There’s a common denominator that all bad 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 below all share those qualities. 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 the biggest 250 cities in the country, here is our list of the worst cities to live in America:
- Macon, Georgia
- Jackson, Mississippi
- Detroit, Michigan
- Knoxville, Tennessee
- Chattanooga, Tennessee
- Rockford, Illinois
- Savannah, Georgia
- Memphis, Tennessee
- Mobile, Alabama
- Springfield, Missouri
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 place to live in America? Alexandria, Virginia. More on that later.
How do you decide if a place is lousy or not?
In order to rank the worst places to live 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.
1. Macon, Georgia
Home values: 5th lowest in the nation
Crime: 10th highest in the nation
Median household income: $33,051
It was a little surprising when we got the results back, but when you look at the data, it’s hard to argue against. Macon is by far the worst place to live in the United States. Here’s why.
You can try and make an argument that ‘cheap living’ is a good thing, and it’s a valid point. But, the fact is, that homes are priced by demand, and there’s simply not a lot of demand to live in Macon, Georgia. The average home price is only $54,300. And there’s only 4 other cities where homes are cheaper.
Would you have thought that Macon was the 10th most dangerous place in the country? According to the FBI numbers, every year you’re within Macon city limits, you have a 1 in 13 chance of being the victim of a property crime. That’s a lot of home break ins, stolen cell phones and car burglaries.
There were 18 murders in Macon two years ago as well.
The rest of the numbers were also far below average, including what families earn each year in combined income.
The fact is, Macon gets an F when it comes to livability, when you take into account the desirable factors people say they want in a home town.
2. Jackson, Mississippi
Crime: 6th worst in the nation
Home values: 30th lowest in the U.S.
We’re going to be seeing a lot of cities in the south on this list. In fact, 7 of the worst 10 places to live in America are in the south.
Jackson has a really high crime rate. It’s so high, only 5 other cities are more dangerous in America. There were 50 murders in Jackson two years ago. That’s amazingly high. Plus, you have a 1 in 17 chance of being robbed here every year.
At $95,000, home prices are some of the lowest in the nation.
Mississippi as a state has some major issues with crime and its economy. It actually ranked as the worst state in America to live in that we released earlier this summer.
3. Detroit, Michigan
Unemployment rate: Worst in the nation
Home values: Lowest in the nation
Crime: 7th highest in the U.S.
Detroit has been the focus of the media for a decade now. We’re all aware of how this city has fallen quickly from grace, and only those who live in the Detroit area truly know how bad it really is.
What kept Detroit from ranking as the worst city in America is the ‘decent’ public school system that it has in place. While the student-teacher ratio is high in Detroit public schools, they do have a lot of money to spread around, so the kids get as many opportunities as they want to succeed.
The problem is, many of the kids in Detroit simply don’t care. And the adults are having trouble making ends meet.
The unemployment rate here is 14.5%, which is by far the highest in the nation, and more than double the national average. And anyone with a pulse can buy a home in Detroit; at $35,000 apiece, it really is amazing how cheap it is to live here.
And of course, crime in Detroit is horrible. You have a 1 in 17 chance of being the victim of a robbery every year, and a 1 in 48 chance of being killed, raped or attacked.
There were 40,800 robberies within Detroit two years ago, and a staggering 316 murders. So basically, it’s a good day when someone isn’t killed in Detroit.
4. Knoxville, Tennessee
Public school spending: 6th lowest in America
Crime: 18th worst in the U.S.
You might be really shocked to see Knoxville here, but the data doesn’t lie. In fact, there are three Tennessee cities on this list.
Which makes sense, because in our worst states in America research, Tennessee was 4th.
What’s wrong with Knoxville? First off, the numbers in Knoxville are all far below average, so as a whole, it’s really lousy here. What stands out is the bottom of the barrel spending levels that Knoxville public school kids get every year and the high crime.
The average kid in America gets $14,000 a year in spending from the state. In Knoxville, it’s $8,258. That’s not a good sign.
And you may not know it, but the crime in Knoxville is sky high. There aren’t too many other cities in America that are more dangerous; you have a 1 in 16 chance of being robbed in Knoxville every year. Tennessee as a whole is one of the most dangerous in the nation, but that’s really high even for them.
The average family in Knoxville brings in $40,000 a year, which is far below the national average.
5. Chattanooga, Tennessee
Crime: 29th worst
Student spending: 14th lowest
Only a 90 minute drive south of Knoxville is Chattanooga, where you see the same issues above. Crime is really high, schools are poorly funded, and home prices are some of the lowest in the nation.
