These Are The 10 Worst Cities In Virginia For 2017

We used science and data to determine which places in Virginia 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 that we updated it for 2017.

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Virginia is a really beautiful place, and it’s almost four states in one. On one hand you’ve got your politically motivated and super rich, and then down the coast, a large swath of middle class Americans. Then, you’ve got the largest portion, a mix of self-admitted rednecks who still identify with the south.

And then you’ve got D.C. and its burbs. That’s just another story all together.

But is it all great in the “Old Dominion”? Of course not. Just like every other state, Virginia has its trouble spots. The purpose of this post is to use science and data to determine which cities in Virginia are the least desirable to live in.

Of course, you’ll most likely disagree if you see your town atop this list. But nonetheless, according to science, these cities are the worst places you could possibly live if you make Virginia your home. These places need a big hug right about now.

After analyzing 62 of the state’s most populous cities (over 5,200 people), we came up with this list as the 10 worst places to live in Virginia:

  1. Emporia (Photos)
  2. Petersburg (Photos)
  3. Danville (Photos)
  4. Galax (Photos)
  5. Martinsville (Photos)
  6. Franklin (Photos)
  7. South Boston (Photos)
  8. Pulaski (Photos)
  9. Hopewell (Photos)
  10. Richlands (Photos)

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. Read on below to see how we crunched the numbers and see how your city fared in 2017.

If you’re looking for something more national, check out the worst cities in America or the worst states in America.

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How we determined the worst places to live in Virginia for 2017

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

The data comes from the Census’s most recent American Community Survey and from the FBI Uniform Crime Report.

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 5,200 people were considered — leaving 62 cities.

We then ranked each city from 1 to 62 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 Virginia — Emporia. Read on for a detailed look at the 10 worst cities in Virginia.

This list is a scientific analysis based on real data and is completely unbiased.

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1. Emporia

Emporia, Virginia

Source: Wikipedia

Population: 5,672
Home Values: $115,000 (12th worst)
Unemployment Rate: 19.1% (1st worst)
Emporia is one of the poorest cities in the state of Virginia. Located on the North Carolina border, this city has 19.1% of its residents out of work, and those who have jobs earn under $28,601 a year.

Small towns can be charming, but not when they are dangerous. Emporia has the 4th highest crime rate in Virginia. While the numbers aren’t staggering (Virginia is a relatively safe place when you compare it to the rest of the country), it’s still undesirable when you consider that there are far safer (and more stimulating) places to make your home in the Old Dominion.

2. Petersburg

Petersburg, Virginia

Source: Wikipedia

Population: 32,123
Home Values: $111,900 (10th worst)
Unemployment Rate: 13.0% (3rd worst)
If you’re looking to live in Virginia, Petersburg might not be the best choice as it places 2nd in our ranking of the worst places to live in the Old Dominion for 2015.

The average family earns $31,798 a year out here, and 23.6% of the population is below the poverty line. Nearly 13.0% of the population is out of work.

And when you consider the crime, it’s just crazy to think of how dangerous it is to live way out here. When you’re in Petersburg, every year, you have a 1 in 32.4 chance of being robbed. Can you imagine? Perhaps it’s an economic factor, or the fact that the people out there are so isolated, but the fact remains, it’s the 16th most dangerous place in the state, per capita.

3. Danville

Danville, Virginia

Source: Wikipedia

Population: 42,450
Home Values: $88,600 (2nd worst)
Unemployment Rate: 12.7% (5th worst)
Danville, VA needs a big hug right now. The unemployment rate here is 12.7%, the median income is just above the poverty line, and the crime is the 6th highest in the state. You have a 1 in 24.4 chance of being robbed here every year.

You could find a much better place to call home.

4. Galax

Galax, Virginia

Source: Wikipedia

Population: 6,876
Home Values: $91,000 (5th worst)
Unemployment Rate: 6.4% (37th worst)
Galax is a small town on the North Carolina state line that most refer to as the Appalachian region of the state. Sure, it’s in a beautiful area, and there’s lots of culture, especially in terms of music. But, if you’re measuring desirability, it’s the 4th worst in Virginia. Let’s see why.

