These Are The 10 Worst Small Towns In America

We used science and data to analyze which small cities in America are the real pits.

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There’s a common denominator that all bad small 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 small cities that have populations under 70,000. 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 over 400 cities with populations under 70,000, here is our list of the worst small towns in America:

  1. Wilson, NC
  2. Fort Pierce, FL
  3. Elkhart, IN
  4. Kissimmee, FL
  5. Pine Bluff, AR
  6. Roseville, MI
  7. Anderson, IN
  8. Niagara Falls, NY
  9. Utica, NY
  10. Kokomo, IN

What’s interesting is that half of these are in Indiana or New York.

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 small town to live in America? Hoboken, NJ. More on that later.

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How do you decide if a place is lousy or not?

In order to rank the worst small towns 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.

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1. Wilson, NC

Grade: D-
Population: 49,086
Public schools: 22nd worst
Crime: 26th worst in America
Unemployment rate: 9%

Wilson is a small, off-the-radar city a short drive east of the capital of North Carolina, Raleigh.

This isn’t a place to live if you value good public schools, safety and job growth. Wilson’s schools are some of the most overcrowded in the nation, in comparison to cities of similar size. And the unemployment rate is one of the highest of any cities we measured.

Murders here have gone up tremendously in the last 5 years, and the property crimes here are far above average for similarly sized cities.

The fact is, Wilson gets a D- when it comes to livability, when you take into account the desirable factors people say they want in a small home town.

2. Fort Pierce, FL

Grade: D
Population: 42,350
Incomes: 5th lowest in the US
Unemployment rate: 17th highest
Crime: 14th worst

Fort Pierce is a dangerous place where it’s really hard to get a job. A city of 42,000 people should not see 7 murders and more than 1 in 10 people shouldn’t be unemployed.

At least in a small city where people want to live.

When you’re within Fort Pierce city limits, you have a 1 in 71 chance of being killed, attacked or raped every year, according to FBI data.

In addition, families average just over the poverty line in income levels.

Fort Pierce is on Florida’s east coast a couple hours north of Miami. We’ll see more Miami area cities later on this list.

3. Elkhart, IN

Grade: D
Population: 51,293
Unemployment: 9.5%
Income levels: 32nd lowest

Elkhart is just outside of South Bend. For people who know South Bend for Notre Dame University, outside of the university connection, this part of the state is really struggling with above average crime and just a generally overall crummy economy.

1 in 10 residents in Elkhart are currently without jobs and home prices are just about as low as you can get at $88,000. When anyone with a pulse can purchase a home in a city, that’s a sign that there’s simply no demand to live there.

4. Kissimmee, FL

Grade: D

Population: 60,030
Income: 40th lowest
Crime: 48th worst

Kissimmee is a fairly dangerous place just outside of Orlando. Here, families earn about $35,000 a year – which doesn’t go very far in this part of the state.

Many of the inland cities in Florida struggle with crime and drug abuse anyways, and Kissimmee is smack dab in the middle of it all.

5. Pine Bluff, AR

Grade: D

Population: 48,704
Home prices: 7th lowest in the nation
Unemployment rate: 9.6%

The only category keeping Pine Bluff from ranking first on this entire list is the fact that its public schools seemed to be well funded. What we’ve found in our research over the years is that poorer cities with high crime rates tend to get the most focus from the state.

When you can buy a home for $70,000, it’s because there are lots of empty homes. And when there are lots of empty homes, it’s for a reason.

6. Roseville, MI

Grade: D
Population: 47,427
Home prices: 11th lowest in the U.S.
Unemployment rate: 10.6%

If you haven’t heard of Roseville, you have now. It’s a Detroit suburb that is pretty much one of the worst places you can live outside of a larger city center.

It’s not particularly dangerous here from a violent standpoint (though it gets really scary quickly as you head south). But property crimes here are some of the highest of any city its size. When you’re within city limits, you have a 1 in 20 chance of being robbed every year, according to FBI data.

7. Anderson, IN

Grade: D
Population: 56,097
Home prices: 8th lowest in the nation
Income levels: 35th lowest

Those familiar with Indianapolis are aware of the struggles that go on in central Indiana when it comes to crime. Anderson is in the top 15% when it comes to sheer number of crimes for cities of its size.

Homes are bottom barrell cheap here, and folks who live here have the daily struggles of finding good jobs.

