Ranking 10 Least Desirable States to Live in the USA

Written by: Better Ask Me



Time to read 7 min

While each state in the USA has its unique appeal, there are certain factors that may make some states less desirable to live in than others. In this article, we will explore and rank the states that tend to be considered less desirable based on various criteria. It's important to note that desirability is subjective, and what may be considered less desirable for some individuals may be perfectly suitable for others.

West Virginia

Criteria for Ranking:

To create a more comprehensive list, we've considered the following measurable criteria:

  1. Quality of Healthcare: Evaluated using the United Health Foundation’s America’s Health Rankings.
  2. Job Opportunities: Unemployment rate data sourced from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  3. Education: Quality of public schools and percentage of residents with a high school diploma or higher, according to U.S. News & World Report.
  4. Crime Rate: Violent and property crime rates per 100,000 residents.
  5. Cost of Living: Data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis.
  6. Recreational Activities: Number of state parks, theaters, museums, etc., per capita. 

The Data-Backed Ranking 

1. Mississippi

  • Healthcare Rank: 50th
  • Unemployment Rate: 6.3%
  • Education Rank: 48th
  • Violent Crime Rate: 234.4 per 100,000
  • Cost of Living: Low, but income is lower, making the cost of living relative. 
  • Recreation: Limited outdoor activities, mainly fishing and boating.

Why It's Least Desirable: Mississippi struggles with systemic poverty, which has far-reaching consequences for healthcare and education. Nearly 19.6% of its population lives under the poverty line, which is the highest rate in the U.S. This means limited access to quality healthcare, good schools, and job opportunities. The state also has the highest rate of infant mortality and one of the lowest life expectancy rates in the country. Its poor infrastructure further exacerbates the issues, making it difficult for residents to break the cycle of poverty.

2. West Virginia

  • Healthcare Rank: 47th
  • Unemployment Rate: 6.1%
  • Education Rank: 45th
  • Violent Crime Rate: 362.2 per 100,000
  • Cost of Living: Low 
  • Recreation: Abundant in natural beauty but lacks variety.

Why It's Least Desirable: The decline of coal industry jobs has led to economic depression in many parts of West Virginia. The opioid crisis has hit the state hard, contributing to its low healthcare rankings. It has the highest rate of drug overdose deaths, which reveals an underlying mental health crisis that the state has been slow to address. With poor job prospects and a lack of social services, many young people are leaving the state, contributing to an aging population and a shrinking tax base.

3. Arkansas

  • Healthcare Rank: 46th
  • Unemployment Rate: 4.4%
  • Education Rank: 42nd
  • Violent Crime Rate: 543.6 per 100,000
  • Cost of Living: Below average 
  • Recreation: Some natural parks but limited urban entertainment.

Why It's Least Desirable: Arkansas's issues are multidimensional. Its education system lacks funding, ranking among the lowest in per-student spending. This impacts student performance and long-term prospects. Additionally, the state has a high obesity rate, contributing to its low healthcare ranking. Arkansas also grapples with a high rate of uninsured residents, which affects overall public health.

4. Alabama

  • Healthcare Rank: 45th
  • Unemployment Rate: 3.6%
  • Education Rank: 44th
  • Violent Crime Rate: 524.2 per 100,000
  • Cost of Living: Below average 
  • Recreation: Some beautiful beaches but limited variety.

Why It's Least Desirable: Despite its rich cultural heritage and natural beauty, Alabama ranks low on social mobility indicators. It has a deeply entrenched racial wealth gap and a history of underinvestment in predominantly black neighborhoods and schools. This racial inequity has contributed to a vicious cycle of poverty, poor education, and limited access to quality healthcare.

5. Louisiana

  • Healthcare Rank: 44th
  • Unemployment Rate: 5.7%
  • Education Rank: 49th
  • Violent Crime Rate: 557.8 per 100,000
  • Cost of Living: Average 
  • Recreation: Rich cultural scene but high crime rates.

Why It's Least Desirable: Natural disasters like hurricanes frequently devastate the state’s economy and infrastructure. Louisiana also has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world, which doesn’t just reflect on crime rates but also indicates systemic issues in the judicial system. There's also a high rate of income inequality and poverty, particularly among minorities, contributing to its low desirability.

6. Oklahoma

  • Healthcare Rank: 43rd
  • Unemployment Rate: 4.0%
  • Education Rank: 40th
  • Violent Crime Rate: 466.6 per 100,000
  • Cost of Living: Below average 
  • Recreation: Mostly hunting and fishing.

