Washington state is a beautiful place to live. It's located in the picturesque Pacific Northwest with the Canadian border to the North and the Pacific Ocean to the west. It seems as if the idea of the worst places to live in Washington state would be nonsensical.
However, while there are some excellent places to live in Washington, there are other areas that are best to steer clear of when relocating. If you're looking for a city or town to put down roots, there are plenty of good choices, but some places have hidden drawbacks that you should be aware of before moving here.
Put simply, appearances can be deceptive. To help you figure out which are the worst places to live In Washington, we've researched the cities in the state that are not good choices because of crime rates, low livability scores, or sagging economies.
Our Methodology Section
When trying to find the 20 worst places to live in Washington state, we did a lot of research. We think it's important that you get the in-depth information you need to make a smart living choice. Here are the steps we took so that you can better understand how we narrowed down our options:
- Focused on government sites, when possible, to provide detailed information
- Checked out authoritative news publications that we knew we could trust
- Identified various trends and living issues throughout each city
- Ranked each city based on their livability to improve your understanding
- Regularly update this list to ensure your information is accurate every year
The 20 Worst Places to Live in Washington
Let's not wait a moment longer, but just jump right into it. Here are the 20 worst places in Washington state to live in, including explanations for why each should be avoided.
20. Toppenish, WA
Only in Your State contributes its opinions on the worst cities in Washington, starting with Toppenish. Toppenish is a small rural town that is situated on the Yakama Indian reservation. Despite having 73 walkability and 50 bikeability scores, this agricultural community is a little unnerving.
It has had more than its fair share of violent crimes for its size and is ranked safer than only one percent of all neighborhoods in the country. Residents of Toppenish keep their doors locked at night because of the frequent homicides and robberies in the area.
Furthermore, most work in the area is seasonal, and the winter months can make it difficult to make ends meet for farm laborers who are waiting for jobs to open up again in the springtime. Even worse, the cost of living index (while lower than the state average of 121.9) is still 92.1. How are the schools? A paltry 5 out of 10 on Great Schools.
19. Lakewood, WA
Lakewood is a beautiful city in the western part of the state. It's surrounded by beautiful scenery and breathtaking landscapes, which technically puts it in the top half of the communities in the US (51%), according to AARP. However, this doesn't give you an accurate picture of the dangers within the city.
Although the rate of violent crimes has declined, you still have a 1 in 154 chance of falling victim to a violent crime in this area. The longer you stay, the worse your odds become, and the city is safer than only two percent of all American areas. While the schools do rank well, Lakewood is best avoided.
18. Aberdeen, WA
Aberdeen is the previous home of legendary grunge musician Kurt Cobain and serves as the main gateway for traffic heading to the beaches on the coast of Washington State. However, there’s a reason Cobain left the city, and it's a place you should keep driving through.
Aberdeen has the 14th highest rate of property crimes in the state and the 7th highest violent crime rate and is safer than only five percent of all American neighborhoods. It's not a safe place to spend any amount of time. While the schools might be decent and the city somewhat walkable, crime makes it a must-avoid
17. Seattle, WA
Seattle is the largest city in Washington State, and it's also one of the most beautiful. Even though AARP gives it a 63% livability score, the recent takeover of a local police precinct and numerous civil rights protests have led to crime and violence. Statistically, it's above the top 10 as one of the worst cities to live in, though it is safer than only one percent of all areas in the nation.
Though crime has actually been on a decline, the odds are still 1 in 147 of becoming a violent crime victim here. It's not a place you want to let your guard down when visiting and not a place to put down permanent roots.
A strong walkability score and great schools aren’t stopping long-time Seattle residents from moving away because of the threats to their property and personal safety. The Broke Backpacker states that “The statistically safest neighbourhoods (in Seattle) are Hawthorne Hills, Blue Ridge, and North Beach. However, these are all residential districts a significant distance away from tourist attractions.”
16. Shelton, WA
Shelton is a smaller town that is situated near Hood Canal in Mason County. This western Washington city has been ranked as the 8th most dangerous city in the state because of the number of violent crimes that are committed there. Neighborhood Scout says it's more dangerous than 95% of American cities.
Shelton is the home of a minimum security correctional facility. Property crimes are even worse than the violent crimes in town. There are better places to make a new home in the state. Furthermore, it has poor schools (4 out of 10 on Great Schools) and a surprisingly high cost of living index of 102.
15. Tacoma, WA
Tacoma is a happy city that is not far from Seattle, with parts of the two cities merging. While there are plenty of opportunities here for entertainment, fine dining, shopping, and recreation, it holds the dubious honor of being safer than almost no neighborhood in the United States.
