- The most miserable city in the US is Gary, Indiana.
- The state with the most miserable cities is California, with 10. New Jersey is close behind, with nine, and Florida comes in third, with six.
- These cities have things in common – few opportunities, devastation from natural disasters, high crime and addiction rates, and often many abandoned houses.
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Not the worst, just the most miserable.
We’ve identified the 50 most miserable cities in the US, using census data from 1,000 cities, taking into consideration population change (because if people are leaving it’s usually for a good reason), the percentage of people working, median household incomes, the percentage of people without healthcare, median commute times, and the number of people living in poverty. ( See the data and how we weighted it here.)
Often, these cities have been devastated by natural disasters. They’ve had to deal with blight and with high crime rates. Economies have struggled after industry has collapsed. These cities also tend to have high rates of addiction.
The state with the most miserable cities was California, with 10 in the top 50. New Jersey was second, with nine, and Florida had six.
Here are the 50 most miserable cities in the US, based on US census data.
Editor’s Note: We have updated the story headline to make clear that the ranking was based on US census data, and included a link to the data in the story.
50. Lancaster, California
Lancaster, a desert town, has almost 160,000 people, 51% of whom work, and 23% of whom live in poverty. It’s had crime problems, both with meth addiction and neo-Nazis. But Mayor R. Rex Parris is doing what he can to kickstart the city, including looking to China for investment.
44. Hemet, California
Hemet has a population of 85,000 people, and from 2010 to 2018 it grew by 8.5%. It’s struggled since the 2008 recession, however. Twenty-three percent of people live in poverty, and crime rates are high. In 2016, 623 cars were stolen, 170 robberies were reported, and the police logged 398 aggravated assaults – the most this century.
42. San Bernardino, California
Of San Bernardino’s 216,000 residents, 57% are employed, and 30% live in poverty.
It’s 60 miles east of Los Angeles and has an interesting history. It’s where McDonald’s began, as well as the Hells Angels motorcycle gang. Along with a tough recession, it had a steel plant and an Air Force base close down, meaning even fewer jobs.
38. Reading, Pennsylvania
Reading has 88,495 residents, of whom almost 62% are working and 36% live in poverty. In 2011, The New York Times said it was the poorest city in the US.
Its economy struggled after factories closed down or downsized, laying people off. An estimated 44% of households are on food stamps, among the most in the country.
31. Saginaw, Michigan
Saginaw has 48,000 people, and from 2010 to 2018 it lost 6% of its population. Fifty-five percent of people are working, and nearly 34% are living in poverty.
Like many other cities on this list, it used to have a lot of manufacturing jobs – at one point about 25,000 with General Motors. But they didn’t last.
Some locals reportedly refer to the city as “sag-nasty” because of its issues with crime. In May 2019, violent crime had fallen in the city, with 16 shootings to date, compared with 30 at that point in 2018.
28. Miami Gardens, Florida
Miami Gardens has 113,000 people – 60% are working, while about 22% live in poverty.
In 2014, it was called the “stop and frisk capital of America,” after an investigation showed nearly 57,000 people had been frisked since 2008.
Another issue in the area is the cost of water. Because it comes from a plant owned by the City of North Miami Beach, the cost of living is a little bit higher. In March, the city was suing to fight the extra 25% surcharge.
19. Paterson, New Jersey
Paterson has 145,000 residents, 57.5% of its population is working, and 29% live in poverty.
It used to produce silk in the 19th century, but it’s since struggled. In a cruel twist of fate, the Great Falls, which was used to power factories, ended up flooding the city after Hurricane Irene in 2011.
From 2009 to 2016, the city’s tax revenue fell by 38%. It’s also had problems with blight. At one point it had 1,250 abandoned homes, but that dropped to 770 in 2016.
11. New Brunswick, New Jersey
New Brunswick has 56,000 residents, 54% of people are working, and 35% are living in poverty. It has had problems with crime. In 2017, the city’s assaults with guns rose 64%.
7. Flint, Michigan
Flint has 96,000 residents, and it’s fallen by 6% from 2010 to 2018. Just over half of people are working, and 41% of people are living in poverty – the highest on this list.
The city has struggled with a decline in manufacturing. By 1990, General Motors had downsized in the area, leaving many without jobs.
Flint is perhaps best known for the water crisis it’s been facing since 2014, where residents were being poisoned with lead. On top of that, it’s got 20,000 abandoned properties to deal with, a consistently high murder rate, and an opioid problem.
1. Gary, Indiana
Gary has 75,000 residents but lost 6% from 2010 to 2018. Just over half of the population works, and 36% live in poverty. The most miserable city in the US was once a manufacturing mecca, but those days are over.
A drug-enforcement agent who grew up in the area told The Guardian in 2017: “We used to be the murder capital of the US, but there is hardly anybody left to kill. We used to be the drug capital of the US, but for that you need money, and there aren’t jobs or things to steal here.”