If You Think Life Is Hard Where You Are, Try Living Here

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The New York Times has identified the counties where life is hardest in the U.S., as well as the best counties in which to live. Where does yours rank?

Life is hard in the Appalachian Mountains of eastern Kentucky.

Six of the 10 hardest counties to live in in the U.S. are located there, according to an analysis by The New York Times. The Times evaluated the nation’s 3,135 counties on the following six factors: education, household income, unemployment, disability rates, life expectancy and obesity.

Sure, there are other metrics that affect quality of life – crime rate, cost of living, income mobility and environmental quality, just to name a few – but because data wasn’t available for the entire U.S., those factors weren’t included in the county rankings, the Times said.

Based on those statistics, the hardest place to live in the U.S. is Clay County, Ky. So what does life look like in Clay County? To give you an idea of just how bleak life is in parts of eastern Kentucky, take a look at this comparison of Clay County to Los Alamos County, N.M., the best place to live in the U.S., according to the Times analysis.

Here are some specific comparisons: Only 7.4 percent of Clay County residents have at least a bachelor’s degree, while 63.2 percent do in Los Alamos. The median household income in Los Alamos County is $106,426, almost five times what the median Clay County household earns. In Clay County, 12.7 percent of residents are unemployed, and 11.7 percent are on disability; the corresponding figures in Los Alamos County are 3.5 percent and 0.3 percent. Los Alamos County’s obesity rate is 22.8 percent, while Clay County’s is 45.5 percent. And Los Alamos County residents live 11 years longer, on average — 82.4 years vs. 71.4 years in Clay County.

The Times said eastern Kentucky’s Breathitt, Jackson, Lee, Leslie and Magoffin counties also rank in the bottom 10, along with the following four counties in the rural South: Humphreys County, Miss.; East Carroll Parish, La.; Lee County, Ark.; and Jefferson County, Ga.

Six of the top 10 counties are in the Washington, D.C., area. By and large, rural places are the hardest places to live, the Times said.

In some places, decades of growth have failed to raise incomes, and of late, poverty has become more concentrated not in urban areas but in rural ones.

Despite this, rural poverty is largely shunted aside in the conversation about inequality, much in the way rural areas have been left behind by broader shifts in the economy. The sheer intractability of rural poverty raises uncomfortable questions about how to fix it, or to what extent it is even fixable.

To get a better picture of the haves and have-nots, check out the Times’ interactive map.

The county where I live ranks 1,443 out of 3,135. We definitely have room for improvement.

How does your county rank? Share your comments below or on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

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