When you’re comparing the unemployment rate in Virginia to the rest of the nation, Virginians are pretty hard workers. But when comparing Virginians to other Virginians, you see some big gaps. The unemployment rate in Galax is 6.4%, which is one of the highest levels in the state.

However, the pure economics of Galax are way behind the times. Residents here earn about $30,604 a year, which is below the poverty line for a family of four. It’s the 5th lowest income in the state.

Home values are some of the lowest in the state at $91,000. And, crime here is actually above average.

And when you consider the sheer number of things to do for entertainment, if you’re not into exploring the outdoors, you’ve got a long drive for some fun. Keep in mind this part of the state has some pretty lousy weather for half the year as well.

Add it all up and Galax is the 4th worst city in Virginia.

5. Martinsville

Martinsville, Virginia

Source: Wikipedia

Population: 13,624
Home Values: $89,100 (3rd worst)
Unemployment Rate: 11.5% (9th worst)
Martinsville has a 11.5% unemployment rate (9th in VA), below average income levels and the 20th highest crime rate in the state.

This random City-Data comment sums up Martinsville.

“I visited Martinsville over the weekend and I have to say the place just seemed completely depressing.

“I saw lots people around Martinsville who looked…well bad. Like former alcoholics and drug addicts.

“And what’s with the poorish looking area, where there were a lot of people in run down homes?

“Just looked sad.”

6. Franklin

Franklin, Virginia

Source: Wikipedia

Population: 8,457
Home Values: $178,700 (31st worst)
Unemployment Rate: 13.7% (2nd worst)
The unemployment rate in Franklin is a sky high 13.7%, which is the 2nd highest in the state. Ouch.

The median income in Franklin is $32,399. That means 14.0% of the population is living below the poverty line. Crime isn’t horrible here, but you have a 1 in 18.5 chance of being the victim of a property crime when you’re within city limits every year.

7. South Boston

South Boston, Virginia

Source: Wikipedia

Population: 8,037
Home Values: $124,100 (15th worst)
Unemployment Rate: 11.3% (10th worst)
The city of South Boston is east of Danville on Route 58 in Halifax County. In looking at the scientific reasons South Boston ranks so high on this ‘worst’ list, we see most of the same factors we’ve seen before. Besides a decent public school system, the economy here is really in the pits.

South Boston has some of the same economic factors that we saw in the Appalachian towns listed above. Except it’s not in the sticks.

People on City-Data have said South Boston is ‘boring and without culture’ and a ‘crack head town.’ We’re not going to assume they speak for everyone, but it wasn’t possible to find anyone who had something nice to say about this place on the internet.

8. Pulaski

Pulaski, Virginia

Source: Wikipedia

Population: 8,958
Home Values: $101,600 (8th worst)
Unemployment Rate: 8.6% (22nd worst)
When you’re looking at science and data, Pulaski is the 8th worst place you can live in the state of Virginia. Let’s see why.

First off, the crime here is really high, in comparison to the rest of Virginia. Pulaski is the 25th most dangerous place you can live in the state, where you have a 1 in 36.1 chance of being the victim of some type of property crime. Meaning lots of people are getting robbed here.

Homes here average $101,600, which is the 8th lowest in the state. You can defend ‘cheap living’ all you want, but the fact is, homes are priced by demand, and there’s not a lot of demand to live in Pulaski.

Income levels are just about $37,485, the 20th lowest in Virginia.

When you add it all up, Pulaski really is quite an undesirable place to live. The people who have to live in here could use a big hug right about now.

9. Hopewell

Hopewell, Virginia

Source: Wikipedia

Population: 22,279
Home Values: $123,800 (14th worst)
Unemployment Rate: 12.8% (4th worst)
Hopewell is one of the poorest cities in the state of Virginia. This city has 12.8% of its residents out of work, and those who have jobs earn under $39,064 a year.