So, while Tacoma frequently holds outdoor music concerts and festivals throughout the warm months, it’s a scary place to live. Even with the advantages of strong schools, it's hardly worth the worry and risk for your safety.
Property crime rates are so high here that the statistic has landed Tacoma in the 10th worst position. Living here, you have a 1 in 115 chance of becoming a violent crime victim. Even worse, the cost of living index is 122.7, higher than the state’s 121.9 average and the country’s 100.
14. Spokane, WA
Spokane is the largest city in eastern Washington and one of the worst places to live in Washington state. It sits near the Idaho state border and is a lovely city to visit with amenities.
A rise in property and violent crimes make it a less favorable option to move if you have other choices. Even its above-average scores in walkability, bikeability, and transit transportation make it best to avoid Spokane.
13. Tukwila, WA
Tukwila is a city that is always active and which has a respectable 56 livability score from AARP. Its metropolitan area stretches for miles and runs into the metro areas of nearby cities, so they are nearly indistinguishable.
Unfortunately, it's not much fun to live in a city that gives you 1 in 137 odds of becoming a violent crime victim. According to Neighborhood Scout, there are basically no neighborhoods more dangerous than it, statistically.
What's worse about Tukwila is that the stats show that residents have a 1 in 6 chance of having a property crime happen to them. It's not a very safe place to call home. To make matters worse, its cost of living index is 158.1, well above the state and national averages.
12. Quincy, WA
Home Snacks has its own list of the worst cities in Washington state, and it starts with Quincy. This is a small rural town with a population of 7,248 residents. Unfortunately, Quincy has its issues, among them the 11th worst median home value at $133,500, but even worse is the 12.8 percent unemployment rate.
Combine that with the fact that it's out in the middle of nowhere; you'll be out of a job with nothing to do. Robberies are so high that you stand a 1 in 24.7 chance of getting mugged. Combine that with weak schools and a livability ranking of 53, and Quincy is best avoided.
11. Hoquiam, WA
Hoquiam is a coastal town with a population of 8,434. If you thought the home values in Quincy were bad, Hoquiam is the second-worst in the state. The median home value is a mere $96,600 and isn’t likely to improve any time soon.
The cost of living index of 92.2 is decent but not great for this type of city. Furthermore, the crime rate here is high, and the city is safer than just 19% of all cities in the nation. That’s not the only issue here.
For example, the unemployment rate is sky-high at 12.2 percent. Residents who do manage to find a job struggle to make ends meet. The average combined household income in this town is $37,628 a year.
It's almost impossible to make it on these low wages. This puts even working community members at the poverty line. The schools are weak, as well, meaning it’s likely a cycle of poverty will last generations.
10. Airway Heights, WA
Airway Heights has moved up on the list of the worst places to live in Washington state. Unfortunately, it’s been here for a while, but it's getting even worse in this small city of 6,523 residents. The unemployment rate is 9.9 percent, which isn't the worst, but it's certainly not good.
The cost of living is high, but the income levels are a low $41,014 a year. That's for the combined family income that everyone in the household earns. Walkability and public transit are rare here, making it a very car-dependent city. It’s also more dangerous than 98% of all US neighborhoods.
As if that wasn’t enough, there aren't many good jobs in the area. There isn't much demand for housing because, in this small town, there isn't much to do. In addition to being unemployed, you are likely to be bored out of your mind, and your kids are only moderately well educated here.
9. Centralia, WA
Centralia is a moderate-sized city with a population of 16,729 residents, and it is one of the worst places to live in Washington. It's located off of the main interstate in Western Washington, and while it has a very walkable and bikeable downtown, it’s still not a great place to live.
The home values average $148,900, which is the 15th worst in the state, while the unemployment rate is 9.5 percent, which is another grim statistic. The worst thing about living in Centralia is the high crime rate. According to Neighborhood Scout, it’s safer than just six percent of the nation.
It's one of the worst places to live as it has never recovered in reputation from the infamous 1919 massacre.
8. Union Gap, WA
Union Gap is a smaller community of 6,125 permanent residents and is just south of the larger Yakima. The two cities are joined by a common main street and merge, yet remain distinct and separate entities. For one thing, Yakima has schools better than the 6 out of 10 rated schools in Union Gap.
Furthermore, Union Gap has the absolute worst home value average at an extremely low $93,700. This tells us that there aren't many people anxious to move here because the low price indicates that there isn't much of a demand for housing. Accordingly, AARP gives it a piddling 47 livability score.
