18 Worst Run Cities in America

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While there is no definitive way to rank the worst city, various studies and reports indicate where residents struggle and call on the government for support. From high poverty rates, increasing incidents of violent crime, and a lack of job opportunities, we take a walk through 18 of the worst-run cities in America. 

Detroit, Michigan

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Detroit’s story is one of boom and bust. While the American auto industry fueled its prosperity for decades, its decline left a significant economic and social scar on the city, leading to job losses, population decline, and associated challenges. The Detroit bankruptcy in 2013 was a landmark event, marking the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history.

Baltimore, Maryland

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Baltimore grapples with a persistent economic divide, leaving many residents struggling to access essential resources and enjoy a decent quality of life. This disparity, coupled with high poverty rates and persistent violent crime, has resulted in widespread vacancy in homes and businesses. The city’s diverse political landscape can sometimes complicate collaborative solutions and compromise-finding, further hindering progress.

Cleveland, Ohio

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Cleveland’s poverty burden falls heavily on specific neighborhoods, creating pockets of disadvantage linked to historic patterns of segregation. This limits access to resources and opportunities, hindering upward mobility. While economic diversification efforts bring hope, many residents yearn for more high-paying jobs to break the cycle.

Memphis, Tennessee

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Memphis grapples with persistent gun violence reflected in its high national ranking for violent crime. This significantly impacts community safety and well-being, fostering a climate of fear. The city’s legacy of segregation and discriminatory practices cast a long shadow, contributing to stark racial disparities in wealth, health, and education, further challenging social and economic mobility.

St. Louis, Missouri

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Decades of segregation continue to cast a long shadow on St. Louis, manifesting in concentrated poverty within specific neighborhoods. This legacy restricts access to resources and opportunities, perpetuating a cycle of disadvantage. Disinvestment in these areas has resulted in vacant buildings, crumbling infrastructure, and limited essential services, further hindering progress.

Gary, Indiana

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Gary’s industrial steel industry was once the city’s heart, but it now bears the scars of decline. Abandoned factories and buildings cast shadows over the landscape, deterring investment and echoing a bygone era. While the steel industry’s embers still flicker, it no longer defines the city’s economic identity. 

Camden, New Jersey

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Camden grapples with a deep-rooted poverty issue, impacting over 30% of residents and shaping the perception of the city as crime-ridden. This lack of resources hinders law enforcement efforts and community-based crime prevention programs, perpetuating a cycle of disadvantage. Though new businesses offer a glimmer of hope, high-paying job opportunities remain scarce, limiting upward mobility and economic empowerment for many residents.

Stockton, California

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Stockton grapples with the lasting impacts of past financial mismanagement, reflected in its 15.6% poverty rate and high crime rate. The city’s 2012 bankruptcy marked a low point, highlighting the burden of rising pension obligations. While ongoing community development efforts seek to revitalize neighborhoods and create economic opportunities, the road to recovery remains challenging.

Fresno, California

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Fresno confronts a double threat: widespread poverty and stark income inequality, limiting opportunities and hindering the quality of life for many residents. The city’s public schools, already facing funding and resource limitations, need help with persistent achievement gaps, demanding urgent improvement. Criticism toward the city’s governance stems from concerns about fostering job creation and attracting diverse industries for broader economic growth and upward mobility.

Birmingham, Alabama

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Despite some diversification, Birmingham heavily relies on traditional industries, such as manufacturing, that have declined for many years. This vulnerability to economic downturns has eroded business confidence, resulting in a landscape dotted with empty buildings and homes. Additionally, educational investment suffers, creating a cycle that perpetuates the challenges.

New York, NY

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New York City’s exorbitant cost of living, encompassing housing, food, transportation, and more, weighs heavily on many residents, widening the already significant wealth gap despite efforts to address it. This disparity fuels social unrest and feelings of disenfranchisement, even as murder rates decrease. Calls for better governance reflect residents’ desire for a more equitable and accessible city.

San Francisco, CA

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Despite declining crime rates, a sense of unease persists in some San Francisco neighborhoods, fueled by drug use and property crime. This adds to residents’ frustration with the city’s high cost of living, making it challenging to feel secure and comfortable.

Washington, DC

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Despite a thriving tech sector and high average income, D.C. grapples with concentrated poverty in specific neighborhoods. This disparity of opportunity fuels social tensions and makes affording necessities, like housing, increasingly tricky for essential workers and many residents already facing financial strain.

Los Angeles, CA

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Among the nation’s highest, Los Angeles’ sky-high housing costs squeeze middle-class families and essential workers, forcing them out and exacerbating social tensions. This widens the economic gap and limits opportunities for many while the city grapples with a significant homeless population requiring comprehensive support and solutions.

Chicago, IL

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Persistent income inequality creates a stark reality for many – poverty concentrated in specific neighborhoods, limited opportunities, and restricted access to essential resources. This, coupled with rising housing costs, fuels displacement and gentrification, pushing residents out of their communities and further widening the gap.

Newark, NJ

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Decades of neglect and disinvestment have taken their toll on Newark, leading to a shrinking population, crumbling infrastructure, and a struggling economy. Residents yearn for a brighter future, calling for improved job opportunities and enhanced safety to foster a sense of security and community pride.

Miami, FL

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Soaring housing costs, food prices, and other expenses, among the highest in the nation, squeeze middle-class families and essential workers, forcing them out and exacerbating social tensions. This widening economic gap limits opportunities for many, making a city increasingly out of reach for its very foundation.

Atlanta, GA

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Despite a downward trend in violent crime, Atlanta’s broader crime landscape remains a source of concern for residents. Keeping children in quality education and tackling stubbornly high poverty rates are ongoing challenges. Additionally, the scarcity of affordable housing options forces residents to live far from jobs and amenities, exacerbating transportation difficulties and hindering upward mobility.

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