Most Americans have never been to Wisconsin. However, as the people who live there know, Wisconsin is an awesome state.
But is it all roses? Definitely not. Just like any other state, Wisconsin has its trouble spots. This article aims to determine, using science, the absolute worst small towns to live in the Badger State. Don’t shoot the messenger, this is all using data.
After analyzing more than 223 of Wisconsin’s smallest cities, we came up with this list as the 10 worst small towns in Wisconsin where you’d never want to live:
- Bell Center
- Soldiers Grove
Of course, many of these cities would rank highly if they were in other states, since Wisconsin has its stuff figured out.
Read on below to see how we crunched the numbers, or scroll to the bottom to see how your town ranked.
How do you decide if a place is lousy or not?
In order to rank the worst small towns to live in Wisconsin, 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, 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 Census’s 2010-2014 American Community Survey, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this is the criteria we used:
- Population Density (The lower the worse)
- Highest Unemployment Rates
- Low housing costs (meaning there’s no demand)
- Adjusted Median Income (Median income adjusted for the cost of living)
- Education (Number of high school dropouts)
- High Crime
We looked at cities with populations between 100 and 1,000 people, of which, there were a lot – 223 to be exact.
Additional note: We get the crime numbers from the FBI, which gets its crime numbers from the cities themselves. Dropout numbers are based on the adult population, not just the current graduation rates of teenagers.
Population: 483Median Income: $25,781
Median Home Price: $69,000
We begin our tour of small towns in Wisconsin that you wouldn’t want to live in with Fairchild, a teeny little village along Route 12 southeast of Eau Claire. If you lived here, at least you’d be able to truck into Eau Claire for work or a hot meal, but in the village proper is quite lacking in amenities.
Families bring in about $25,000 a year annually, which is right at the poverty line. Plus, only 7 in 10 people here completed high school. So if Fairchild was your home, you’d be broke and among an unstimulating population.
Population: 148Median Income: $31,563
Median Home Price: $62,000
We know Wisconsinites like to drink, and if you lived in Elderon, you’d have your choice of two bars in town – Mama’s Place or Mark’s Bar. We’re sure Mama and Mark are both salt of the earth, but you can only spend so many hours elbowed up to the bar before a town this small would become just plain unbearable.
Elderon is the 9th most dangerous small town in Wisconsin, where you’d have a 1 in 32 chance of being the victim of a crime each year. And there’s a reason homes only cost $62,000 each.
To get there, you’d take Highway 29 out of Wausau for about a half hour.
Population: 273Median Income: $30,313
Median Home Price: $82,700
About the same distance, but in the other direction from Wausau, is the teeny little speck of Aniwa. 30% of the population is a high school dropout, and 7.6% are unemployed. Odds are if you lived here, you’d have trouble getting ahead yourself.
For fun, you’d have to throw back Milwaukee Lights at The Little Rock Bar all afternoon. They don’t have a website or a Facebook page, so you’re on your own in terms of what to expect.
4. Bell Center
Population: 150Median Income: $29,219
Median Home Price: $67,100
Bell Center, WI is certainly not the center of excitement. In fact, it’s very rare that Google Street View doesn’t venture into a community, but the photo above is as close as we can get to this teeny tiny place way down by the Iowa border.
We’re sure the hunting is great down there, but you’d also have to deal with dirt roads, high crime and the least densely populated place in the state.
Population: 375Median Income: $40,938
Median Home Price: $65,600
Located just outside the borders of the Menominee Reservation in central Wisconsin is the village of Mattoon. If you lived here, you’d have a tough go at it job wise. 1 in 10 residents is already out of work, helped by the fact that more than 30% of the population is a dropout.
If you have $65,000 to spend on a home in a place with high crime and an hour’s drive away from a decent job, there are probably a couple hundred home owners in Mattoon who would like to speak with you.
Population: 266Median Income: $36,250
Median Home Price: $88,100
The next two cities on this list have even higher dropout rates. Here in Eland, a third of the community never finished 12th grade, and more than 10% are chronically unemployed. If you lived here, you might be in the same boat, and you might find yourself driving to Wittenberg, WI to work at A&W or McDonald’s.
Population: 260Median Income: $18,958
Median Home Price: $68,600
Little Sheldon is the poorest community to make this list. Families bring in an astoundingly low $19,000 a year in combined incomes. Growing up in rural Wisconsin can have its perks, and money can go a lot further here. But it would be very hard to imagine you getting ahead if you lived in Sheldon.
For a hot meal every now and then, you’d have to schlep a place called The Boar’s Nest in Conrath, WI. They specialize in smoked meats and loaded Bloody Marys. So at least you’d have that in your favor.
Population: 810Median Income: $26,027
Median Home Price: $75,700
Now there’s a real boom town! Bruce is the largest city to make this list, so at least if you ended up living here, you’d have plenty of people with which to console with.
Bruce ranks as the 14th most dangerous place in the state, and has the 2nd highest unemployment rate (15%) of more than 250 small towns we measured. As a newcomer in town, there’s not a chance in hell you’d land that bartending gig at Glory B’s Corner Saloon.
9. Soldiers Grove
Population: 555Median Income: $26,389
Median Home Price: $90,000
About halfway between La Crosse and Prairie du Chien is the speck of a place called Soldiers Grove. Incomes are the 3rd lowest of any place we measured, but home prices are the most expensive. Meaning you’d be overpaying quite a bit to live in the middle of nowhere.
On the bright side, there are three bars in town.
Population: 154Median Income: $32,750
Median Home Price: $66,700
We round out our tour of small Wisconsin towns where you’d never want to live with Steuben, a blip of a place in the rolling hills near the Iowa border. There are only 25 people per square mile here, and about 150 in town total.
Crime is the 7th highest of all small Wisconsin towns, and homes are the 9th cheapest. So if you were an adventurous type who didn’t mind tons of peace and quiet, you could pack up and head on out here.
But don’t say we didn’t warn you first.
There You Have It – The Worst Small Towns In Wisconsin
If you’re analyzing teeny places in the Badger State with the worst economic situations, where there’s high crime and there’s not a lot to do, this is an accurate list.
If you’re curious enough, here are the best small towns to live in Wisconsin, according to science.
Best: North Bay
2nd Best: Hewitt
3rd Best: Park Ridge
For more Wisconsin reading , check out:
- This Hilarious Video Completely Summarizes What It’s Like to Live In Wisconsin
- If You’re from Wisconsin This Video Will Be The Funniest Thing You’ll See All Day. Guaranteed.
- 34 Photos of Wisconsin That Will Make You Wish You Lived There
Ranking Of The 100 Worst Small Towns In Wisconsin