Today, we’re going to talk about the worst places to live in the entire country. We might hurt some feelings along the way, and some people will agree with each city. Either way, we did the research, so we know we’re pretty darn close.
How did we determine the worst places to live in America anyways? Most people would agree with us that bad places to live have a lot of crime, crummy schools, not a lot of culture, and crappy jobs. Basically, we’re talking about the cities where you want to avoid if you’re looking for a fresh start in life. And if you live in the places we’re about to talk about, well, then, you are clearly not going to move away if you haven’t left by now. So, good for you!
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 cities in the country, here is our list of the worst cities to live in America.
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.
What’s the worst place to live in America for 2021? The worst place to live in America is Memphis, TN based on the most recent crime and census data around quality of life.
The best place to live in America? Cambridge, MA. More on that later.
Now, I’d like to add that we’d like to also help these cities too. So, in the description, there’s links to places in each city where you can do your part if you want, to make things better. So, while we’re poking a little fun at some of these places, we want to do our part to help, too.
That said, try not to get too depressed as we begin our journey of America’s worst cities.
For more reading about America, check out:
- Most Dangerous States In America
- Best States In America
- Safest Cities In America
- Worst States In America
- Cheapest States To Live In
- Cheapest Cities To Live In America
- Dangerous Places By State
- Most Dangerous Cities
The 10 Worst Places To Live In America For 2021
If you were looking for a match and Memphis came across your screen, you would definitely swipe left. Memphis, my friends, needs some real TLC.
Here in Memphis, crime is the 2nd highest in the country, and 1 out of 17.7 residents was robbed here according to the latest FBI numbers. That’s not the first place you think of making home, is it? Additionally, you have a 1 in 54 chance of being the victim of a violent crime, which includes all sorts of bad stuff. That’s really high.
When you look at adult education in Tennessee, the folks in Memphis have the 76th highest dropout rate. And other factors that make Memphis undesirable are the low median incomes and home prices.
The unemployment rate is the 22nd highest in the states, at 8.67%
Sadly, Memphis is a really lousy place to live.
So who’s the 2nd worst? Jackson Mississippi, that’s who.
Like several other cities on this list, Jackson is a poor place plagued by high crime, and no real bright future on its horizon. Incomes, number of jobs and home prices are all in the bottom 10 in the US.
Jackson has been on the decline. The city experienced population loss, especially among higher-income residents, and businesses followed, draining millions, if not billions, of potential revenue. As the tax base continued to erode, crime increased, infrastructure began to crumble, and urban blight grew. Also, the school system began to erode, reflected in test scores and the dropout rate.
You can look online for things to do, ask people about what makes Jackson interesting, and you’ll struggle to find anything appealing or charming about Mississippi’s capital. Roads are beat up and businesses are boarded up. There are parts of Mississippi that look like a developing nation.
Such a sad place indeed. When Little Rock is better than you are, that says a lot about how bad you are.
Now, let’s try and be positive. What is good Jack town? They have an all-female Flat Track Roller Derby League. That’s cool. And that’s pretty much all we could find that’s cool about Jackson Mississippi after 10 minutes of Googling.
Next up is the seriously unimpressive city of Dayton, Ohio. This city also makes sense to me based on firsthand experience. Dayton is quite a depressing place. Whenever I drive through Ohio, I try and always time my trip so I don’t have to stop in Dayton for gas. And it’s not the only Ohio city we’re going to talk about…
If you live in Dayton, this might not be a surprise, but you have the 37th highest crime rate, per capita in the country. Every year you spend here, you have a 1 in 20 chance of being the victim of a property crime like a car break in or home invasion robbery. Plus there were 1,351 violent crimes in the last FBI reporting year. That means if you spent a year there, you’d have a 1 in 100 chance of being a major crime victim.
Finally, the folks who live here earn the 3rd lowest salaries in America’s big cities at ~$30,000 a household — that’s simply not enough to get by for most folks. People in Dayton need money BAD. They’ll take anything they can get their hands on – Christmas lights, Ja Rule Tickets, even your cracked cell phone.
Brownsville Texas really isn’t all that great. And if you move there then you’ll know.
First off, homes here average $90,000 a year. That’s the 9th lowest home price value in the USA. You can judge a city by the cost of the homes there, and when homes cost well under $100K a year, that means, well, no one wants to live there.
What else makes Brownville so lousy? Well, unfortunately, the reality of living in a border town means higher crime. Statistically, border towns are far less desirable when you measure quality of life factors.
Many Brownsvillians will defend Brownsville, saying it’s a diverse place, and it’s affordable. Plus, there are a bunch of places in Brownsville to get Mexican food, which means…are you kidding me? They have a MR. TACO? OMG, we might have to move Brownsville off this list. Guys, seriously. Why is Brownsville on here? They have a Mr. Taco there.
Moving right along on our terrible tour of America brings us to America’s favorite punching bag, Detroit.
Well, good for you, Detroit, you’re not the absolute worst place to live.
Detroit has all sorts of issues. Particularly with its economy. 1 in 5 people in Detroit is out of work, which is the highest rate in America. And, home prices are around $40 or $50,000, which is the lowest rate in the country. You could be an unemployed joker and still afford a house in Detroit.
Remember when the entire city of Detroit filed for bankruptcy? The city was slashing jobs, cutting services and closing parks. They even shut street lights off on many blocks in town. But Detroit is apparently getting better. People talk about a resurgence of jobs, a new attitude, and lower crime rates. While many areas of Detroit ARE improving, overall, the city as a whole is still doing very poorly.
We’re all pulling for you Detroit.
Everyone except Cleveland.
Practically right next door is Cleveland — it ranks as the 6th worst city you can live in America.
