• Forecast
  • News Tip
  • Categories
Temperature Precipitation
Estimated read time
3m 41s

The toughest places to live in America

By Aimee Picchi/CBS News 8:15 AM June 28, 2014

Almost every county in the U.S. has its share of haves and have-nots. But there are some regions where it’s just plain harder for Americans to thrive, places where the poor far outnumber those living in middle-class comfort.

Ten counties in America stand out as the most challenging places to live, based on a survey of six criteria including median household income, disability rate and life expectancy, according to an analysis by The New York Times.

The county with the dubious distinction of being the worst of all is Clay County, Kentucky, where residents can expect to die six years earlier than the average American. But it’s not a recent distinction for the Appalachian county. Its reputation as a rough area dates as far back as 1899 thanks to clan feuds, while a recent survey found Clay County had the worst health characteristics of any county in the state.

Clay isn’t the only Kentucky county to make the list, according to the Times. A cluster of Appalachian counties rank among the toughest places to live in America, with five additional coal-region Kentucky counties on the list: Breathitt, Jackson, Lee, Leslie and Magoffin.

The other four counties ranked at the bottom of the survey include four counties in the rural south: Humphreys County, Mississippi; East Carroll Parish, Louisiana; Jefferson County, Georgia; and Lee County, Arkansas.

The findings highlight an often overlooked issue in the debate about income inequality — the stubbornness of rural poverty. In the U.S., the number of poor rural residents outnumber those in the cities, with 14 percent of rural Americansliving below the poverty line, compared with 12 percent in urban areas, according to the International Fund for Agricultural Development’s Rural Poverty Portal.

Half a century ago, Kentucky provided the face for President Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty.” But while the U.S. poverty rate has declined to 16 percent, from almost 26 percent in 1967, poor rural counties are now facing new issues, such as obesity and drug addiction, and longstanding problems, such as a lack of employment opportunities.

There are a lot of ideas on how to help struggling regions around the U.S., but no clear answer. One proposal floated by Kentucky Senator Rand Paul is to create “economic freedom zones” in challenged U.S. cities, cutting income taxes to a flat 5 percent in order to attract employers.

But the problems in America’s hardest-hit counties go far beyond a tax stimulus, and include one aspect that may simply prove insurmountable, at least in the near term: isolation. With Appalachia’s poor regions far from major highways, cities and industry, that makes it more difficult for families to find stable jobs or pursue higher education.

More than one-fourth of children live in poverty in 12 states that stretch from Appalachia to Arizona, according to the Population Reference Bureau. Poverty rates are not only higher for rural children than for those in cities, but the growing income gap is also hitting rural families harder, the PRB said in a 2009 report.

Already challenged by its isolated geography and poverty, Appalachia was especially adversely affected by the recession. Median household income in the region between 1999 and 2005 through 2009 declined 7 percent, compared with a decline of 5 percent nationwide.

Of course, Appalachia and the South aren’t the only parts of the country where people struggle, The Times’ study found. Pockets of economic and social hardship extend from Maine to Alaska.

So where’s the best place to live? According to the number crunching, it’s Los Alamos, New Mexico, home to the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Thanks to the lab’s $2.1 billion budget, the county of about 18,000 residents is prospering.

Other high-ranking counties include several that serve as suburbs to Washington, D.C., and New York City-area counties, such as Westchester, New York (ranked 98th out of all U.S. counties) and Morris County, New Jersey (ranked 43rd).

© 2014 CBS Interactive Inc.. All Rights Reserved.

Latest Stories

  • News

    Obama highlights Sitka School District’s efforts in technology

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on Nov 22, 13:00

    This week, the Sitka School District got a shout-out from President Barack Obama. Superintendent of Sitka Schools Mary Wegner was in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, joining more than 100 superintendents from across the country gathered together at the White House for the ConnectED to the Future conference. The day-long event recognized some of the nation’s […]

  • News

    Fairbanks prisoner accused of soliciting murder

    by Associated Press on Nov 22, 12:01

    An imprisoned former chiropractor and gun dealer from Fairbanks has been accused of attempting to solicit the murder of federal officers while behind bars. The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner (http://goo.gl/VVMn92 ) reports Guy Christopher Mannino, 56, has been in prison since Oct. 2013 awaiting sentencing for federal weapons charges. The office of the U.S. Attorney says […]

  • News

    Alaska Gov.-elect Walker names full transition team

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on Nov 22, 11:47

    Gov.-elect Bill Walker has taken his first big step towards taking over the helm of outgoing Gov. Sean Parnell. Walker kicked off his transition conference Friday night at the Alaska Airlines Center. There, about 300 people showed up to hear the incoming administration’s overview of Alaska’s current financial situation. Walker was blunt in his address, saying […]

  • News

    5,000 toys to be delivered to tots around Alaska

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on Nov 22, 11:06

    Alaska Airlines and the U.S. Marines are getting into the holiday spirit and children around Alaska are reaping the benefits. Friday, Marines delivered nearly 5,000 toys to the airline’s cargo hanger to be shipped out to children across the state. As part of their annual Toys for Tots program, all of the gifts were donated […]

  • News

    Winter gives cold shoulder to Anchorage snow-based business

    by Dave Leval on Nov 21, 22:35

    Plow trucks usually hit the road around Alaska this time of year, clearing snow from parking lots and roads. But this year, most are parked in driveways, waiting for the next big snowfall to hit the Anchorage area. “We’ve got all the plows off the trucks,” said Mike Anderson, owner of Alaska Premier Services. It’s […]

  • News

    Caring for our soldiers at home

    by Bonney Bowman on Nov 21, 21:51

    Alaska soldiers deployed to Afghanistan have been home for a couple days; getting used to life away from the war and back with their families. It can be a tough adjustment, but the U.S. Army works to help the soldiers make a smooth transition. 1st Lt. Nathan Seaman and his fellow soldiers are going through […]

  • News

    Alaskan advocates optimistic about Obama immigration plan

    by Shannon Ballard on Nov 21, 20:52

    Alaskans are reacting to President Obama’s controversial plans to take executive action on immigration. Obama’s plan offers temporary legal status to millions of undocumented immigrants, including thousands in the 49th state. It also protects undocumented parents of children born in the states. Republicans are questioning the president’s right to bypass Congress and act on his own. […]

  • Weather

    Evening News weather, Nov. 21

    by KTVA Weather on Nov 21, 20:19

      Kenai Peninsula and Prince William Sound - Skies will be cloudy with a chance of showers. Southeast - The panhandle will have showers with snow levels 1000′ to the north and 1400′ around Juneau. Interior and North Slope - Areas will have a mix of sun and clouds with some snow showers by Delta Junction. Slope areas […]