8. Niagara Falls, NY

Grade: D
Population: 50,214
Crime: 12th worst in the nation
Home prices: 5th cheapest

We’ve talked about Niagara Falls before when we chronicled the most dangerous cities in the state of New York. While many of the crimes that occur in Niagara Falls may be targeted at tourists, is living in a town where you have a 1 in 25 chance of being robbed every year a place you’d want to consider?

The average home in Niagara Falls costs $68,000. You don’t even see prices that low in the middle of Iowa.

9. Utica, NY

Grade: D
Population: 61,962
Home prices: 26th lowest
Income levels: 20th lowest

When we talked about the worst places to live in New York and mentioned Utica, we had lots of comments from Utica residents current and past who agreed with us. Many called Utica a ‘ghetto’, and a truly uninspiring place with a struggling economy and high crime.

Home prices are low, as are income levels. Both are towards the bottom in the nation for cities of similar sizes.

10. Kokomo, IN

Grade: D
Population: 54,402
Home prices: 17th lowest

What really sets Kokomo back are the really low home prices and income levels. About an hour north of Indianapolis, not only can it be hard to ‘get ahead’, but it can also be relatively boring here for long stretches of the year.

Kokomo is far below average in the other categories we analyzed (crime, schools).

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. Middletown, OH. Grade: C-
    12. El Centro, CA. Grade: C-
    13. York, PA. Grade: C-
    14. Meridian, MS. Grade: C-
    15. Springfield, OR. Grade: C-
    16. Delano, CA. Grade: C-
    17. Binghamton, NY. Grade: C-
    18. Pontiac, MI. Grade: C-
    19. Mishawaka, IN. Grade: C-
    20. Lancaster, PA. Grade: C-

There You Have It

If you’re looking at small 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 small cities in America, according to science.

  1. Hoboken, NJ (Pop. 49.949)
  2. Edina, MN (Pop. 48,334)
  3. Franklin, TN (Pop. 63,324)
  4. Waltham, MA (Pop. 60,345)
  5. Collierville, TN (Pop. 44,543)

We also made a map that compared each state’s education levels to its foreign country equivalent. You’ll love that one.

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43 thoughts on “These Are The 10 Worst Small Towns In America

  1. Wilson should absolutely not be number one, let alone on this list. I am from Wilson and I work with emergency services; from a close perspective, we have hardly any crime. Additionally, I graduated from high school recently and schools in Wilson regularly send students to Duke, UNC, West Point, and ivy leagues. Your data is flawed and your analysis ignorant of the true social complexity and geography of Wilson.

    1. I totally agree with this. I live in Nashville NC. You all need to take a look at Wilson’s neighbor, Rocky Mount. THAT place should be #1.

    2. I moved from raleigh to wilson to buy an affordable house. The house I got from wilson costed 117k, in Raleigh it would of costed 250k. Wilson is a quiet and safe town. I can see people moving to Wilson in the future since its really starting to build up the city. Wilson do have areas that look like crap but Raleigh does too.

  2. Elkhart at one time had more millionairs per capita then anywhere in the US . not that long ago Obama was in town talking about of the overpass so everyone could get from the TNT lounge to Louie and Kelley’s Faster.. Ha ha . nonsense the prez knows as much about as this outfit. Line roll . Finkelstein

  3. Kokomo SUCKS! Should be #1 on the list! Sure its automotive city, but you have to make $25.00 an hour to afford bail money. The cops sit in the parking lot waiting for someone to smoke a joint on their break! lol

  4. Come on, Elkhart is absolutely awful. I know several couples that refuse to have children until they can afford to move out of the area.

    And whatever the fallacies of this article or the data set, if you actually live in a decent city, it should never be on a list like this. Period.

    Just by making a list like this is proof positive that all these cities are terrible.

  5. Kissimmee is a high crime town but the TV show cops was never ever filmed anywhere close. Most of the first few seasons wee in ft lauderdale area which is about 3 hours away. There were some in the Tampa area but that’s over an hour away.

  6. Kissimmee is not a “dangerous” place. Just like all cities, there are dangerous areas within the city. But the entire city isn’t some back alley. Show a picture of the downtown area, it’s beautiful. Then talk about how it’s Disneyworld’s fault that we have such low median wages. Talk about good things like no state taxes and no taxes on food or medicine.