Cities can be charming, but not when they are dangerous. Hopewell has the 22nd highest crime rate in Virginia. While the numbers aren’t staggering (Virginia is a relatively safe place when you compare it to the rest of the country), it’s still undesirable when you consider that there are far safer (and more stimulating) places to make your home in the Old Dominion.

10. Richlands

Richlands, Virginia

Source: Wikipedia

Population: 5,630
Home Values: $95,500 (6th worst)
Unemployment Rate: 6.8% (34th worst)
Back out into the mountains we go. Richlands, way out on a very winding Route 460, has some of the same issues we’ve noted above. In fact, the public schools in Richlands get the least amount of funding in the state. At $8,500 per student, that’s almost half of what kids get on average in the rest of the country.

Low incomes and cheap homes make it purely undesirable for most people. When homes are priced at $98,000 each, that means there isn’t a lot of demand to live here.

Wrapping Up The Worst In Virginia

If you’re looking at areas in Virginia 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, Emporia ranks as the worst city to live in Virginia for 2017.

If you’re curious enough, here are the best cities to live in Virginia:

  1. Vienna (Pop. 16,341)
  2. Falls Church (Pop. 13,308)
  3. Purcellville (Pop. 8,658)

For more Virginia reading , check out:

Detailed List Of The Worst Cities In Virginia

Rank City Population Unemployment Rate Home Value
1 Emporia 5,672 19.1% $115,000
2 Petersburg 32,123 13.0% $111,900
3 Danville 42,450 12.7% $88,600
4 Galax 6,876 6.4% $91,000
5 Martinsville 13,624 11.5% $89,100
6 Franklin 8,457 13.7% $178,700
7 South Boston 8,037 11.3% $124,100
8 Pulaski 8,958 8.6% $101,600
9 Hopewell 22,279 12.8% $123,800
10 Richlands 5,630 6.8% $95,500
11 Big Stone Gap 5,508 9.9% $109,500
12 Portsmouth 96,135 11.6% $169,800
13 Richmond 213,735 10.0% $193,700
14 Covington 5,736 7.3% $68,600
15 Marion 5,919 4.7% $89,500
16 Bristol 17,524 10.7% $114,500
17 Wytheville 8,154 11.1% $173,800
18 Roanoke 98,736 8.3% $134,400
19 Norfolk 245,452 10.9% $193,400
20 Front Royal 14,846 9.6% $170,100
21 Buena Vista 6,666 7.3% $115,000
22 Woodstock 5,181 4.5% $188,200
23 Ashland 7,298 5.6% $178,700
24 Winchester 27,168 6.7% $216,300
25 Farmville 8,355 8.9% $163,900
26 Bluefield 5,350 5.0% $100,600
27 Newport News 181,323 9.1% $193,100
28 Fredericksburg 27,395 8.9% $317,900
29 Waynesboro 21,150 4.9% $156,200
30 Lynchburg 78,158 8.0% $149,200
31 Dumfries 5,158 11.6% $163,000
32 Culpeper 17,167 7.9% $201,800
33 Radford 17,057 8.8% $148,600
34 Hampton 137,081 9.8% $188,000
35 Suffolk 86,184 8.0% $235,300
36 Colonial Heights 17,515 8.3% $169,300
37 Smithfield 8,233 12.2% $269,200
38 Vinton 8,162 6.3% $143,500
39 Manassas 40,743 7.5% $276,700
40 Chesapeake 230,601 7.5% $253,800
41 Harrisonburg 51,388 6.5% $199,400
42 Staunton 24,193 5.6% $165,400
43 Abingdon 8,143 5.6% $168,400
44 Strasburg 6,506 5.8% $182,400
45 Manassas Park 15,625 4.4% $248,300
46 Blacksburg 43,530 7.5% $275,400
47 Lexington 7,071 2.7% $242,700
48 Charlottesville 45,084 4.3% $285,300
49 Fairfax 23,402 5.4% $470,300
50 Warrenton 9,843 5.3% $319,400
51 Herndon 24,384 6.2% $379,900
52 Salem 25,165 4.8% $173,100
53 Virginia Beach 448,290 6.1% $259,900
54 Alexandria 149,315 4.5% $502,500
55 Christiansburg 21,623 3.9% $178,500
56 Williamsburg 14,754 8.5% $320,600
57 Leesburg 47,872 4.3% $382,800
58 Poquoson 12,077 4.5% $307,800
59 Bridgewater 5,844 3.5% $198,000
60 Purcellville 8,658 4.5% $412,500
61 Falls Church 13,308 4.2% $718,900
62 Vienna 16,341 3.2% $639,200

