In life, you often have to take the bad along with the good. In the case of America's big cities, there are definitely some stinkers to accompany the gems. Marked by financial irresponsibility, corruption, dreadful weather and besieged residents trapped in decaying urban centers, these 10 cities represent the worst of America. These cities are like a sculpture of an elephant designed by a committee of blind artists; the leaders of these cities know that cities are supposed to have things like well-paying jobs, quality schools and safe streets, but they're just not quite sure what those things look like.
Our proprietary Livability Score has never been used for a more ignoble purpose as we use it to filter all of America's cities for the worst possible scores. We concentrated on cities of more than 200,000 to show you all the places unfortunate enough to have scores of residents who are unhappy to be living where they are.
- 1. Detroit, MIScore: 69/100
© jmsmith000 - flickr
The troubled city of Detroit, Michigan, retains its dubious spot at the top of this list. Although it's hard to pick out the city's biggest problem, crime is a worthy contender. A criminality rate that's 155% above the national average will have residents huddled in their homes after dark. Detroit's struggles extend to the classroom, with a bare 70% of area residents graduating from high school. On a positive note, housing prices are downright affordable when compared to the rest of the state; on a less positive note, that's mostly because everyone who could afford to leave already has, and the affordability of your house is small comfort when you know that Detroit is waiting for you outside. City leaders are bravely trying to woo new residents and employers, but the large swaths of unoccupied and unkempt urban wastelands show how successful they've been. Learn more about Detroit, MI.
- 2. Anchorage, AKScore: 69/100
© dougbrown47 - flickr
Anchorage, Alaska, doesn't do much to sell itself to would-be residents and has retained its spot from last year. Although the city's mild summers draw tourists, the long and dark Alaska winters are brutal enough to drive even the toughest to drink. The short days and freezing nights may explain the city's reputation for a cranky and rude populace; none of them are happy to be living there, and they want to make sure that you aren't either. Almost everything has to be shipped up to Anchorage by boat, plane or international crossing; the cost of living in this remote location is enough to give sticker shock a whole new meaning. As if the human troubles of Anchorage aren't bad enough, residents often have to contend with rogue moose attacks within the city limits. Learn more about Anchorage, AK.
- 3. Buffalo, NYScore: 71/100
© e-lame - flickr
Buffalo, New York, has the unenviable honor of moving up on this year's list. Employment continues to be Buffalo's biggest problem, with income levels far below the national average and a depressing poverty rate of 30%. The city's steel mills, once bastions of well-paying blue collar work, now sit silent and rusting. City leaders have been trying to entice biomedical and financial service companies into the city, but thus far the city hasn't really succeeded in joining the 21st century economy. With employment figures so dismal, it's no wonder that so much of the city's populace has turned to crime; although the criminal rates have improved slightly over last year, Buffalo's crime rate remains uncomfortably above the national average Learn more about Buffalo, NY.
- 4. Rochester, NYScore: 71/100
© avatar1 - flickr
Once known as Flour City, Rochester, New York, is more likely to draw in weevils than millers. These days, Rochester has a booming criminal population rubbing elbows with their beleaguered fellow citizens. Although the city once thrived on its productive flour mills, property crime and burglaries are the biggest businesses in today's Rochester, with crime rates far above the national average. Education is another of the city's biggest woes. The high school graduation rate is almost 10% less than the national average, and barely half of the city's residents have completed some level of college. Those without advanced degrees struggle to find jobs, and many of the available jobs offer low wages. Rochester's median income is a paltry $30,708. Sadly, the situation in Rochester doesn't seem to be improving; last year, they were only eighth on this list. Learn more about Rochester, NY.
- 5. Newark, NJScore: 71/100
© mmwm - flickr
Crime and corruption find a comfortable home in Newark, New Jersey, up four spots from last year's ranking. The city's long list of troubles was even the subject of a documentary in 2009. If residents can overlook the city's soaring crime rates, they can't find too much to be happy about at the grocery store. The cost of living in Newark is far above the national average, but families must deal with those outsized costs on an undersized average household income of just $34,387 per year. Unsurprisingly, the poverty level has climbed to an astonishing 28%. Learn more about Newark, NJ.
- 6. San Bernardino, CAScore: 71/100
© modofodo - flickr
San Bernardino, California, moved down a position on the list since year. The recession of 2008 struck the city hard and hasn't let up; San Bernardino was forced into bankruptcy in 2012, and it still hasn't recovered. On the law enforcement side, draconian budgets forced most of the city's police force off the job, with entirely predictable results. In the classroom, the results have been even more devastating; barely 64% of the city's residents have completed high school, making even Detroit look good. With poverty at 30% and unemployment near 10%, San Bernardino is a city stuck in 2008. Learn more about San Bernardino, CA.
- 7. Cleveland, OHScore: 72/100
© [email protected] - flickr
Cleveland, Ohio, improved its ranking on this year's list, moving from third to seventh place. Although the city has a range of affordable housing options, the area's crime rate is high, making the affordable housing something of a mixed blessing. Property crime is one of the worst parts of living in Cleveland, with more than 20,000 reported property crimes in 2013. Even if you are the victim of a crime, however, you might think twice about calling the police. The city's police department was the subject of a Department of Justice investigation into excessive use of force, especially in nonviolent situations. Learn more about Cleveland, OH.
- 8. Minneapolis, MNScore: 72/100
© [email protected] - flickr
Minneapolis, Minnesota is new to the list this year and, like many other cities on this list, is plagued by significant crime rates. Employment numbers don't do much to help either; the city has a poverty level of 22%. Wages are less than those in the rest of the state, even while housing and utilities cost more than in other cities in Minnesota. Residents of Minneapolis probably don't have many positive things to say about the city's weather either. Summers highs can hit 100 degrees, and winters can be plenty chilly. Unfortunately for the city's citizens, the weather is not bad enough to keep out the criminals, who flock to the city like snowbirds to Arizona. Learn more about Minneapolis, MN.
- 9. St. Paul, MNScore: 72/100
© bobex_pics - flickr
St. Paul, Minnesota, joins its neighbor, Minneapolis, as another newcomer on the list this year. Although St. Paul also has some crime concerns, the city's biggest drawback is its economic outlook. Median household income lags behind both the average for Minnesota and the country. The unemployment rate is also slightly higher at 7%, and poverty is twice as high as the average for the state. St. Paul's weather extremes don't make the city an attractive proposition; winters are icy cold, and summers tend to be long and humid. Learn more about St. Paul, MN.
- 10. Philadelphia, PAScore: 73/100
© lhoon - flickr
The City of Brotherly love isn't feeling much love these days with its fresh arrival on this year's list. Although Philadelphia is often known as the Birthplace of Liberty, for many of the city's residents, it's instead the Birthplace of Incarceration; Philadelphia's crime rate is 89% higher than the state's average, and its violent crime rate is 227% higher. In the city's schools, teachers must deal with an 18:1 student-teacher ratio, making it difficult to give students the individual help they need to succeed. Only 45% of adults have finished some college. Education problems translate into economic woes, and the city's residents face a median household income that is more than $15,000 less than the state's average. Learn more about Philadelphia, PA.
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 your preferred state.