America's Most Miserable Cities, 2012

Forbes

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.

In pictures: 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.

Here's a look at America's 10 most miserable cities:

10. Warren, MI

Photo: Getty Images

The housing market collapsed in the Warren metro area, which includes Troy and Farmington Hills. The median home price is down 50% over the past three years, the second biggest drop in the U.S. after Detroit.


9. Rockford, IL

Photo: AP

Property tax rates were fifth highest in the country in 2010. The median tax bill was $3,234 on home values of $136,000 for a rate of 2.4%.


8. Toledo, OH

Photo: Flickr | Joel Washing

The city is ensnared in a scandal within its Department of Neighborhoods that involves alleged bid rigging and stolen funds. The FBI and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development are investigating the crimes. Toledo scores poorly when it comes to income and property tax rates.


7. Fort Lauderdale, FL

Photo: AP

The spring break mecca has been hit hard by the housing downturn. Median home prices in the metro division that includes Pompano Beach and Deerfield Beach are down 50% since 2006 to a recent $183,000.


6. Chicago, IL

Winter weather is perceived to be an issue.
Photo: Getty Images

The Windy City is a cultural and financial center, but its residents must endure gridlock traffic, high property taxes and brutal winters. Commute times to work average 31 minutes, eighth worst in the U.S.


5. Sacramento, CA

Photo: AP

Sacramento’s lone pro sports team is flirting with a move to Anaheim unless the city delivers financing for a new arena. Sac-Town might not miss them. The team has lost 73% of its games since the start of the 2008-09 season. Foreclosures in California's capital were among the 10 highest last year.


4. West Palm Beach, FL

Photo: Getty Images

South Florida has long been stained by corruption. One of the latest examples: Jose Rodriguez, the mayor of Boynton Beach (part of the West Palm metropolitan division) was suspended from his office last month by Gov. Rick Scott after he was arrested for allegedly using his position to obstruct a child abuse probe involving his wife's estranged daughter. Home prices in the West Palm area are off 50% since 2006.


3. Flint, MI

Photo: Flickr | NESJumpman

Flint razed 775 abandoned homes in the year ending October 2011, to try and change the city landscape. The state of Michigan appointed an emergency manager last year to take over Flint's budget and operations. Crime remains a severe problem with the violent crime rate the third worst in the U.S.


2. Detroit, MI

Photo: Getty Images

Detroit has closed schools and laid off police in an effort to avoid a bankruptcy filing this year. Home prices are down 54% the past three years, worst in the U.S. The median price was $38,000 last year in the Detroit-Livonia-Dearborn metro division.


1. Miami, FL

Photo: Getty Images

The housing crisis has devastated Miami with 47% of homeowners sitting on underwater mortgages. Foreclosures have been rampant with 364,000 properties in the Miami area entering the foreclosure process since 2008 according to RealtyTrac.


In pictures: America's Most Miserable Cities




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