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22 thoughts on “These Are The 10 Worst Cities In Virginia For 2017

  1. Wow, I guess it’s a good thing you DON’T measure anything but numbers. I grew up in Hampton Roads, I live in Galax now, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. We’re home to the Virginia State Barbecue Championship (Smoke On the Mountain), the biggest and best old-time-mountain music gathering in the world (the Old Fiddlers’ Convention, going on as we speak) and the kindest, friendliest, most helpful people I’ve met in my life. Not to mention having what is honestly the best barbecue restaurant on earth (The Galax Smokehouse) as my neighbor.

    I won’t deny there’s hardship and finances could be better; but painting this place as depressing rural slum is unfair and inaccurate. We draw a LOT of tourists almost year-round, and for good reason. I love Southwest Virginia in general and Galax in particular. We have good food and wine, we have a good bookstore, we have wonderful festivals, and we have the most beautiful music you’ll ever hear. I think that adds up to plenty, thanks.

    P.S. The winters are colder than eastern Virginia, sure, but they’re not as horrible as you’re making them out to be and they DON’T last half the year.

    1. I grew up in Fries, right next to Galax, and I have to say that this is pretty accurate.

      Galax is a pretty backwards little town with fairly little to offer. When you grow up in the area and the attraction for a place to go for entertainment is the parking lot of Walmart, there’s not a lot to do.

      When you grow up poor, it’s even worse. That means you probably don’t even have a car to get to the Walmart parking lot unless you’re going there with your parents or you get lucky and have a friend who is better off than you financially.

      Galax is also unfortunate enough to be a high traffic zone for the drug cartels. Unless you either know someone in the police force, do a ride along with them, or you are looking for them for the obvious reasons, you would probably never notice, but once you’re aware of it, they are not hard to spot.

      There’s a reason that so many of the youth who go to college don’t come back.

  2. We’re #2, but like Hertz, we try harder   If snobby jerks find our communities here in SWVA so offensive, I’m pretty happy they stay where they are. I’m in love with our changing seasons, winding roads, soaring mountains and scenic vistas. Sure, we have too many unemployed – but so does most of Virginia, and America, for that matter. Our schools may not spend the national average on students, but I’ll put our teachers up against anybody. So “roadsnacks”, stay where you enjoy. You’ll never like it where people speak to you on the sidewalks, help neighbors, and enjoy life.

  3. Mark Pruett bluefield va is not slummy i feel that someone got their towns mixed up. drugs and crime are bad on the wva side and so is the housing. in bluefield va you find better home in almost all areas of the town. now blfd wva is a older town with older homes like it was said in this article. maybe they need to go back and look closer. i myself was born and lived in blfd. va for many years. bluefield virginia has many nice residential areas. sedwood, double gates pinehill park, west graham and others yea income may be low but so is the crime. i think they need to go back and look at the wva side and you will see it is the area that has all they said was in bluefield i have to dissagree with most of what was said about bluefield va.

    1. Well said and all true. I seem to recall finding lots to do growing up in Bluefield. This article is just foolish,

  4. We live in Hampton Roads now, but I was a pastor in Galax from 2002-2007 and totally disagree with this rating of Galax as the worst city over 5k in Virginia. Sure the numbers may tell one story but it’s not a complete story. What Galax lacks in 21st century commercialization, it more than makes up for in a simpler way of life, some great restaurants (Galax Smokehouse), some great churches, wonderful people, and beautiful scenery. Maybe our country would be in better shape today if people left the malls and walked a mountain trail, or rode bikes down scenic paths, or strapped on a backpack and went hiking with friends. I believe that it would be. Galax has its problems like any small town, but I believe it’s positive points greatly outweigh the negative.