  7. I know Wilson is not the greatest town on earth but it certainly should not be #1. It is not as crime-ridden as some other towns in the state. I grew up in Wilson County Schools. It was nothing great, just average. I can agree that some improvements could be made, however, I can think of some neighboring school districts that are worse. Pick on another town…

    1. Totally agree with Mary! Rocky Mount NC, Wilson’s crapburger neighbor should have taken this “honor”.

    2. Why the hell are you picking on Wilson? Did anyone get any data on Rocky Mount NC at all?? That place is a shit pit for real and should definitely be #1! Anyone who has ever lived there can’t wait to get out. The schools are a 3 out of 10 at best, crime happens everywhere you go, unemployment is more common than having a job, healthcare is Russian roulette, everyone with any kind of cash flow is a classist douche, and the gene pool is really more of a shallow puddle. And there is absolutely NOTHING to do for entertainment besides watching your neighbor’s babydaddies get into a brawl. Really, y’all. Wilson may not have a mall but they have a gd free standing Starbucks, ffs!

      1. Look at all the facts. They said population under a certain amount. Population in RM is much higher. You can’t compare the 2 when the criteria they look at is different. Besides, Rocky Mount made their other list.

  8. Ha! Kissimmee (where I live) made #4. Yes, Tackytown USA sits right next to the Unmagical Kingdom of Walt Disney World in Osceola County, which influences the low wages of the hospitality industry, drug crime, prostitution, and growing homelessness. Way to go, Kissimmee!

  9. i know by fact and i live in kissimmee myself we dont belong in #4 yes our crimes was at worse before but this year and i myself live in a place where it was bad bad bad im talking about drugs etc .. the place now is clean cause cops came in and shut it down took care of stuff and took away those people who were heads of the drugs etc .. as for jobs theres many outthere that are hiring the fact that people are tooo lazy to go apply is another story but our schools also should rank higher i myself graduated from a school of people who helped me get a diploma and push to get it . so reconsider kissimmmee .

  10. Kissimmee isn’t dangerous to the extreme but there are a number of places where it’s not safe. But in general, Kissimmee sucks to live in. It’s hard to find work & when you do, you’re barely working & if you don’t want to struggle, you better have a good car in hand or else living here in Kissimmee can & will be a nightmare. Other than that, it’s okay…

  11. id like to know who decides this stuff , I live in richwood wv .the ultimate hellhole we have about 1800 ppl .we have no hospital,we have no grocery store ,,all that is here is a mill that my husband works at that holds us here,we have a dollar general and a rite aid, most people that are here are sucking up welfare and disability and most of it don’t need it ,they are just to lazy to work.the others have to drive 25 miles over to Summersville for work and 25 miles back .I have to drive 50 miles round trip to the grocery store in Summersville every other week on payday

  12. Don’t know where you get your facts. Roseville, michi is not a bad place to live. Been here all my life! Not too long ago, it was listed as one of the best run cities in the country!

  13. I have never felt unsafe in the City of Kissimmee-in fact, it is most likely one of the safest communities in Central Florida thanks to the Kissimmee Police Department. We have a beautiful historic downtown and our Kissimmee Lakefront Park is first class all the way. We are adding jobs and opening new businesses every month and our local economy is improving every day. I am proud to live and work here. Nick-come on down for a visit and I will give you a personal tour and show you not only what a great City we have, but let you see how wonderful our community really is.

  14. I’ve lived in Wilson, NC for the past 28 years and have to agree that this ranking is totally bogus. Wilson may not be the best place to live but weather, historical preservation, a thriving arts council, and citizens who work pretty well together count for a lot. And it’s kind of weird that low home prices are viewed as a negative. Prices aren’t rock-bottom low, just affordable. Most of us view that as a plus.

  15. Obviously not a lot of investigating went on with this list. First anyone in North Carolina knows that Rocky Mount has a shooting every week, yet there Police Chief says they have no gang or drug problem. Maybe this site should also look into cities that accredited police departments versus those that can hide their crime rates. Maybe just maybe you need to look further because if you ask anyone around Rocky Mount/ Wilson you will find that Wilson is by far safer

    1. what does “run by Democrats” mean? Nice job playing the “us versus them” game on something that should be of concern for all Americans.

  16. Just curious – why do you have a photo of Niagara Falls, Ontario instead of NY? I agree it’s not the best city, but your photo is not correct!

  17. I agree with Terri, the slideshow photo #8 is not Niagara Falls, NY, but Niagara Falls, Ontario. A simple map street view will verify this.

