Discover the 5 Poorest Towns in Michigan

Written by Angela Underwood
Published: October 3, 2023
Share on:


Many issues in life are relative, except poverty. The U.S. Census Bureau breaks down the national median household income of $74,580 to define familial scarcity. The percentage of people in the U.S. who live in poverty is 11.5%. That percentage spreads across all states, with some North American families living far better off than others.

More people in the home means more income to stay above the poverty threshold, which changes yearly with the cost of living. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services breaks poverty down even further, showing annual financial hardship begins at $14,580 for a single-person household and $30,000 for a family of four. Those figures offer little help regarding the cost of yearly food and shelter, not to mention other necessities. While 89.5% of Americans meet those needs, the other 11.5% fight for survival. Many of those people live in Michigan.

Though not one of the poorest states in the U.S., parts of the upper Midwestern state have serious economic issues. Once a thriving auto manufacturing state, many of Michigan’s poorest towns turned belly up financially when assembly factories started closing down in 1997. For example, Flint, where General Motors began in 1908, is now notorious for bad times. What was once a booming Buick car manufacturer where blue-collar workers flocked in the 1950s is renowned for its lead-contaminated water crisis.

While struggling families fled from Michigan, so did the resilient economy. Today, the Great Lakes State’s median household income is $66,986, about $7,000 less than the national median. Michigan poverty rates break down by age, with up to 18.2% of impoverished people under 18, 12.8% between 18 to 64, and 9.8% over 65. 

Poverty is more prevalent in some areas of the state. Hamtramck is the poorest, followed by Highland Park, East Lansing, Flint, and Muskegon Heights. Where there is poverty, there are often high crime rates, seen in each of the poorest Michigan towns that all rate C or below for overall safety. Community hardship also breeds bleak educational resources, also reflected in the lack of higher education rates. This report focuses on Michigan’s most impoverished towns, detailing the age, home ownership, education status, and crime rates for each area.

Read on to learn about Michigan’s poorest towns and why they became that way. 

1. Hamtramck

Median Household Income – $33,570

Muslims at worship

Hamtramck went from predominantly Polish to Muslim throughout the last century.

©Mama Belle and the kids/

Up to 43.1% of people live in poverty in Hamtramck, which has a population of 27,834. Located in Wayne County, the 2.09 square mile city just north of Detroit still suffers economic loss from the 2020 shutdown of the General Motors Detroit/Hamtramck Assembly. 

Once predominantly populated by Polish immigrants in the 1970s, Hamtramck got the nickname “Little Warsaw.” When auto factories began closing, many Polish Americans departed; however, there was a silver lining in the population and economic decline. The poor city created an inexpensive place for new immigrants to settle. This time, Arab migrants flocked to Hamtramck.

Now, Hamtramck is the first U.S. city with a Muslim-led Amercian council-manager government. More than half of the population is Muslim. The Detroit Free Press nicknamed Hamtramck Michigan’s Ellis Island, welcoming a multiculturalism pot of people. However, what is not accepted is sexual diversity on city property. Hamtramck drew national attention when they voted to ban Pride Month flags on any public property.

The younger generation dominates the older in the city, with 33.7% under 18 and 7.4% over 65. While home ownership in Hamtramck is high at 57.5%, the population with a bachelor’s degree or higher is not at 15.6%. Crime is high in Hamtramck. Assault and murder are above the national average, and rape and robbery are slightly below. 

2. Highland Park

Median Household Income – $25,189

An old factory  in the Highland Park area shows the post-industrial plight of Detroit with broken windows and a parking lot filled with weeds.

A debilitated Highland Park building reveals the post-industrial plight of Detroit.

©Matt Ragen/

Located in Wayne County, Highland Park City’s poverty rate is 40.7%. The small population of 8,657 resides in 2.97 square miles. Long gone are auto manufacturing companies that created this once flourishing Detroit suburb. Today, financial distress in Highland Park is so dire that city officials made a “poverty simulation” event that drew national attention. 

Social media controversy seemingly canceled the immersive experience event intended to give attendees a better understanding of economic insecurity. Highland Park also draws national attention for being on the brink of municipal bankruptcy. 

In this Michigan town, the older population dominates the younger, with 22.3% above 65 and 19.7% under 18. Up to 42.6% of people own homes in Highland Park, where 16.6% have a bachelor’s degree or higher. Highland Park’s violent crime statistics are above the national average minus robbery, which is slightly below. The high number of assaults of 1,732.6 compared to the national average of 282.7 is notable, possibly contributing to the local deficit.

3. East Lansing

Median Household Income – $41,189

Beaumont Tower, Michigan State

Michigan State University helps keep East Lansing economically above water.


The populace of East Lansing is 47,340. Up to 35.5% of residents live in poverty in this Ingham County city, comprised of 13.43 square miles. While it’s home to Michigan State University, East Lansing still suffers economic depression. However, the university boasts a brighter financial future, reporting increased service and manufacturing job growth and expansion in the leisure and hospitality industry.

East Lansing sees the same percentage of young and old populations. Both people under 18 and over 65 are 8.9%. Only 38.6% of the population own homes. Of the top five poorest towns in Michigan, East Lansing touts the highest percentage of people with a bachelor’s degree or higher, at 68.3%. The increased rate of higher educated residents could reflect the town that touts a state university. East Lansing’s violent crime statistics fall below the national average except for rape, slightly over the American median.

4. Flint

Median Household Income – $32,358

Aerial View of Downtown Flint, Michigan in Summer

Downtown Flint was once famous for producing General Motors vehicles.

©Jacob Boomsma/

Like East Lansing, Up to 35.5% of people in Flint City live in poverty. Of all Michigan’s poorest towns, Flint flaunts the highest population of 79,854 residents in 33.44 square miles. The county seat of Genesee, Flint, sees its fair share of financial woes, as seen in the 1989 documentary Roger and Me by American filmmaker Michael Moore.

The film details how General Motors Chair Roger Smith shut down several Flint auto manufacturing facilities, causing up to 30,000 job losses. Flint’s loss became Mexico’s gain because of the state’s less expensive labor prices. Flint’s younger population nearly doubles the older with 24.6% under 18 and 13.25% over 65. More than half of the people, 55.1%, own homes. A meager 12.1% of the population have a bachelor’s degree or higher, further reflecting the poverty-stricken region’s increased crime. Assault, murder, and rape are above the national average, with homicide at the highest of 39.2% compared to the American median of 6.1%.

5. Muskegon Heights

Median Household Income $34,281

Muskegon, Michigan - Michigan's Warmest Winter

Muskegon Heights City was first home to the Ottawa and Pottawatomi tribes.

©Jacob Boomsma/

Up to 33.7% of people in Muskegon Heights City live in poverty. Muskegon Heights is in Muskegon County. The population of 9,839 resides in 3.19 square miles. Economically downtrodden, Muskegon continually makes the news for poverty-based reasons. Like Flint, Muskegon Height’s failing water system, troubled school district, and poorly rated roads and infrastructure reflect and draw attention to the financially strapped community. 

Up to 31.7% of the population is under 18 and 12.6% is over 65. Muskegon Heights City has the highest percentage of residents without a higher education, at 8.9%. The city’s violent crime rates are also the highest of the five towns, with assault, murder, rape, and robbery all above the national median. Assault and murder are more than quadruple the national average, making the region even less desirable.

RankCityMedian IncomeBelow Poverty Line
2Highland Park$25,18940.7%
3East Lansing$41,18935.5%
4Flint City$32,35835.5%
5Muskegon Heights$34,28133.7%

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Dmitry Gritsenko/

Share on:

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.