The average family brings in just over $42,000 a year after a cost of living adjustment. While that’s certainly nowhere near the poverty level, most Chattanooga residents certainly aren’t ‘getting ahead.’
6. Rockford, Illinois
Unemployment rate: 11th highest in the nation
Home values: 10th lowest
Crime: 15th highest in the nation
You might be thinking Rockford? We understand. When you look at the numbers, Rockford has some serious issues, though.
About 90 minutes due west of Chicago, this mid-size city has the triple layered mess on its hands. The unemployment rate is 10.2%, which is just about as high as you’ll see in this country. That might be part of the reason that homes are only selling for an average of $75,500 each. Rockford isn’t a small city, and that’s really low for the 3rd largest city in the state.
Crime is exceptionally high here. People think Chicago is really dangerous, and in some parts of it, sure, it’s off the charts. But Rockford is far more dangerous, per capita. Rockford saw 19 murders two years ago, and you have a 1 in 20 chance of being robbed within Rockford city limits each year.
7. Savannah, Georgia
Crime: 16th highest in the nation
Home values: 27th lowest
Savannah has a stellar reputation among travelers and people who live in the south. It’s an historic town, there’s a lot of tradition, and culture, and everyone’s nice.
But remember, science doesn’t measure those things. It measures facts, and the fact is, Savannah is a lousy place to live permanently.
Some of the crime might be attributed to the fact that Savannah is a tourist destination, so certain elements of the crime might be targeted towards visitors. Still, is that a place you’d want to live? Where every year that you’re within city limits, you have a 1 in 30 chance of being robbed yourself?
Home values here might be considered a steal, but trust us, when home prices are low out in the country, that’s partly because land is cheaper. When home prices are low in a big city with a great reputation, there is a reason.
Other factors that hurt Savannah: A high unemployment rate and low household incomes.
8. Memphis, Tennessee
Crime: 4th worst in the nation
Home values: 9th lowest in the nation
Poor Tennessee. Its largest city is also a really lousy place to live. (If you’re curious, Nashville ranked as the 54th worst place to live in the U.S.)
Memphis is hurt by some of the same issues we’ve seen over and over again on this list: High crime and cheap homes. Memphis is the 4th most dangerous place in the nation, where you have a 1 in 16 chance of being robbed each year. In fact, there were almost as many robberies and thefts in Memphis as there were in Detroit last year.
The only difference: There were half as many murders in Memphis as in Detroit. But how does 124 needless murders in 2013 sound to you? A place you’d want to live?
Memphis has a really bad local economy as well. It’s a place where unemployment is high, people are broke, and homes are cheap.
9. Mobile, Alabama
Home values: 19th lowest in the U.S.
Unemployment rate: 53rd highest
School spending: 37th lowest in the nation
Mobile doesn’t really stand out with any one category being horrible , but it is far, far below the average in just about all of them.
Home values are hovering around $85,000 each, with is really low for a city of nearly 200,000. The unemployment rate is high, but not out of this world. Schools are underfunded, but not broke. And it’s dangerous here, but there aren’t murders every night.
There are just far, far better places to make your home, according to the data.
10. Springfield, Missouri
Crime: 3rd worst in the nation
School spending: 25th lowest
Springfield is a worse place to live than St. Louis? How does that make sense? Let’s look.
While St. Louis has the worst crime rate in the nation, Springfield is right there behind them. In fact, Springfield is more dangerous than Detroit, when you factor in robberies. Sure, Springfield only saw 12 murders in 2013, but anyone within its city limits has a 1 in 11 chance of being robbed each year.
Chances are if you’ve lived in Springfield your whole life, you’ve been robbed multiple times.
Additional factors that plague Springfield are severely underfunded schools, really low household incomes, and really cheap homes.
The next 20
Here are the grades for the next 20 cities on the list. The complete scoring chart is at the bottom.
11. San Bernardino, CA. Grade: D+
12. Brownsville, TX. Grade: D+
13. Birmingham, AL. Grade: D+
14. Tucson, AZ. Grade: D+
15. Columbus, GA. Grade: C-
16. Daytyon, OH. Grade: C-
17. Lansing, MI. Grade: C-
18. Kansas City, KS. Grade: C-
19. Cleveland, OH. Grade: C-
20. Victorville, CA. Grade: C-
There You Have It
If you’re looking at 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. It also has a tab for the best cities in America.
