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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 61 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:
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. And the worst place to live in Virginia? That would be Emporia.
Read on below to see how we crunched the numbers and see how your city fared in 2020.
For more Virginia reading, check out:
- Best Places To Live In Virginia
- Cheapest Places To Live In Virginia
- Most Dangerous Cities In Virginia
The 10 Worst Places To Live In Virginia For 2020
Emporia is one of the poorest cities in the state of Virginia. Located on the North Carolina border, this city has 23.3% of its residents out of work, and those who have jobs earn under $30,857 a year.
Small towns can be charming, but not when they are dangerous. Emporia has the 9th 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.
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 2nd 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 $31,938 a year, which is below the poverty line for a family of four. It's the 3rd lowest income in the state.
Home values are some of the lowest in the state at $101,100. 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 2nd worst city in Virginia.
Petersburg needs some tough love.
Years ago, someone told me the sun never shines in Petersburg. That's not true, of course, but you can understand why she might say that when you analyze certain facts about Petersburg. Of the 61 cities considered in this ranking, Petersburg had the least to be proud of across the board.
Not only does Petersburg have Virginia's 8th lowest home value rank, but it also had the 3rd and 14th highest rankings in unemployment and crime respectively. Statistics like that will certainly make the sun shine a bit dimmer, and it will win you are in contention for title of "Worst City in Virginia."
If you know anyone in Petersburg, tag them on Facebook and tell them you love them. They can probably use it right about now.
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.
If you live in Danville, you're either going to fiercely protect your town, or you agree that it should be on this list. Either way, it doesn't matter, because science says it's the 5th worst place to live in the state.
You've got the 7th highest crime rate in Virginia, which saw 216 violent crimes last year. You have a 1 in 25.4 chance of being robbed and a 1 in 192 chance of being attacked, raped or killed here for every year you spend in the city limits of Danville.
Plus, folks are simply out of work. Danville sports the state's 6th highest unemployment rate (9.2%), and families bring in a combined $36,301 a year, which is far below the state average.
No wonder homes are cheap; you can get one yourself for only $91,100.
Most of the rest of the cities on this list deserve to be on here due to their high crime numbers. Martinsville is the 10th most dangerous city in Virginia, according to the FBI. Residents had a 1 in 27.8 chance of being the victim of a property crime. That's really high for Virginia, but not even the highest in the state.
Home values are the 3rd cheapest in the state, and income levels are almost as low as you can get. Households in Martinsville bring in just under $33,224 a year annually.
Here in Franklin, you have some of the highest crime and the highest unemployment rates in Virginia. That's not a good combination.
Located in Franklin city, you have a 1 in 23.6 chance of being the victim of a property crime when inside Franklin city limits every year. Some of those crimes might be due to the relatively high unemployment rate (15.0%). That's good for the 2nd highest unemployment rate in Virginia.
The same problems that affect Galax also surface with Marion. Wedged in the Allegheny Mountains on I-81, Marion has a higher unemployment rate (7.3%) and lower home values ($102,900) than Galaxians do. However, residents here earn slightly higher salaries.
What really makes Marion a real trouble spot is the quality of the schools. Here, students get just about the least amount of attention, per teacher than any other place, and the amount spent per student ($9,500) is far below the national average.
Crime is a tad bit higher in Marion as well.
And, considering that Marion has some of the coldest temperatures in the state, it can be a really undesirable place to live for a lot of the year.
Hopewell is one of the poorest cities in the state of Virginia. This city has 8.3% of its residents out of work, and those who have jobs earn under $40,497 a year.
Cities can be charming, but not when they are dangerous. Hopewell has the 19th 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.
If you live in Virginia, you may or may not be surprised that Richmond ranked, at least on paper, as the 10th worst place to live in the state. It has the 15th highest unemployment rate in the state, and the 6th most dangerous.
Incidentally, Richmond is the 5most densely populated city in Virginia. Draw your own conclusions.
How we determined the worst places to live in Virginia for 2020
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
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 5,000 people were considered -- leaving 61 cities.
We then ranked each city from 1 to 61 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. You can download the data here.
This list is a scientific analysis based on real data and is completely unbiased.
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 2020.
If you're curious enough, here are the best cities to live in Virginia:
- Falls Church (Pop. 14,067)
- Vienna (Pop. 16,488)
- Bridgewater (Pop. 5,983)
For more Virginia reading, check out:
Where Are The Worst Places To Live In Virginia?