Tuesday, February 7, 2012

America's Most Miserable Cities, 2012

image: The Machesney Park Mall, Rockford, Illinois...yesterday and today

The new Forbes list of America's Most Miserable Cities is out. Here is Yahoo Real Estate with the details:
Miami is a playground for the rich and famous. Celebrities flock to parties at South Beach clubs and then return to their $10 million mansions in Miami Beach and Key Biscayne. It’s a leading city in culture, finance and international trade. But away from the glitz and glamor, many ordinary Miamians are struggling.

A crippling housing crisis has cost multitudes of residents their homes and jobs. The metro area has one of the highest violent crime rates in the country and workers face lengthy daily commutes. Add it all up and Miami takes the top spot in our ranking of America’s Most Miserable Cities.

The most famous way to gauge misery is the Misery Index developed by economist Arthur Okun in the 1960s, which combines unemployment and inflation. Our take on misery is based on the things that people complain about on a regular basis.

We looked at 10 factors for the 200 largest metro areas and divisions in the U.S. Some are serious, like violent crime, unemployment rates, foreclosures, taxes (income and property), home prices and political corruption. Other factors we included are less weighty, like commute times, weather and how the area’s pro sports teams did. While sports, commuting and weather can be considered trivial by many, they can be the determining factor in the level of misery for a significant number of people. One tweak to this year’s list: we swapped out sales tax rates for property tax rates. Miami would have finished No. 1 under the old methodology as well.

Miami has local company in misery on our list: the West Palm Beach metropolitan division ranks fourth and Fort Lauderdale is seventh. Both areas have been hit hard by the housing crises.

Michigan’s troubled duo of Detroit and Flint clock in at No. 2 and No. 3 among the most miserable cities. The cities have been reeling for decades due to the decline of the U.S. auto industry and in recent years have been demolishing houses to change their city landscapes. Detroit has closed schools and laid off police, while Michigan appointed an emergency manager last year to take over Flint’s budget and operations. Detroit and Flint rank No. 1 and No. 3 when it comes to violent crime, and unemployment over the past three years in both communities has also been among the worst in the U.S.

Last year’s most miserable city, Stockton, ranks No. 11 this year. Stockton got a boost as housing prices have stabilized to some degree after a 45% drop between 2006 and 2008. They also benefited from our replacement of sales tax rates with property taxes in the methodology (Stockton would have finished No. 6 under the old methodology). Stockton still has plenty of problems, though. It ranks among the country’s six worst when it comes to unemployment, foreclosures and violent crime.

The Top 10 List is below, with details for each one at the link:
10. Warren, Michigan

9. Rockford, Illinois

8. Toledo, Ohio

7. Fort Lauderdale, Florida

6. Chicago, Illinois

5. Sacramento, California

4. West Palm Beach, Florida

3. Flint, Michigan

2. Detroit, Michigan

1. Miami, Florida
Interesting that two cities in which I used to reside, Chicago (6) and Rockford (9) made the list. Perhaps that is why I am such a sunny personality. I chronicled Rockford's descent into hell last May 23rd in my post, "Worst City in America" -- How Rampant Globalization Transformed Rockford, Illinois." I'm sure it must be cold comfort to the citizens of Rockford that eight other cities have passed them up in their misery.

Bonus: "They say misery loves company. We could start a company...and make misery"


  1. These lists vary fairly wildly depending on what the criteria are etc. Vegas almost always makes the lists (top 10) but not in this one it seems.

    1. I take lists like these with a bit of a grain of salt. For instance, if I had to choose, I'd certainly pick Miami to live in over Detroit, Flint or Toledo by a fairly wide margin.