What makes Cleveland so abominable? Well, the weather here stinks. It’s a gray, cloudy, dreary and very cold place for a majority of the year. They’ve made an attempt at fixing up the downtown area a bit, but there’s still a bunch of downtown that’s dangerous and very sketchy. And don’t EVER get off the freeway in east Cleveland. I did that once to let my dog out to pee and I seriously thought I was going to get shot. Like a block from the off ramp. And, remember, i grew up in San Bernardino, so I’m tough.
On paper, Cleveland is miserable. Cleveland has a 13.18% unemployment rate, which is the 2nd worst in the entire country. It has far below average income levels and the 18th highest crime rate in the country.
If you look up Cleveland on forums, you’ll see headlines like this:
“Cleveland is the most depressing, boring place on earth”
“Why is Cleveland filled with so many negative people?”
“Why do Clevelanders hate Cleveland?”
Some place called the Economic Innovation Group called Cleveland the most distressed place in the country, citing factors such as a lack of educated, successful people. Did you know a quarter of all Cleveland residents doesn’t even have a high school degree? For people in Cleveland, that means 25%. Or, 1 in 4. And, 1 in 5 homes in Cleveland is vacant.
Our next stop is the terrible, terrible city of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Actually, Tulsa isn’t the worst place you could possibly live, but on paper, it ranks really high as a bad place to live. Here’s why.
First off, crime is really high. You have a 1 in 16 chance of being robbed and a 1 in 113 chance of being a crime victim here for every year you spend in the city limits of Tulsa. Gang activity probably has something to do with that.
Homes are cheap; you can get one yourself for only $139,900. What else makes Tulsa so noxious? It has to be the most boring and stagnant place in America to live, quite honestly. So it’s not really a shock to anyone when a story comes out that paints Tulsa in a negative light. People don’t get upset and say “that’s not our Tulsa” they usually go “yup, that sounds about right”.
San Bernardino, California. Man, this one hits close to home. Literally. I grew up right next door, and went to college in San Bernardino. I can personally attest that there are many, many reasons why San Berna-ghetto is certainly deserving of being on this list.
Crime here is horrible. And it’s getting worse. People are really, really disrespectful here, where they vandalize, steal, rob and leave trash everywhere. In some parts of San Bernardino, you’d think you were in a third world country with all the trash on the side of the roads. More than 1 in 10 residents are without jobs, and well… we could go on and on about San Bernardino’s issues.
San Bernardino used to be a great place. In the 50’s it was home to McDonalds, cruising USA, and home to major military personnel. Then, in the 80’s it was like all the unsuccessful people from LA decided San Bernardino was the bees knees and moved there and brought the whole area down.
But San Bernardino is home to In and Out and Del Taco, possibly the best places you could ever possibly eat in your entire life.
What’s the future of San Bernardino? As professionals continue to flee into the nearby enclaves of East Highlands, Yucaipa and Redlands, the city of San Bernardino, which saw its glory days spike in the late 1970s, will continue to head down the drain and unfortunately, become an area only for those who have no aspirations to exceed in life.
Our next stop is the terrible, terrible city of Shreveport, Louisiana. Actually, Shreveport isn’t the worst place you could possibly live, but on paper, it ranks really high as a bad place to live. Here’s why.
First off, crime is really high. You have a 1 in 16 chance of being robbed and a 1 in 113 chance of being a crime victim here for every year you spend in the city limits of Shreveport. Gang activity probably has something to do with that.
Shreveport is the slowest growing city in America, too. Did you know Shreveport ranks 3rd in the nation for least gender equality? That means the number of men versus women is really low.
No wonder homes are cheap; you can get one yourself for only $139,800. What else makes Shreveport so noxious? It has to be the most boring and stagnant place in Louisiana to live, quite honestly. So it’s not really a shock to anyone when a story comes out that paints Shreveport in a negative light. People don’t get upset and say “that’s not our Shreveport” they usually go “yup, that sounds about right”.
You’ve probably seen a coastal snob on TV talk about how the idea of moving to the midwest sounds awful. And Springfield is the exact mental image people on the coasts conjure up when they think of the midwest. The place that no one has ever said, “I’m excited to move to Springfield!”
The overall crime rate ranks as the worst in the country driven primarily by property crimes. It’s a “city”, but is really just a big town tucked away in rural Missouri without much to do. And home values, as a sign of demand, are some of the lowest in the country for the big cities we looked at — meaning no one’s trying to move here. The median income clocks in at $36,856.
On the plus side, Springfield has a cost of living below the national average and the weather is pretty mild. And you can always take a day trip down to the Ozarks to pretend you’re living that glamorous Langmore life.
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 for 2021
We threw a lot of criteria at this one in order to get the best, most complete results possible. Using FBI crime data and the most recent 2015-2019 American Community Survey data, 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)
- Low home prices
- A lot of uninsured individuals
- A high portion of uneducated adults
- High Crime
- High Poverty
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. Or you can download the data here.
Note: We get the crime numbers from the FBI, which gets its crime numbers from the cities themselves.
There You Have It — The Worst Big Cities in America
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.
Now, do these cities have any redeeming qualities? Sure. We were being a little hard on most of them while trying to make our point, but there’s some culture in most of these places. Like anywhere in America, there’s good and bad around every corner. But overall, based on statistical data, and from what many top news gathering agencies have written in the past, these are your worst potential places you could live in the US.
If you live in Memphis, or any of the other cities we talked about, hopefully you’re working to make your city a better place. If not, you have nothing to complain about yourself.
In case you’re wondering which cities ALMOST made the list: St. Louis and Springfield Missouri as well as Hartford Connecticut are also terrible places to live.
Here are the best cities in America, according to science