If you’re also curious enough, here are the best cities in America, according to science.
- Alexandria, VA (Pop. 140,337)
- Plano, TX (Pop. 263,122)
- Frisco, TX (Pop. 116,944)
- Naperville, IL (Pop. 142,143)
- Bellevue, WA (Pop. 122,878)
We also wrote a story on the dumbest cities in America to live. Click here to read that one.
Disclaimer: This article is an opinion based on data. It should not be taken as fact.
Detailed Chart of the Worst Cities to live in America
|San Bernardino, California||11||210,624|
|Kansas City, Kansas||18||145,605|
|St. Louis, Missouri||24||318,527|
|Kansas City, Missouri||28||459,772|
|Fayetteville, North Carolina||31||200,439|
|Wilmington, North Carolina||33||107,116|
|Rochester, New York||35||210,967|
|Salt Lake City, Utah||37||186,740|
|Greensboro, North Carolina||41||270,619|
|Columbia, South Carolina||42||129,757|
|Buffalo, New York||51||261,955|
|New Haven, Connecticut||52||129,898|
|Oklahoma City, Oklahoma||58||581,094|
|Little Rock, Arkansas||60||193,691|
|Grand Rapids, Michigan||60||189,340|
|Miami Gardens, Florida||62||107,884|
|North Las Vegas, Nevada||67||215,762|
|Syracuse, New York||71||144,703|
|St. Petersburg, Florida||75||245,363|
|New Orleans, Louisiana||80||341,407|
|Providence, Rhode Island||84||178,185|
|El Paso, Texas||89||650,778|
|Port St. Lucie, Florida||93||163,748|
|Colorado Springs, Colorado||97||417,534|
|Las Vegas, Nevada||97||587,699|
|Albuquerque, New Mexico||102||545,083|
|Fort Wayne, Indiana||104||253,617|
|Baton Rouge, Louisiana||108||229,174|
|Elizabeth, New Jersey||111||124,795|
|Moreno Valley, California||114||193,758|
|Paterson, New Jersey||116||145,655|
|Newark, New Jersey||118||276,478|
|Corpus Christi, Texas||124||305,427|
|Charlotte, North Carolina||130||740,931|
|San Antonio, Texas||132||1,335,287|
|Santa Ana, California||134||326,608|
|Cape Coral, Florida||136||155,405|
|El Monte, California||138||114,032|
|Fort Worth, Texas||139||743,865|
|Long Beach, California||140||463,589|
|Durham, North Carolina||141||229,963|
|Los Angeles, California||143||3,804,503|
|Newport News, Virginia||152||180,831|
|Fort Lauderdale, Florida||154||167,370|
|Grand Prairie, Texas||157||174,631|
|Garden Grove, California||163||171,377|
|Des Moines, Iowa||165||204,362|
|West Valley City, Utah||169||129,123|
|San Diego, California||170||1,308,619|
|Fort Collins, Colorado||174||144,329|
|Santa Rosa, California||177||167,207|
|Chula Vista, California||179||242,499|
|New York, New York||180||8,199,221|
|Washington, District Of Columbia||185||605,759|
|Raleigh, North Carolina||190||405,007|
|Sioux Falls, South Dakota||192||154,526|
|Cedar Rapids, Iowa||193||126,921|
|Costa Mesa, California||197||110,322|
|Charleston, South Carolina||198||120,903|
|San Jose, California||200||954,379|
|Fargo, North Dakota||201||106,005|
|Manchester, New Hampshire||203||109,786|
|Sterling Heights, Michigan||207||129,887|
|Elk Grove, California||208||151,639|
|Thousand Oaks, California||215||126,570|
|West Jordan, Utah||216||103,846|
|Jersey City, New Jersey||217||248,435|
|San Francisco, California||218||807,755|
|Rancho Cucamonga, California||220||165,775|
|Huntington Beach, California||221||191,403|
|Simi Valley, California||226||123,942|
|Ann Arbor, Michigan||229||114,725|
|Yonkers, New York||230||196,459|
|Virginia Beach, Virginia||232||439,528|
|Santa Clara, California||233||116,301|
|Pembroke Pines, Florida||234||155,578|
|Santa Clarita, California||238||175,922|
|Cary, North Carolina||241||136,627|
|Overland Park, Kansas||243||174,503|
|Coral Springs, Florida||244||122,219|
|Round Rock, Texas||245||100,764|