The 12 Worst States to Live In

All 50 states in the U.S. indeed have aspects to be proud of, and beauty can be found even in the most unassuming states of the nation. That being said, looks can be deceiving, and not all states are great places to lay down roots.  

A lot goes into ranking the best and worst states to live in, including public health systems, education, job opportunities, life expectancy, and much more. It’s obvious that not all regions of the United States are equal, and unfortunately, some states clearly come out on the bottom when you look at it from a purely factual standpoint. 

If you’re thinking about relocating, you may want to check out the statistics of the state you’re looking at, and whatever you do, stay clear of the ones on our list. Continuing reading to learn more about the top 12 worst states to live in.  

* Readers should note that statistics in this article have been taken from 2018 annual reports unless otherwise stated. 

Table of Contents

1. Mississippi

Coming in first place for the worst state to live in is Mississippi. While the weather is mild and the cost of living is low, this southern state consistently ranks low on lists discussing the best states to live in, and the stats speak for themselves on this one. 

Mississippi has the highest poverty rate in the entire country, with nearly 20% (19.7% to be exact) of its residents living below the poverty line. It is also the only state where over 10% of households report making less than $10,000 per year. This statistic alone makes Mississippi one of the worst places to live in the United States, but it doesn’t stop there.

The state also has the lowest life expectancy in the country – just 74.8 years. Mississippi also takes the cake for the highest adult obesity rate at 36.5%, and residents also report the lowest amount of leisure-related physical activity. 

If all that wasn’t enough to urge you not to make Mississippi your home base, consider its rank in other important socio-economic indicators like high school diploma attainment, unemployment, and adults with bachelor’s degrees. Mississippi rates amongst the bottom five states in all three of these categories. 

2. Alabama

Coming in at number two on our list of the worst states to live in is Alabama. Just like its western neighbor, this state has one of the highest poverty rates in the country (16.8%), and most households bring in less than $50,000 annually compared with the national average of $62,000 per year. 

Part of the state’s poverty statistics can be traced back to education attainment, and only 25.5% of adults in Alabama have earned a bachelor’s degree or higher. When you combine low income with low education, you have a recipe for disaster, and those with lower educational achievement are more likely to choose unhealthy options when it comes to food and lifestyle.  

Although not as low as Mississippi, Alabama has one of the shortest life expectancy rates in the country, and at 75.4 years, residents here live nearly four years below the national average. The state also has the second-highest rate of cardiovascular disease, the third-highest rate of diabetes, and one of the worst rates of premature death. 

Life is even worse for minorities living in Alabama, and this state is one of just five that has no legal protections against discrimination for non-disabled citizens. 

3. Arizona

Home to natural wonders like the Grand Canyon, Havasu Falls, and Monument Valley, Arizona may be a tempting place for outdoor lovers to put down roots. Looks can be deceiving, however, and Arizona is actually one of the worst states to live in in the country. 

While it’s true that the natural areas in this state are nothing to scoff at, overpopulated cities like Phoenix contribute to some of the worst air quality in the United States. This combined with low spending on the public health system is not good for residents suffering from lung issues, and there is also a shortage of doctors and mental health care providers in the state. 

Arizona also holds one of the nation’s highest unemployment rates (4.8%), which in turn contributes to the state’s above-average poverty rates (14%). Soaring summer temperatures make the use of air conditioning a necessity, but the expensive electric bill that goes along with it is a luxury that many residents cannot afford. 

Some residents below the poverty line turn to crime to pay the bills, and the violent crime rate in Arizona is the 10th highest in the country. 

4. West Virginia

West Virginia is one of just two states whose population has actually declined over the past decade, reflecting the social and economic issues that the state continues to face. Needless to say, West Virginia is one of the worst states to live in.

Poor mental health plagues residents of West Virginia at a higher rate than any other state, and overall health is also worse here than it is in most other places around the country. Not only does the state have the highest rate of smokers, but it also has the second shortest life expectancy, at just 75 years of age. 

The economic situation in West Virginia is just as bleak as its health crisis, and this is reflected in the lower than average home prices and median annual household income. The unemployment rate is the second-highest in the country at 5.3%, and the poverty rate is the fourth highest at 17.8%. 

5. Louisiana

Louisiana claims the third-highest poverty rate (18.6%) and the third-highest unemployment rate (4.9%) in the country, making it without a doubt one of the worst states to live in. The high poverty and unemployment rates are likely caused by the lack of education, and Louisiana is one of just six states where fewer than 25% of residents have earned a bachelor’s degree. 

The poverty rate has also affected the health of those who call Louisiana home, and this is often thought to be one of the most unhealthy states in the nation. There are high rates of smoking, obesity, and premature death, and the average life expectancy is just 76.1 years. 

High crime rates are another result of the soaring poverty and unemployment rates in Louisiana, and this state has seen the highest murder rate per capita for the last 31 years. 