    1. I too have lived in Galax .I feel that it is one of the worst places in va .I don’t see it as being number one.Its not a place for young people but a great place for the old.It needs more things for the young people to do.

  5. You could atleast put updated pictures of the place you trash on here. The picture of Marion is over two years old. The boarded up widows is now a great brick oven pizza restaurant with 27 beers on tap.

  6. Bluefield va has a decent unemployment rate has a wonderful four seasons climate and extraordinary scenic views. GHIS is one of the best academic high schools in va with great success in several academic competitions in the state. We have m as ny culter as l venues including Bluefield College symposia, Bluefield State College science and technology programs, the Bluefield Arts Center, the monthly music concerts at First Christian Church and the Summit Players dinner theater.
    We have wonderful four seasons climate experience as well as spectacular vistas. We have access to the best 4-wheeler trail in the US, the Hatfield-McCoy trail and hunting and fishing as rewarding as anywhere. Pray tell where did you get the ‘facts’ to form your conclusions/opinions that Bluefield va is a ‘ worst ‘place to live?

  7. I hate to see Bluefield on the list. And I definitely disagree with the description of “slummy”.
    There are a few very old buildings still standing but just down the road from the picture they used is a very busy main street. The majority of our town is well cared for & beautiful.

  8. Well I totally disagree with these stats.I don’t live in,but lived in Lebanon area for twenty years.I just recently travelled to Va.Beach,Norfork area.I have never been so stressed out by the traffic and the rudeness of the people.Not even to mention there crime rate.Everything is not always based on looks and stats that is nothing except an opinion that someone had nothing else to do,but gather this worthless information.I have been in most of these little towns and no way do they need to be told that they didn’t make the cut.It’s almost like they have been counted out,guess what these people still have there home town pride.

  9. Just another outsider evaluating a place and culture they clearly DO NOT understand.The Appalachian region maintains the distinctive culture of miner-mountaineers. In its traditional aspects, this culture places a value upon rural lifestyle, relative isolation, and a harmony with nature not found in urban areas. There is a strong importance attached to personal relationships and personal interaction, and to the social organizations of kin, neighbors, and church, NOT how many movie theaters or expensive resterauants you have. In saying this, outsiders drive through and attempt to evaluate the area, but fall very short of the truth. You must be a TRUE native to understand our culture and it’s very obvious the writer of this article doesn’t have a clue about what is really going on behind the scenes of this unique culture.

  10. Who are you guys (& gals)? Pretty poor predictions if you haven’t visited these communities. Marion is not in the Allegheny mountains. It does have a vibrant downtown revitalization under way. Galax is located in one of the most beautiful areas of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The Parkway goes right by there. Richlands, Big Stone Gap and Bluefield have very safe communities, by and large. They are just unfortunate to happen to be dependent on an economy of coal upon which Obama has raged all out war. Wonder where we’ll be when the lights across the nation start going out because not enough coal is being mined in the regions where these communities are located. Shame on you roadsnacks.

  11. What a very poor article….totally misleading. If you are reporting on only the negative aspects, call it that and do your ranking. If you are talking about a place to live, it is totally poor research and writing to not include everything, which would include the positive aspects, such as cultural, scenic, etc. Whoever wrote this should stop writing until they learn more about reporting.

  12. Great job on this article! I’ve been saying this for years. I don’t take this personally because I realize it is merely a study. The entire world does studies and you made it quite clear that you are not intending to insult people. Marion does not have many good paying jobs. Some people do well here but those are the fortunate ones. I know way more people who do not do well…some can barely buy food. There are more and more organizations and churches having to help these days. I know this because I have been involved with feeding the poor. It grows faster ever year. When the best factories shut down in 2002 everything changed and not for the best. We have nice restaurants downtown and it is good for the tourists. But for many people who live here it is a day to day struggle. Unless they are out helping those people (which many do) no one can imagine how hard it is for some to buy food or even medicine. I have seen a LOT right here in town. Most jobs are part-time or minimum wage. I’m sorry that these people are offended by this study but reality for many people here is that there are no jobs for the young people graduating unless they are lucky enough to fall into the family business or something along that nature. As far as the crime rate – oh yes! Meth is huge here. The police do their best but it continues to multiply daily. The closest jail (Abingdon) just built on to add hundreds of more people. And they can’t believe our crime rate is bad?! Sorry it sounds like people live with their heads in the sand. As beautiful as some areas are around here the big money paying jobs are gone for those who are looking at this time. It’s a good place to retire or visit but living here is tough. However if anyone is interested in helping the poor, please contact your local just might open your eyes. I appreciate this article. Keep up the good work!

