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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This article is an opinion based on facts and is meant as infotainment. Don’t freak out.

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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-

Google Maps

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.

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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

Google Maps

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

Wikipedia

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

Google Maps

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

Wikipedia

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

Roseville, MI

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

Anderson, IN

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

Niagara Falls, NY

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

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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

Utica, NY

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

Kokomo, IN

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.

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 small cities to live in America, from 1-250.

City Population Rank
wilson 49086 1
fort_pierce 42350 2
elkhart 51293 3
kissimmee 60830 4
pine_bluff 48704 5
roseville 47427 6
anderson 56097 7
niagara_falls 50214 8
utica 61962 9
kokomo 54402 10
middletown 48628 11
el_centro 42514 12
york 43677 13
meridian 41056 14
springfield 59347 15
delano 52618 16
binghamton 47107 17
pontiac 60105 18
mishawaka 48107 19
lancaster 59205 20
valdosta 54944 21
youngstown 67093 22
taylor 62916 23
hamilton 62429 24
port_arthur 54022 25
terre_haute 60850 26
warren 41569 27
springfield 60728 27
saginaw 51776 29
mansfield 47854 30
san_jacinto 43745 31
north_miami 59362 32
sumter 40533 33
battle_creek 52327 34
euclid 48781 35
north_miami_beach 41938 36
homestead 59866 37
rocky_mount 57523 38
coachella 40658 39
oakland_park 41841 40
ocala 56598 41
lafayette 67302 42
hattiesburg 46284 43
casa_grande 47675 44
lorain 64313 45
jackson 66009 46
fort_myers 63427 47
troy 50056 48
monroe 49027 49
ceres 45086 50
danville 43185 51
newark 47675 52
harrisburg 49401 53
bowling_green 58632 54
colton 52425 55
covington 40776 55
north_lauderdale 41352 57
gulfport 68158 58
jonesboro 67550 59
burlington 50355 60
council_bluffs 61986 61
bradenton 50141 62
daytona_beach 61779 63
tulare 59117 64
perris 68084 64
elyria 54535 66
rock_hill 66264 67
dearborn_heights 57454 68
boynton_beach 68467 69
caldwell 46229 70
porterville 54038 71
albany 50239 72
san_marcos 46131 73
joplin 49924 74
apple_valley 69155 75
decatur 55664 76
warner_robins 67313 77
sanford 53299 78
greenville 59261 79
rancho_cordova 65136 80
delray_beach 61231 81
north_little_rock 62817 82
hanford 53695 83
dothan 66355 84
wilkes-barre 41463 85
altoona 46434 86
roswell 48167 86
st._clair_shores 60018 88
pensacola 52246 89
huntington_park 58419 90
lawrence 45779 91
lodi 62475 92
alexandria 47941 93
coeur_d’alene 44426 94
pocatello 54145 95
enid 49122 96
midwest_city 54773 97
sarasota 52501 98
belleville 44118 99
schenectady 65921 100
st._cloud 65787 101
margate 53821 102
titusville 43855 103
cleveland 41461 104
galveston 48352 105
paramount 54255 106
hutchinson 41939 107
palm_springs 45115 108
harlingen 64947 109
conway 59664 110
lauderhill 67553 111
dekalb 44340 112
holyoke 39996 113
haltom_city 42511 114
biloxi 44223 115
tamarac 60849 116
fairfield 42638 117
lakewood 58688 118
lakewood 52002 119
texas_city 45235 120
pinellas_park 49136 121
owensboro 57361 122
urbana 41299 123
kentwood 48877 124
commerce_city 45537 125
quincy 40647 126
waterloo 68248 127
hickory 40075 128
lake_elsinore 52219 129
portage 46425 130
west_allis 60334 131
greenwood 50457 132
jeffersonville 44683 133
findlay 41301 134
moline 43390 135
turlock 68576 136
marietta 57451 137
bell_gardens 42323 138
olympia 46792 138
kannapolis 42845 138
manteca 67738 141
highland 53190 142
cathedral_city 51507 143
taylorsville 59098 143
missoula 66982 143
rapid_city 68060 146
southaven 48981 147
grand_island 48548 148
west_sacramento 48286 149
pasco 60024 150
logan 47970 151
cleveland_heights 46052 152
bossier_city 62208 153
madera 61151 154
victoria 62869 155
yuba_city 64641 156
palm_desert 48959 157
fond_du_lac 43027 158
flagstaff 65660 159
columbus 44306 160
salina 47605 161
altamonte_springs 41761 162
corvallis 54341 163
sheboygan 49308 163
lompoc 42373 165
watsonville 50945 166
grand_junction 58867 167
kingsport 50131 168
lake_havasu_city 52696 168
north_port 56148 170
national_city 58508 171
yucaipa 51319 172
redlands 69078 173
la_mesa 57182 174
apopka 41908 174
summerville 42864 176
idaho_falls 57021 177
janesville 63586 178
woodland 55585 179
berwyn 56376 180
johnson_city 62998 180
woonsocket 41244 182
cedar_hill 44970 182
east_lansing 48449 184
florissant 52273 185
eau_claire 65860 186
pittsburg 63612 187
san_luis_obispo 45328 188
marysville 60202 189
la_crosse 51398 189
cutler_bay 40390 189
normal 52986 192
covina 47855 193
twin_falls 44097 194
vineland 60610 195
temple 66435 196
goodyear 64714 197
pittsfield 44542 198
leominster 40879 199
huntington 49136 200
montebello 62697 201
carson_city 55184 202
santa_fe 68298 203
azusa 46523 204
gilroy 48832 205
lacey 42383 205
coconut_creek 53104 205
port_orange 56242 208
stillwater 45584 209
rosemead 53890 210
fitchburg 40314 211
norwich 40322 211
auburn 53817 213
euless 51526 214
gardena 58960 215
tigard 48366 216
desoto 49011 217
cuyahoga_falls 49513 218
pico_rivera 63105 219
midland 42024 220
santa_cruz 60319 221
loveland 67316 222
sierra_vista 44774 223
moore 55265 224
west_haven 55386 225
hempstead 53927 226
chicopee 55326 227
conroe 57380 228
rohnert_park 40895 229
great_falls 58498 230
smyrna 51466 231
meriden 60674 232
new_brunswick 55151 233
oshkosh 66046 234
kenner 66748 235
streamwood 40201 235
coon_rapids 61739 237
blaine 57384 238
buckeye 50115 239
haverhill 60953 240
plainfield 49701 241
rogers 56208 242
dubuque 57727 243
taunton 55951 244
noblesville 52987 245
kettering 56109 246
east_orange 64356 247
mount_vernon 67414 248
shoreline 53282 17
linden 40421 250

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29 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.

  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. [email protected] says:

    Not sure where or when you got your data but unemployment in Elkhart Indiana is less than 5 percent. You need to double check your facts, your story is flawed.
    ZZ

  4. 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

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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…

  9. 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!

  10. 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 .

  11. 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…

  12. 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

  13. 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!

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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

  17. 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!

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

  21. 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.

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