Although Union Gap looks like a peaceful and calm little town at first glance, living here is nothing short of a struggle for the residents. Unless you take your business to Yakima, there isn't much to do here. Crime is also a major problem here, with 381 taking place every year.
The average combined household income is a pitiful $37,202 a year. It's a boring and bland place to live while you're trying to figure out how to pay the next month's rent. Even worse, its walkability and bikeability are only sub-par.
7. Kelso, WA
Kelso is a city in Western Washington with a population of 11,871 residents. If you're considering moving to Kelso, you'd better think twice. Although it's not far from the scenic Mount St. Helens area and has a pretty great walkability rating of 78, it's not a good place to try to earn a living.
More people are trying to get out of Kelso than trying to get in. The average home value of $120,700 is the third-worst in the state. There is almost no demand for housing in the city. Tellingly, the schools are only mid-level, with a 7 out of 10 ranking. AARP gives it a barely above-average livability index of 51.
It could be because the unemployment rate is a whopping 14.7 percent, which is the third-worst in the state. There are far better places to find in the state if you're looking for a place to build a career and a future.
6. Longview, WA
Q13 Fox News brings us the final rundown of the worst places to live in Washington, starting with Longview. At first glance, it probably seems okay. Its cost of living index of 102.5 is only a bit above the national average, and the schools aren’t terrible. But crime is a real issue in this city.
Furthermore, Longview gets horrendous marks for its high unemployment rate. If you can't find a job, how are you going to put food on the table or even have a house to put it in here? With a 53 livability index from AARP, Longview isn’t exactly demanding your respect.
Another drawback is the Narrows Bridge. Traffic gets ugly in this part of town, a problem that’s been checked multiple times in various traffic studies.
5. Parkland, WA
Fox News scoured Road Snacks to find Parkland near the bottom of the barrel of the worst places to live in Washington state. The AARP gives it a 50 livability rating, which is mediocre at best. Even worse, the cost of living index is far too high for a city of this size: 122.7.
In other words, the city crashed and burned when it came to its livability score. There isn't much to do in Parkland, and if you do find a job, it's probably not going to pay much, according to the statistics. There are better places to live than Parkland.
4. Bainbridge Island, WA
Bainbridge Island is even further down the list of the worst places to live in Washington due to its inability to draw a crowd. One thing we can say about it is that not a lot of people live here. So, if you're looking for a place to go off the grid and hide from the rest of the world, then it might not be so bad.
One positive is that this city has excellent schools that typically provide a strong education. Yet, it has a middle-of-the-road 53 livability ranking. That’s primarily because, if you actually have a life, you're going to spend most of it on the commute to and from work.
Unfortunately, walkability is basically non-existent, and there isn't any work on the island, so you're going to have to ride the ferry to town and back home every day. God forbid you should show up late, miss the ferry, and get stuck at home in a town out in the middle of nowhere with not much to do.
3. Bremerton, WA
Bremerton is the home of the famed naval shipyards and was at one time a beautiful and fun place to live. Those were different times. Road Snacks gives this city the thumbs down because of the crime rates.
Just how bad is it? The city is more dangerous than 92% of all neighborhoods in the nation. These rates are so unreasonably high that they make the city tank to the bottom 20 percent of all cities in the state.
Plus, the ferry ride to anywhere gets old fast, and your kids will likely get bored. Perhaps that’s why the schools average only about 7 out of 10 at their best. Walkability is above average, bikeability is far below average, and public transportation is almost non-existent. Why live here?
2. Port Orchard, WA
Port Orchard scored so low that it made us feel sorry for the residents and confident that this is one of the worst places to live in Washington State. This small town is in a serious economic crisis, and while there are houses available in Port Orchard, nobody wants to live there.
The one shining light is the school system, which averages about 8 out of 10. That’s better than many other cities further down this list. However, Port Angeles joins Bremerton in the bottom 20 percent of the cities because of its skyrocketing unemployment rates, vacant housing, and high crime rates.
Its 50 livability ranking from AARP and 121 cost of living index say it all: there isn’t much that is exciting about Port Orchard. Pay more than average to live in a crime-ridden city? Sign nobody up for that!
1. Port Angeles, WA
Port Angeles is a small college town that sprang up in the middle of nowhere. You must take a ferry to even get to Port Angeles, which makes it a terrible commute to anywhere. Furthermore, the crime rate is worse than 89% of the nation, and the walkability score is mediocre.
The unemployment rate is high, and so is the crime rate. Like Port Orchard, there is a lot of vacant housing here. Granted, the schools get 8 out of 10 from Great Schools, but you and your kids deserve better.
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Written by Liz Flynn
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