The Top 10 Poorest Cities in the United States

Apartment buildings and decrepit mansions alike have been condemned and destroyed en masse.

The United States is often touted as the land of freedom and opportunity. For many, it is a land that calls for them to dream big, act big, and make their home a prosperous one. However, it is a sad reality that not everyone has that ability, and at times entire towns fall victim to poverty. Here, we take a look at the ten poorest cities in the United States. Estimations of poverty take into account average household income, home value, the percent below the federally recognized poverty line, and the overall unemployment rate.

The Poorest Cities in the USA – 2018 Update

10. Poorest City: Homedale, Idaho

homedale
An aerial view of Homedale and the surrounding rural area.

Homedale is found in the south west corner of Idaho, and is certainly easily missed. With a population of around 2,600 and less than 1.5 square miles in area, this town is very much a one stoplight town, with only one set of schools within its borders. With a poverty rate percent at 40% and only around 100 individuals with bachelors degrees in the area, it is not quite Mayberry. That being said, property prices are also quite cheap as the average home is priced at just shy of $90,000.

9. Poorest City: University (UCDP), Florida

The main economic power in University is the small shopping mall within its borders.
The main economic power in University is the small shopping mall within its borders.

Not quite a city, University is an Unincorporated Census Designated Place that is closely bordered by Tampa, Fl

orida and the University of South Florida. Often labeled “Suitcase City” due to the trend of residents keeping their stays remarkably short, this place houses on average around 40,000 inhabitants and is hard to distinguish from neighboring (and more prosperous) cities. While 20% of the population has a bachelors degree, the individual salary average is only around $22,500 and the poverty rate is 43.9%, which is far higher than the surrounding regions.


8. Poorest City: Prichard, Alabama

Once a bustling main street, now most shops are permanently closed.
Once a bustling main street, now most shops are permanently closed.

Located in the southernmost country of Mobile, Alabama, the population of this city has been halved since the 1970’s. There has been a reason for this as jobs and education have called residents elsewhere, leaving all but plywood covering former main drag shops. While the poverty rate is slightly lower than previous cities at 37.9%, average salaries are also lower near $22,000. The average home is also significantly less valuable at $67,300, making it slightly harder for the city government to collect funds through property taxes to improve the city. In fact for the past decade, the local government have been struggling in handling tight budgets, filing for bankruptcy in 2009. At time of writing, it is still an open question if Prichard will remain a city or be incorporated into another within Mobile County in the coming years.

7. Poorest City: New Tazewell, Tennessee

An aerial view of the majority of the town.
An aerial view of the majority of the town.

It is not common anymore to encounter a town whose city hall resembles an older two story general store. New Tazewell, with a population of roughly 3,000 people is just such a city, and doesn’t seem to have need for any more than that. Formerly a larger town with a Tobacco oriented economy and a major rail hub, both health concerns from the crop and the economic downturn has hit this town rather hard. Though New Tazewell still has some major manufacturing centers for Lay-Z-Boy and England Furniture Incorporated, the average salary just over $21,000 and a poverty percent rate at 43.8%.

6. Poorest City: Thomson, Georgia

This small cinema is one of the very few establishments that remain viable within the city.
This small cinema is one of the very few establishments that remain viable within the city.

Formerly known as Slashes, the city of Thomson is located near the heart of Georgia. Much like New Tazewell, Thomson started life as a railway hub and has glory days quite far in the past. The population has been on the regular downward trend for the past 35 years, leaving only 6,500 residents behind. With an average salary of $21,000 and a poverty rate at 38.5%, it is no surprise that there has been a long and slow exodus from McDuffie County.

5. Poorest City: East Cleveland, Ohio

Apartment buildings and decrepit mansions alike have been condemned and destroyed en masse.
Apartment buildings and decrepit mansions alike have been condemned and destroyed en masse.

East Cleveland used to be known as “Millionaires Row” from the 1860’s until the 1920’s, this city was hit hard by the Great Depression and never quite recovered. Though economic icons such as the home of John D. Rockefeller and General Electric’s Nela Industrial Park still tower over the region (and the latter is still the city’s largest employer), the economy itself is at best standing on some fairly weak crutches. The average salary in the area is $20,600 per year, and the value of the average home is no longer above the average person’s reach

at $65,100. Unfortunately, the poverty rate has replaced the percent of wealthy residents as the highest number at 42%.

4. Poorest City: Muskegon Heights, Michigan

An all too common sight, this home has been boarded and put up for sale.
An all too common sight, this home has been boarded and put up for sale.

Muskegon Heights has a story all too familiar within this article. With a population that has been falling since the 1970’s (typically at a double digit percentage), this city just shy of 11,000 outdoes it’s eastern neighbor Detroit in unemployment, poverty and low wages. With a poverty rate of 44.5% and the salary average at $20,450 per year, it is certainly not an easy place to make a good living.

3. Poorest City: East St. Louis, Illinois

While such buildings are inviting to Urban Explorers, the high crime rate makes most shy away.
While such buildings are inviting to Urban Explorers, the high crime rate makes most shy away.

Just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis proper, East St. Louis is not only a poor but has historically been a remarkably dangerous city. Once labeled among the most violent cities in the world with 101.9 murders per 100,000 inhabitants in 2007 (where the rest of the nation averaged 6) and nearly 6,000 assaults within the same group (where the nation averaged 340), it is often seen as an example of how poverty and desperation can lead to crime. With the average salary below $20,000 and a poverty rate above 45%, it is sad to see such trends of poverty continuing, though crime has been reduced substantially in recent years.

2. Poorest City: Benton Harbor, Michigan

A protest in Benton Harbor over the suspension of the city council's decision capabilities.
A protest in Benton Harbor over the suspension of the city council’s decision capabilities.

Not only are the residents of Benton Harbor rather impoverished, the city government is also in dire straits in terms of finances. While the citizens suffer an average salary of roughly $19,000 and have a poverty rate of 47.5% which is by all accounts quite bad, the city itself has been in emergency financial management for the better part of a decade. Since 2009 it was revealed that city budgets had been nearly $10 Million in the red, and the city agencies cut their employed force by over half to help compensate. This was also during the same point where any decision making rights of the city council were indefinitely suspended until such time as recovery occurred, which has by all accounts been yet to happen. One can only hope that Benton Harbor, and Michigan in general recover from a notably bad period in their history.

1. Poorest City: Macon, Mississippi

The town jail is one of the tallest and cleanest buildings in the city of Macon.
The town jail is one of the tallest and cleanest buildings in the city of Macon.

Topping this list as the poorest city of the United States, Macon, Mississippi is in a rough way. What was once the capital city of Mississippi during the American Civil War has quickly and harshly been removed from the state’s spotlight. With half of the population at or below the formal poverty line and the average salary at $18,000, most citizens find it quite the task making ends meet. With a population of 2,600 and only an area of 1.5 square miles, it seems that population, territory and opportunity are all fading away from Macon.


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