beautiful country. You can take use the town to jump on the Cumberland Trail for an unbelievable hike.
Sweetwater is famous for its caves. Check out the Craighead Caverns, gateway to an underground lake known a the Lost Sea.
Life above ground doesn’t hold the same kind of adventure. Rather, day-to-day existence in Sweetwater might make you want to go hide in one of those darkened caverns. The town struggles with a 8.1% unemployment rate and a $40,158 median income.
Rockwood serves as the childhood home of Hollywood actress Megan Fox. It’s lucky she got out of town.
In a parallel universe, Megan is struggling with four kids in a town where 20% of the residents live below the poverty line. She’s also likely earning below $35,000 and worrying about a crime rate more than 140% above the national average. Suddenly, starring in a couple Transformers movies doesn’t seem so bad.
Still, it isn’t all bad in Rockwood. Watts Bar Lake is just to the south of town, offering parallel-universe Megan Fox amazing views and access to excellent water activities.
McMinnville likes to sell itself as the “Nursery Capital of the World.” As in plants, not babies. For babies, you’re probably better raising them somewhere else, given the economic realities of life in town.
Just under a third of the town’s residents scrape by in sub-poverty conditions. Crime is nearly 80% higher than the national average. Meanwhile, none of the local schools score better than 6/10 on Great Schools.
All that taken into account, the Nursery Capital of the World does offer some advantages. Check out the Falcon Rest Mansion & Gardens to see the kind of picturesque settings you can find in an area known for its flowers and greenery.
Millington is located in the western part of Tennessee, very far away from any oceans. And yet, it serves as home for the Naval Support Activity Mid-South naval station. But don’t worry…it’s not like the navy got confused. The facility is used for training and support operations.
The naval station also provides an economic boost to nearby Millington, one of the reasons the town has a median income of $52,500. However, this doesn’t help everyone in town. The unemployment rate still reaches double digits and the poverty rate hovers at 18.6%.
Also, having a military presence in town has done nothing to keep crime down. In fact, the crime rate runs nearly 150% above the national average.
Bolivar is named for a famous revolutionary, SimÃÂ³n BolÃÂvar, the same guy who lends his name to the country of Bolivia. A revolution might not be necessary for this southeast Tennessee town, but it definitely could use some change.
Located about an hour and a half outside of Memphis, the economy of Bolivar resembles the proverbial dumpster fire. The unemployment rate checks in at an eye-popping 20.4%, while more than a quarter of the town lives below the poverty line.
There are some bright spots. The surrounding landscape can be breathtaking, including the nearby Hatchie National Wildlife Refuge.
Dyersburg is the largest city to make this list. And since it has the 5th highest crime rate, that means there just about more criminals per capita here than anywhere else in Tennessee.
Located a short drive from Arkansas on the I-155 corridor, Dyersburg sees 1 in 12 people within its city limits robbed every year. There was a murder here in 2021, and 1 in 64 people in town have a chance of having their lives threatened every single year.
Gives a whole new meaning to the name ‘Dyersburg,’ doesn’t it?
It’s no wonder why homes are the second cheapest in the state here. Anyone with a pulse could probably get a mortgage for a home that’s worth $68,000.
How we determined the worst places to live in Tennessee 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 92 cities.
We then ranked each city from 1 to 92 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 Tennessee — Covington. Read on for a detailed look at the 10 worst cities in Tennessee. 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 Tennessee
If you’re looking at areas in Tennessee 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, Covington ranks as the worst city to live in Tennessee for 2021.
If you’re curious enough, here are the best cities to live in Tennessee:
- Brentwood (Pop. 42,407)
- Signal Mountain (Pop. 8,539)
- Germantown (Pop. 39,193)
For more Tennessee reading, check out:
Where Are The Worst Places To Live In Tennessee?