While Louisiana doesn’t really need any more help to prove that it’s not an ideal place to live, its location along the country’s southern coast means that it is often pummeled by severe weather, often resulting in flooding, damage to infrastructure, and even death. 

6. Arkansas

Arkansas is another one of the worst states to live in in the U.S., and residents here are some of the nation’s poorest. The state’s 17.5% poverty rate is the fifth-highest in the country, and the median household income ($47,062) is $15,000 below the national median household income. 

While money isn’t everything, the health of Arkansas residents is another reason to pick a different state to live in. Coming in second only to West Virginia when it comes to poor mental health, Arkansas also claims the nation’s fifth-shortest life expectancy at just 75.8 years. It’s also amongst the top worst states for obesity, physical inactivity, and smoking. 

7. Kentucky

If you’re looking for a state with a relatively low crime rate, Kentucky might seem like a good fit at first glance. But dig a little deeper and you’ll find that Kentucky is actually one of the worst states to live in in the country. 

Kentucky is one of the most unhealthy states in the U.S. and the life expectancy for residents here is just 75.4 years, making it the third-shortest in the nation. This could be for a variety of reasons, but the fact that one in four Kentuckians smokes certainly has something to do with it, and this is one of the leading causes of premature death in the state. Kentucky also has an extremely high adult obesity rate, and residents report exercising less here than in other states. 

The poverty and unemployment rates in Kentucky are both in the top ten worst of the country, coming in at 16.9% and 4.3% respectively. 

8. Indiana

Although Indiana boasts one the lowest rates of severe poverty on our list, there are other indicators that the Hoosier State is one of the worst places to live in the United States. 

Indiana is ranked 48th in public healthcare spending per capita, and in 2020, just $55 per person was allocated from the state. This state is also amongst the top ten in the nation for high percentages of adults who smoke, adult obesity rates, and adults who report getting little or no exercise during their leisure time. 

With statistics like this, it’s not surprising that Indiana has one of the shortest life expectancies in the country, coming in at just 77.1 years compared to the national average of 79.1 years. The state also rates low on inclusivity reports, and their public accommodation law neglects to include protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or age. 

The climate also contributes to Indiana’s ranking on our list, and with hot humid summers, cold wet winters, and lots of cloud coverage in between, the weather here leaves a lot to be desired. 

9. Tennessee

When you think of Tennessee, you may think of the Great Smoky Mountains, country music, whisky, or hot chicken, but there is a sinister side to this state that makes it one of the worst places to live in the country. 

The city of Memphis has one of the highest crime rates in the nation, and the state as a whole has the third-highest violent crime rate in the country, with reports of rape, robbery, murder, and aggravated assault all contributing to the statistic. 

Tennessee’s life expectancy at birth is just 76.1, the sixth-shortest in the country and about three years lower than the national average. This state is also amongst the ten worst in terms of obesity, low physical activity, smoking, and infant birth weight, all of which are important indicators of a population’s overall health. 

While Tennessee’s unemployment rate is lower than some of the other states on our list, the poverty rate is one of the highest in the country at 15.3%.

10. Nevada

Lower education can often equate to poorer quality of life, and in Nevada, less than 25% of citizens have earned a bachelor’s degree. That alone wouldn’t make Nevada one of the worst states to live in, but the hospital resources allocation and public health spending have helped the state make its way onto our list. 

Nevada is dead last when it comes to primary care doctors per person, and no state spends less on the health of its citizens than Nevada – just $50 per person annually. The state also has one of the highest rates of uninsured residents in the country, with 11.2% of Nevada’s population living without health insurance. This has contributed to a substandard life expectancy for those who call the state home – just 78.4 years compared to the national average of 79.1 years. 

Nevada has historically held one of the highest unemployment rates in the country, though the poverty rate is slightly lower than some of the other states on our list at 12.9%. 

11. Oklahoma

Looking at the overall health of a state’s population can be a great way to determine if it’s a good place to live or not. Unfortunately, Oklahoma’s data speaks for itself, and this is one of the worst states to live in in the U.S.

This state has the second-lowest insurement rate of residents across the nation, with 14.2% of Oklahomans living uninsured. This combined with the high poverty rate (15.6%) does not make for an ideal living situation, and it’s not too surprising that the life expectancy rate here is one of the lowest in the country at just 75.9 years. 

12. New Mexico

While it may be beautiful, New Mexico is actually one of the worst states to live in in the United States. New Mexico’s crime rate is one of the biggest deterrents to living here, and the violent crimes here were double that of the national average in 2018. 

Crime is often concentrated in areas of poverty, and in New Mexico, the poverty rate is nearly 20% (19.5%), the second-highest in the entire country. Not surprisingly, the unemployment rate is also quite high (4.9% and the country’s third-highest).