Why It's Least Desirable: Heavy reliance on the oil and gas industry makes Oklahoma vulnerable to market fluctuations. This results in unstable job security for a large portion of its population. Moreover, a lack of investment in public services like mental health care and public transportation makes it challenging for residents to improve their standard of living. 

7. Kentucky

  • Healthcare Rank: 42nd
  • Unemployment Rate: 4.3%
  • Education Rank: 37th
  • Violent Crime Rate: 232.3 per 100,000
  • Cost of Living: Below average 
  • Recreation: Horse racing and some natural parks.

Why It's Least Desirable: The state faces a high rate of tobacco use and lung cancer. This, combined with the opioid crisis, contributes to its low healthcare rankings. Moreover, the decline in coal jobs has not been met with an influx of alternative employment opportunities, leaving many communities economically depressed.

8. South Carolina

  • Healthcare Rank: 41st
  • Unemployment Rate: 4.5%
  • Education Rank: 43rd
  • Violent Crime Rate: 488.3 per 100,000
  • Cost of Living: Average 
  • Recreation: Coastal activities but limited urban entertainment.

Why It's Least Desirable: Despite its picturesque coastal towns, South Carolina struggles with social and economic disparities. There's a significant achievement gap in its schools, often tied to income levels. Additionally, the state has high rates of domestic violence, contributing to its overall high violent crime rate.

9. Tennessee

  • Healthcare Rank: 40th
  • Unemployment Rate: 4.9%
  • Education Rank: 38th
  • Violent Crime Rate: 632.9 per 100,000
  • Cost of Living: Average 
  • Recreation: Music scene and natural parks.

Why It's Least Desirable: Although a hub for music and culture, Tennessee has a high rate of violent crime, particularly in its larger cities. The state also struggles with poor air quality and environmental protections, ranking low on sustainability and clean energy initiatives. 

10. Nevada

  • Healthcare Rank: 39th
  • Unemployment Rate: 5.0%
  • Education Rank: 46th
  • Violent Crime Rate: 541.1 per 100,000
  • Cost of Living: High in cities, average in rural areas 
  • Recreation: Las Vegas, Lake Tahoe, but limited beyond that

Why It's Least Desirable: Despite the glitz and glamor of Las Vegas, Nevada suffers from low rankings in education and healthcare. The state has a high transient population, which often results in community disengagement. Inequality is stark; while some enjoy immense wealth from tourism and entertainment, a significant part of the population struggles with poverty and lack of access to essential services. 


This ranking isn't meant to denigrate these states but rather to highlight areas that could be improved for the betterment of their residents. The states listed have their own set of unique advantages and beautiful landscapes. However, when it comes to measurable quality-of-life indicators, they have room for improvement. As always, personal experiences may differ, and it's crucial to conduct your own research before making any life-changing decisions.


Considerations and Perspective:

It's important to note that every state has its own unique characteristics and strengths. The ranking above is based on certain criteria and may not reflect the overall desirability for every individual. Many states have specific regions or cities that offer great quality of life and opportunities despite overall state rankings.


It's important to note that these rankings are based on general indicators and may not reflect the experiences of every individual. Each state has its own unique characteristics, attractions, and opportunities that may appeal to different people. It's essential to consider personal preferences, career prospects, lifestyle factors, and individual priorities when deciding where to live.

Furthermore, it's worth mentioning that rankings and perceptions can change over time. States have the potential to improve in various aspects, and ongoing efforts in areas such as economic development, education, healthcare, and infrastructure can positively impact their desirability for residents.

When considering a place to live, it's advisable to conduct thorough research, visit the prospective locations, and take into account your specific needs, career goals, and personal preferences. Ultimately, the best state to live in is one that aligns with your lifestyle, offers opportunities for personal and professional growth, and provides a high quality of life that meets your expectations.


The complexities of why a state may be considered 'least desirable' often go beyond mere statistics. Issues like poverty, social inequality, and lack of access to essential services weave a complex tapestry that is not easily unraveled. It's crucial to understand that while these states may lag in certain metrics, they are also home to communities, cultures, and natural wonders that are a vital part of the American landscape. Nonetheless, identifying and acknowledging these challenges is the first step in addressing them for future betterment. When evaluating a state's desirability, it's important to consider not just the glaring issues but also what it might offer in terms of cost of living and recreation. Unfortunately, for these states, lower costs often don't make up for significant systemic issues, and limited recreational activities offer little respite. Understanding the full picture requires considering a broad array of factors that collectively contribute to quality of life. This multifaceted approach gives a more nuanced understanding of why these states often find themselves ranked as "least desirable" places to live in the U.S.

Least desirable states to live in US.

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