Sun, Surf, and … Sadness? 2019’s Worst Cities to Live Are Not Where You’d Expect

Mendota, CA

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California and Hawaii are often billed as sunny, fun-filled places to live, but according to a new report, some of their cities are actually the worst places to live. Really!

Financial news website 24/7 Wall St. has released a ranking of the worst cities to live for 2019, assessing areas based on a weighted index of 25 metrics in four categories: affordability, economy, quality of life, and community.

Topping (or rather, bottoming) the list with the most miserable living situation of all? Mendota, CA.

Why California isn’t all fun in the sun

Mendota, mind you, is just two hours southeast of San Jose, which is one of the nation’s most expensive markets and bills itself as the “capital of Silicon Valley”—so how can it be so bad? Well, the Central Valley town may as well be light years away in terms of culture and opportunities.

According to 24/7 Wall St., high unemployment rates and financial insecurity plague Mendota, a small farming community that has seen jobs dry up over the past decade. An average of 15.4% of the area’s labor force has been unemployed in the past five years, and this widespread unemployment has greatly affected quality of life.

“Mendota has also been plagued with high crime, high poverty, and low education,” says John Graff, a broker at Ashby & Graff Real Estate in Los Angeles.

Mendota’s dire straits are common in pockets of the country where economies are largely reliant on agriculture.

“Agricultural work pays very low, and four-year college degrees are not necessary for the overwhelming majority of job opportunities here,” Graff notes. As a result, most of these residents can’t afford to keep up with the state’s sky-high cost of living.

Want further evidence of this trend? Two other California farming communities, California City and Avenal, also ranked among the worst cities to live (in third and 10th place, respectively).

What’s up with Hawaii?

The surprises don’t end there. Although warm weather and good living tend to go together, two Hawaiian towns (Makaha and Waianae) were also listed among the 10 worst cities to live.

Makaha was deemed the worst place to reside in the state due to its high cost of living and low affordability. Not only are goods and services in this tropical town 61.4% more expensive than the rest of the nation, but housing is practically unaffordable. A home in Makaha costs nearly $564,000—about eight times the median household income in the area.

And things are just as bad in Waianae. While this beach town is one of the few places on the list that boast a median household income higher than the U.S. average, its residents still can’t afford the island’s high cost of living.

In fact, living expenses are so out of control that a relatively large share of Waianae residents—27%—live below the poverty line.

Take-home lesson: Never assume that great weather or a location near the beach will translate to a better life.

Here’s a rundown of the 10 worst cities to live, ranked by 24/7 Wall St.—consider yourself warned!

The worst cities to live

  1. Mendota, CA

  2. Florida City, FL

  3. California City, CA

  4. Makaha, HI

  5. Highland Park, MI

  6. Bessemer, AL

  7. Bastrop, LA

  8. Waianae, HI

  9. Anniston, AL

  10. Avenal, CA

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Source: Housing Trends Feed