  18. Hoboken should not be number one. Though it has a lot going for it, some of the streets flood when the seasons change. There is a very impoverished corner with project housing, and residents there are antagonistic towards others. The road infrastructure leaving Hoboken is designed deliberately like a maze to keep crime out and from people navigating safely to and from the airport. The mafia still control everything, and if you get on their bad side will start to harass you. The air quality is terrible. It’s really landlocked despite train access to the city. See my comments on the roads above. Food though is excellent.

  19. I understand that “data-driven Journalism” is a thing these days, but this is a terrible example. The metrics are poorly thought through and the article is poorly written.

    First of all, there is a big difference between a “small city” and a “small town”. 60,000 is definitely *not* a small town, though it is a small city. It’s an important distinction as they are two different categories with different sets of problems.

    Second, spending per student is a terrible metric for education. Attainment on national tests would have been easy to use instead, and relates much more directly to quality of education.

    Then you say things like “What’s interesting is that half of these are in Indiana or New York.” While that’s true, there are also two Florida cities on the list — and as Florida and New York are two of the largest states by population, they’re much more likely to have entries on the list. So the only one that looks like an outlier is Indiana.

    Finally, you just didn’t proof-read this. Your list at the end is not of the “next 20 cities”, but the next *10*, bringing you to 20.

    If you’re going to sell yourself as a data-driven site, you need to learn to think analytically about the questions you’re trying to answer, instead of throwing a bunch of data against a wall and seeing what sticks.

  20. This list is a bit off I currently live in Roseville aesthetically it is not modern nor that attractive but it isn’t as bad as you say it is. I currently live in Roseville due to affordability there are parts of Roseville that are safer then others. But to say it is the worst shows how this article and this bogus ranking is a complete joke.

  21. You left out Panama City, Florida; Dothan, Alabama; Marianna, Florida; Cottondale, Florida; and DeFuniak Springs, Florida. All anthills of crime with junky stores selling people’s old toasters, clothes, gaudy cheap China, and crap as vintage. Thoroughly racist hellholes too. Meth labs, domestic murders, and flooded country backroads in rainy season dominate the news.

  22. I was born and raised in Valparaiso, IN and have a lot of family in Elkhart. I really hated everything about the the entire area – pollution, corruption, crime, drugs, lack of stimulating activities, brutal winters, sunshine only 30 days a year – the list goes on and on, but a 9.5% unemployment rate sounded insane, even for these pathetic towns. I found this on the Bureau of Labor Statistics website from 2016-2018 and the unemployment rate never rise above 4%. I’m just curious where the 9.5% came from?

    Local Area Unemployment Statistics
    Original Data Value
    Series Id: LAUMT182114000000003
    Not Seasonally Adjusted
    Area: Elkhart-Goshen, IN Metropolitan Statistical Area
    Area Type: Metropolitan areas
    Years: 2016 to 2018
    Year Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Annual
    2016 3.8 3.8 3.9 3.5 3.3 3.7 3.6 3.6 3.3 3.2 3.1 2.9 3.5
    2017 3.2 3.0 2.6 2.1 2.4 2.6 2.6 2.9 2.3 2.2 2.4 2.1 2.5
    2018 2.4 2.5 2.2 2.0 2.4 2.7 2.6

  23. As someone who’s lived in Wilson, NC all her life, I can definitely agree that it’s a terrible town, but I also feel like in comparison to our neighbor, Rocky Mount, we definitely shouldn’t be top ranked. Wilson County School systems have gone to shit in the past few years though, I have family and friends who are teachers and honestly, if you love your kids, you’ll make sure they end up at a school outside of Wilson. But other than that and a lack of entertainment, I can’t really imagine Wilson being so terrible. There’s a lot of petty crime here but nothing crazy. There’s more shootings per week in Rocky Mount than there are here.

  24. There’s no way some of these places beat out Newport, TN!! They must’ve not looked thru every small city possible. This is one the worst towns I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s a black hole that is impossible for people to get out of. There’s no job opportunities. Education is lacking. Drugs have taken over. People struggle all day, every day. It’s just disgusting really!! I know for a fact that some of the places listed are WAY nicer and better off than Newport is!! Also, the whole thing about home prices being low is a sign of a place no one wants to be, isn’t always true!! I say that because some of the homes in Newport are priced outrageously. They’re priced way higher than what they are worth. The reason for this is that we border a tourist town and people try to convince home buyers to come the next town over to stay out of the traffic, but still be within driving distance. Most of the time though, you get junk for the asking price!! So basically, they’re trying to take advantage of out of towners that are looking for a vacation home, or retirees.

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