    1. Very well said. I have lived in Marion, VA from the day I was born and I’m now 30 years old and yet nothing has changed that has made a great impact on the working person and our children if anything it has gotten worse. There are less jobs day after day for the majority of the citizens that have a GED, High School Dipolma, or a couple years of college and that’s 75% of the people. My percentage may not be accurate but it’s the point. The working person struggles day in and day out around Marion. Most of the schools are falling down, no one in the education field gets paid correctly, and worse than that teachers have stopped loving their jobs and kids are being bullied daily and nothing gets done about it. Our tax dollars are wasted on the most ridiculous things instead of bringing business in, fixing our schools, building free places for children to go instead of getting hooked on drugs because they are bored. Please get your heads out of the clouded because yes this is a beautiful place to live but in no way are we improving things by not having more jobs, more activities for children, and listing to people my age for a change would be a great idea considering we are trying to build and raise family’s in this town not retire and go to the Lincoln Theater.

  13. All those places are nice towns. I love Saltville. There’s no more beautiful place to live but down in the mountains of Va.

  14. I’d have to agree about Galax not having anything to do but sometimes that’s a good thing . I live in a very small town in Ohio but spent allot of time in Galax and thought it was a breath of fresh air . Who ever wrote this has no idea what winter weather is like .

  15. While all of the pictures posted of these small towns show decent…even nice…pictorial depictions, why show the outskirts of town in the Bluefield one? THAT i s NOT Bluefield, VA, though it is IN Bluefield, VA. Bluefield is a very nice, quiet small town; clean (with the exception of a very few places…as in all places in the U.S.), very friendly people and neighbors always willing to lend a helping hand. I have lived here for all of my 60 years, and although, I do not like the winters (I have had SAD since childhood),I am in total disagreement with the writers of this article…every single word of it is a falsehood. The writer probably came as far as the Farm Bureau (in the picture) though Bluefield WV, and decided that they’d seen enough and turned around without ever seeing the real Bluefield, VA. And just for the record, we have the 6th largest Wal-Mart in the country!

  16. This article is most certainly accurate. I have lived in Big Stone Gap for nearly sixteen years, almost my entire life. Moreover, I must imply, if your not a teacher, do not obtain a position in a hospital, or work at a jail, then you will waste your time trying to find a satisfactory stream of income here. One of the main sources for wealth in several of the areas listed, was the coal industry. As anyone can guess, most of the firms have released their employees’ positions because of the strict regulations that the Obama administration has placed. Which leads to towns such as this one, to become quite poor and it increases the crime rate, the unemployment rate, and the decrease of pay for anyone who works around here. For an example, the teachers around here, have not had a raise in six to eight years. Thus, from my perspective, Big Stone is EXTREMELY boring and quite depressing. Yes, there may be nice views of the mountains and many outdoor activities to do, but most people around here are too busy working double time to support their family. In addition, even if the people had time to go out and do whatever he/she desires, there is absolutely nothing to do besides exercise in the park, eat at Little Mexico, and go to Wal-Mart.
    For more negative, true connotations, Big Stone Gap is a decreasing, economic slope and retirement home. There is nothing to do for teenagers, including me and everyone within Union High School, and the only jobs available for anyone who does not have a college degree, is Food City and Pizza Hut. It is pitiful, saddening, and I hope the situation of the area turns out for the best in the future. However, for now, it has most definitely been through better and stronger days.

    Food City is a larger employer than any of the coal companies around this area.

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