• 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

    Alaskan authors made priority at proposed Spenard bookstore

    by Heather Hintze on Mar 31, 21:55

    Growing up in a family of writers, Vered Mares had a love of books long before she entered the publishing world. In New Mexico, she would take trips with her dad to the Living Batch Bookstore in Albuquerque and learn about her stepmother’s writing process. “It was impossible to not be completely submerged, surrounded and […]

  • News

    Palmer monofill appeal denied

    by Shannon Ballard on Mar 31, 21:32

    An Anchorage company had hopes of building a new landfill in Palmer, but it turns out, the third try is not always the charm. After denying the Anchorage company twice, the Mat-Su Borough denied Central Monofill Services (CMS) again at an appeal hearing on Tuesday. Whether the landfill happened or not had a lot of […]

  • Weather

    Evening News weather, March 31

    by KTVA Weather on Mar 31, 19:59

    Kenai Peninsula and Prince William Sound Expect mostly cloudy skies with showers along the Eastern Coasts and Prince William Sound. A shower or two could push over the mountains and into Interior locations. Southeast Expect scattered showers for the entire Panhandle on Wednesday. Interior/North Slope Interior locations will have partial clearing by the afternoon except […]

  • News

    In Anchorage, hundreds pack PFD office ahead of deadline to file apps

    by Dave Leval on Mar 31, 19:41

    Lines like the one that could be seen outside the Permanent Fund Dividend office in Anchorage Tuesday resembled that of people waiting for tickets to a big concert. Eligible residents stood in line to to apply for their annual PFD checks. “I didn’t want to come, but got to,” said resident Kenneth Welch. “Mom’s got to […]

  • Politics

    Community speaks out about proposed public broadcasting cuts in Alaska

    by Lauren Maxwell on Mar 31, 19:33

    A proposal to eliminate state funding for Alaska’s public broadcasting system got some reaction Tuesday from people testifying in a statewide public hearing. Emily Cross is a board member for public radio station KNBA. Cross told members of the Senate Finance committee that she understood the state was in a difficult budget position but that cutting […]

  • News

    JBER lieutenant becomes Alaska’s 1st nationally ranked female boxer

    by Sierra Starks on Mar 31, 18:44

    Alaska is a state that breeds winter athletes – world-famous mushers, Olympic snowboarders and all different types of skaters and skiers. But the 49th state is not a prime place for those who want to make money fastening on a pair of gloves and throwing blows in a boxing ring. Especially if you’re a lady, like […]

  • News

    Birth of first reindeer calf sets record, marks spring in Alaska

    by Associated Press on Mar 31, 18:21

    A sure sign of spring in Alaska is the birth of the first reindeer calf at a university farm in Fairbanks. Sunday’s birth was good news for folks in Interior Alaska, marking the earliest calf ever born at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Reindeer Research Program. The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports (http://is.gd/qR3eYY ) the birth […]

  • Crime

    North Pole man arrested after troopers say he shot, killed his ex-girlfriend

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on Mar 31, 17:39

    A North Pole man has been charged with murder after troopers say he shot and killed his ex-girlfriend, then covered her body with a tarp. Monday, at about 7:30 p.m., Alaska State Troopers in Fairbanks received a call that a woman was found dead in a driveway off of Larissa Drive in North Pole. A man, […]