For various reasons, certain areas in the country just aren't as well off as others. Often, it's due to riches-to-rags-style scenarios. For instance, a vibrant local economy kept afloat by a robust manufacturing base may see its fortunes tumble when most of those jobs go overseas. Other times, close proximity to an international border results in a surge of new residents, and there just aren't enough jobs to go around. Whatever the reasons may be, cities with high poverty rates often tend to have high unemployment and crime rates too. Not surprisingly, these phenomena often negatively impact housing values as well.
AreaVibes' list of the top 10 cities with the highest poverty rates (with a population over 100,000) is based on the official U.S. federal definition of the poverty threshold. Also known as the federal poverty line or poverty rate, it refers to the minimum level of income required to support an individual or a family. For 2015, the federal poverty level for an individual is an annual salary of $11,770. For a family of four, it is $24,250. In 2012, the most recent year for which data is available, the national federal poverty rate in the U.S. was 15.1 percent. This means that 15.1 percent of all Americans live at or below the federal poverty threshold. The following cities are the top 10 worst cities in terms of the percentage of population that lives at or below this threshold.
- 1. Flint, MI
© nesjumpman - flickr
A city that once boasted more than 80,000 GM manufacturing jobs alone in 1978 saw that figure plummet to fewer than 8,000 by 2010. Not surprisingly, then, nearly 40 percent of Flint residents live at or below the federal poverty line, making it the poorest city in the United States. The median household income is just over $26,000, which is 45 percent lower than the Michigan average. The most recent unemployment rate was nearly 13 percent, so it doesn't look like things will be changing for the better any time soon. Learn more about Flint, MI poverty rates.
- 2. Detroit, MI
© hz536n - flickr
Like Flint, Detroit was once home to an abundance of high-paying manufacturing jobs. In the wake of a major upheaval in the auto industry, the city has seen a mass exodus, and more than 38 percent of its residents live at or below the federal poverty line. With more than 7,900 crimes per 100,000 residents, the crime rate is nearly double that of the state of Michigan. An abysmal unemployment rate of nearly 15 percent suggests that good times aren't on the horizon. Learn more about Detroit, MI poverty rates.
- 3. Athens, GA
© univrsltransl8r - flickr
This north-eastern Georgia city is the first on our list outside of Michigan, but its poverty rate is nearly as bad as those of Detroit and Flint. Confusingly, the unemployment rate here is just 4.4 percent. Why is the city's poverty rate so high, then? The answer lies in the fact that it's a college town. When the census is performed, all of those unemployed and under-employed students skew the figures. Learn more about Athens, GA poverty rates.
- 4. Gainesville, FL
© csessums - flickr
Located in north-central Florida, Gainesville is another college town with a surprisingly high poverty rate. Home to the University of Florida, the city is also home to a huge population of poor college students. Other than the abysmal poverty rate and a somewhat elevated crime rate, Gainesville has quite a lot going for it. The unemployment rate of 5 percent is well below the national average, and median housing values are only a tiny bit below the state average. The city boasts an overall livability score of 79. Learn more about Gainesville, FL poverty rates.
- 5. Brownsville, TX
© publiccitizen - flickr
This southern Texas city was long named the poorest in the nation. Today, it's ranked fifth on AreaVibes' list. Located on the Rio Grande just across from Mexico, part of the reason for the city's high poverty rate is the regular influx of foreigners from south of the border. The economy doesn't have enough jobs for so many people, so many end up living in poverty. In fact, the economy here is largely based on retail and fast food types of businesses, meaning that wages aren't very high. Indeed, the median household income of $31,605 is 38 percent lower than the state median. Learn more about Brownsville, TX poverty rates.
- 6. Cleveland, OH
© 25165196@N08 - flickr
Like Detroit and Flint, Cleveland is still trying to rise from the ashes of what used to be a strong manufacturing-based economy. Located in northeastern Ohio on the shores of Lake Erie, the city's crime rate is 131 percent higher than the state average. This undoubtedly has a lot to do with the high unemployment rate, which was 11.6 percent most recently and nearly double the state's 6.2-percent rate. Still, the city's cost of living is below the state average, and there have been signs of progress in the local economy too. Learn more about Cleveland, OH poverty rates.
- 7. Hartford, CT
© sandcastlematt - flickr
Following the Civil War, Hartford was the richest city in the U.S. The Industrial Revolution had a lot to do with that, but the once-busy factories shut their doors long ago. Today, Hartford is the poorest city not just in one of the richest states in the U.S. but in the entire country too. Its livability score of 68 belies other problems too, including a crime rate that's 132 percent higher than the state average and an unemployment rate approaching 12 percent. Learn more about Hartford, CT poverty rates.
- 8. Dayton, OH
© vistavision - flickr
Located in west-central Ohio, Dayton ranks eighth on our list of the top 10 cities with the highest poverty rates. Its current problems largely stem from a lack of high-paying jobs in the region, which is mostly because so many high-paying manufacturing jobs have evaporated. Indeed, the city's median household income of $28,595 is 40 percent lower than the state average. While the state has a reasonable unemployment rate of just over 6 percent, Dayton's exceeds 10 percent. Clearly, the city is in dire need of not just more jobs but of better-paying ones. Learn more about Dayton, OH poverty rates.
- 9. Syracuse, NY
© russnelson - flickr
Upstate New York was once a thriving industrial and manufacturing region. Its robust economy supported millions of people. Those days are long gone, though, and Syracuse has borne the brunt of the woes. However, its unemployment rate of 6.5 percent suggests that things could finally be on an upswing. Despite that, however, the median household income of $31,459 is 45 percent lower than the state average, suggesting that the new jobs don't pay very well. Unfortunately, crime continues to be an issue, with the crime rate currently more than 140 percent greater than the state average. Learn more about Syracuse, NY poverty rates.
- 10. Rochester, NY
© 1sock - flickr
Another Upstate New York city rounds out our list of the top 10 cities with the highest poverty rates in the country. Rochester's fortunes also plummeted along with the doomed manufacturing-based economy. While a few colleges and universities are located here, they don't really explain the dismal poverty rate. Rochester's crime rate is 160 percent higher than the state's, and the median household income is roughly half of the state's. The unemployment rate of 7.8 percent seems decent until you realize that the state's is currently at 5.6 percent. With any luck, the economy will start adding more higher-paying jobs, and more families will climb out of poverty. Learn more about the Rochester, NY poverty rates.
For more information, check out the AreaVibes Best and Worst Places to Live list for real-time, up-to-date and interactive top 100 best and worst list of cities. The report is sortable, and it allows you to filter by population and by category as well as by state.