10 Worst Places to Live in Illinois: Exploring Struggling Communities in the State

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Illinois, once known as the Land of Lincoln, is facing a significant exodus of residents. More people are leaving Illinois than any other state in the past decade, with 51,029 individuals leaving in 2020 alone. The reasons for this mass exodus are multifaceted, including high taxes, government mismanagement, the cold climate, lack of job opportunities, and increasing crime rates. In this article, we will explore the ten worst places to live in Illinois, where struggling communities are experiencing a significant decline in population.

Kankakee: A Once Vibrant City Struggling with Job Loss

Our first stop on this tour of the worst places to live in Illinois is Kankakee. With a population of 26,000 people, Kankakee is a small city located about half an hour south of the Chicago metro area. In the past, Kankakee was rated as the 354th best place to live in the country, but it has recently fallen on hard times due to the loss of factory jobs. The departure of major employers, such as the Chicago Bears, has led to a decline in the city’s economic stability. Kankakee is also grappling with high rates of violence, poverty, and single-parent households. Receiving food stamps is prevalent in Kankakee, with 30% of the community relying on them.

Peoria: A Formerly Vibrant City with a Depressing Vibe

Peoria, the eighth-largest city in Illinois, is experiencing a significant decline in population. This city, once described as a vibrant place to live and work, now has a reputation for being dirty, depressing, and unsafe. Peoria has a high crime rate, particularly on the east and south ends of the city. The decline in manufacturing jobs, including the relocation of Caterpillar’s headquarters, has contributed to the economic struggles in Peoria. Despite these challenges, downtown Peoria has undergone gentrification efforts to revitalize the area.

Danville: An Aging Community on the Indiana Border

Located on the eastern border of Illinois, Danville is an aging community that has seen better days. Its proximity to Indiana has attracted a significant number of residents, but the city has suffered from high rates of crime, drug use, and poverty. The Bear Oaks housing project on the city’s east side has become a hub for criminal activity, with gang-related violence becoming a serious issue. The city has also experienced a decline in middle-class families, as they seek better opportunities elsewhere.

Decatur: A City in Rapid Decline

Decatur, a city larger than Danville, has experienced even worse challenges. It has been ranked as the 15th fastest shrinking large city in the country, losing 7% of its population in the past decade. Decatur’s decline can be attributed to a combination of factors, including high crime rates, joblessness, and poverty. The city’s industrial base has dwindled, leaving behind a struggling community with limited opportunities for economic growth.

Chicago Heights and Ford Heights: Suburban Suffering

The Chicago suburbs of Chicago Heights and Ford Heights are among the worst places to live in Illinois. Chicago Heights has high levels of unemployment, crime, and poverty. It has been ranked as the 10th most violent place in the state. Ford Heights, located next to Chicago Heights, is a poverty-stricken community that has experienced a 20% decline in population over the past decade. Both suburbs suffer from high crime rates and a lack of economic opportunities.

Harvey: A Poverty-Stricken Suburb

Harvey, another Chicago suburb, is facing similar challenges as its neighboring communities. With a population of 24,000 people, Harvey has high levels of poverty and crime. It ranks in the top 10 for crime in Illinois, making it an unsafe place to live. The city’s economic struggles are evident in its high unemployment rates and the prevalence of poverty assistance programs. Despite its proximity to downtown Chicago, Harvey continues to deteriorate, leading many residents to seek greener pastures elsewhere.

Rockford: A Rapidly Diminishing City

Rockford, with a population of 145,000 people, has seen a significant decline in its population over the past decade. The city has experienced a 5% decrease, signifying a troubling trend. Rockford’s high crime rates, particularly on the west side of the river, contribute to its reputation as one of the most violent cities in the state. The city’s struggling school system and lack of job opportunities have further dampened its prospects for growth and prosperity.

Cairo: A City on the Brink of Extinction

Cairo, located at the intersection of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers, is a small city with a rapidly declining population. With only 2,000 residents, Cairo is literally dying, with an exodus of people leaving due to the lack of jobs and economic opportunities. The closure of housing projects, mismanagement of public funds, and natural disasters like floods have contributed to Cairo’s downfall. The city’s struggles resemble those of a third-world country, with a lack of basic amenities and a grim outlook for the future.

East St. Louis: A Troubled Suburb with a Rich History

East St. Louis, a suburb of St. Louis, is notorious for its high crime rates and poverty. The city has experienced a significant decline in population, leaving behind a struggling community facing economic hardships. Despite its challenges, East St. Louis has a rich history and cultural significance dating back to the jazz era. Efforts to revitalize the city are underway, but many obstacles must be overcome to restore its former glory.


Illinois is grappling with a mass exodus of residents, as more people leave the state than any other in the past decade. The ten worst places to live in Illinois, which we have explored in this article, all share common struggles, including high crime rates, poverty, and limited job opportunities. These communities are facing challenging times, but efforts to revitalize and rebuild are underway. Despite the current hardships, there is hope for a brighter future for Illinois and its struggling communities.

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