The 10 most miserable cities in America

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Police rope off a homicide scene in Detroit in 2009. Violent crime there is the highest per capita in the nation.

Forbes put Detroit Mayor Dave Bing on its cover in 2011 for a story with the optimistic headline “City of Hope.” The premise was that the city had hit rock bottom and was poised for a turnaround.

“Right now, it’s all about survival,” Bing told Forbes.

Two years later, Detroit’s problems continue to multiply, sadly. It is still dealing with high levels of violent crime and unemployment. Home prices, already at historic lows, plummeted a further 35% during the past three years to a median of $40,000 as net migration out of the city continued.

The latest blow was Tuesday’s announcement that the city is on the verge of being taken over by the state. Detroit is in a financial emergency and cannot pay its bills. The city has been issuing debt to fund day-to-day operations. The continuing problems propelled Detroit to the top spot in our 2013 ranking of America’s Most Miserable Cities. Yahoo! Homes is publishing the 10 most miserable here; to see the rest of the 20 most miserable cities in the nation, go to Forbes.com:

Economist Arthur Okun developed the original Misery Index in the 1960s. It combines unemployment and inflation (and was 10.2 last year nationally, down from an 18-year high of 12.1 in 2011).

Our look at misery is more localized, and includes unemployment, as well as other things that aggravate people.

This year we examined nine factors for the 200 largest metro areas in the U.S. The metrics include the serious: violent crime, unemployment, foreclosures, taxes (income and property) and home prices. We also include less weighty, but still important quality-of-life issues like commute times and weather.

We tweaked the methodology in this year’s list in response to feedback from readers, dropping our rankings of both pro sports team success and political corruption, since both were based on regional rather than city-specific data. We also added a new measure—net migration—which we see as a clear gauge of whether or not residents feel a community is worth living in. Detroit, which ranked No. 2 last year, also would have finished No. 1 under the previous methodology (click here for more details about the criteria for the list).

Detroit’s problems are hardly new. It has been in a four-decade decline, paralleling the slide of the U.S. auto industry. The city’s debt rating was cut to junk by Moody’s Investors Service in 1992, but declining tax revenues from a shrinking city will soon make Detroit a ward of the state.

Violent crime in the Detroit metro division was down 5% in 2011, but it remains the highest in the country with 1,052 violent crimes per 100,000 people, according to the FBI. The city’s financial problems have forced significant cutbacks to the police force. It is a circuitous problem as high crime and unemployment force people to leave the city, which lowers the tax base and strains Detroit’s finances further.

“There is no question that Detroit has many challenges,” Bing said in a statement to Forbes. “With all due respect to the data in this report, Detroit is in the midst of a transformation. That transformation is being driven by my restructuring plan, which is focused on four key areas: public safety; public lighting; public transportation; and neighborhood blight removal.”

The problems of No. 2-ranked Flint, Mich. mirror those of Detroit. Like Detroit, Flint has been demolishing homes as the city shrinks, with residents leaving in search of jobs. Only Detroit has a higher net migration rate among the 200 largest U.S. metros. Unemployment has averaged 11.3% in Flint the past three years and it ranks third worst for violent crime behind just Detroit and Memphis, Tenn.

Flint beat Detroit to the punch when it came to surrendering to the state over its finances. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder appointed an emergency manager at the end of 2011 to run the cash-strapped city. The manager is still in place.

Two cities on our list, Chicago (No. 4) and New York (No. 10) may surprise readers, though they’ve been here before. Both offer myriad opportunities and positives as the homes of financial centers, world-class culture, leading universities, sports teams galore and high-end restaurants. But it isn’t easy living in either city, particularly if you don’t earn a lot of money (and even if you do it can be tough).

Chicago residents must endure long commutes (31 minutes on average), plummeting home prices (37% the past five years), brutal winters and high foreclosure rates (3.3% of homes in 2012, says RealtyTrac). Many residents are giving up on the Windy City, with a net migration out of the city of 107,000 people the past five years, according to Moody’s Analytics.

There is almost as much misery in New York, home to the nation’s longest average commutes (36 minutes) and highest income tax rates (10.5% for those making $100,000). New York has seen a trickle out of the city the past two years, but Moody’s expects those numbers to jump dramatically, with a projected 136,000 more people leaving the city than moving there over the next three years. The only things saving New York from a worse ranking: few foreclosures, and rising home prices.

Last year’s most miserable city, Miami, dropped just outside the top 20, in part due to the addition of net migration as a metric. Miami ranks No. 20 for migration among the 200 largest metros. Miami still has a staggeringly high violent crime rate (seventh-worst in the U.S.), but it also benefited from a recovering housing market with home prices up 11% in 2012.

Here's a countdown of the most miserable cities in the nation, with No. 1 being the most miserable of all:

Taxes are always a hot-button issue in New York.

Taxes are always a hot-button issue in New York.

#10 New York, N.Y.

Taxes are always a hot button issue in New York, whether it revolves around banks paying their share (rally above) or the taxes that residents face, which are the highest in the U.S. New Yorkers also rank first when it comes to the longest commutes.


Drawbacks to living in suburban Chicago's Lake County include lousy weather and long commutes.


#9 Lake County, Ill.

The Chicago suburb is one of the richest counties in the U.S., as measured by per capita income. But home prices are down 29% over the past 5 years. Other drawbacks: long commutes and lousy weather.


Stockton has the highest foreclosure rate in the nation.


#8 Stockton, Calif.

Stockton became the largest U.S. city to file for bankruptcy protection last year. The city is burdened with the highest foreclosure rate in the U.S. and ranks among the five worst for unemployment and crime.


Home prices have fallen by more than half in the past five years in the Warren metro area.

Home prices have fallen by more than half in the past five years in the Warren metro area.


#7 Warren, Mich.

Troy and Farmington Hills are part of the government-defined Warren metro division. Like Detroit, the Warren metro has seen home prices collapse--off 53% the past five years.


Vallejo, about 25 miles north of San Francisco, recently emerged from bankruptcy.

Vallejo, about 25 miles north of San Francisco, recently emerged from bankruptcy.


#6 Vallejo, Calif.

The city finally emerged from bankruptcy at the end of 2011 after nearly 3 years. Problems remain with high levels of foreclosures and unemployment.


Foreclosures still plague Modesto, Calif.

Foreclosures still plague Modesto, Calif.


#5 Modesto, Calif.

Foreclosures continue to plague Modesto with 6,859 foreclosure filings in 2012, according to RealtyTrac. It represents 3.8% of homes, which is the third highest rate in the U.S. Recent unemployment was 15%.


People are leaving Chicago faster than almost any other city in the U.S.

People are leaving Chicago faster than almost any other city in the U.S.


#4 Chicago, Ill.

Chicago has passionate supporters, but residents must endure the misery of long commutes, plummeting home prices, brutal winters and high foreclosure rates. The migration rate out of Chicago is the sixth worst among the 200 largest metros.


Unemployed people attend a job fair. Rockford has one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation.

Unemployed people attend a job fair. Rockford has one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation.


#3 Rockford, Ill.

A three decade decline in the manufacturing base has hurt Rockford's economy and kept unemployment high. The metro's recent 11.2% unemployment rate is one of the highest rates in the U.S. Another burden: high property tax rates.


Flint ranks third-worst in the nation for violent crime.

Flint ranks third-worst in the nation for violent crime.


#2 Flint, Mich.

Flint has been demolishing homes as the city shrinks with residents leaving in search of jobs. Only Detroit has a higher net out-migration rate. Flint ranks third worst for violent crime, behind Detroit and Memphis.



#1 Detroit, Mich. (pictured at the top)

Violent crime in the Detroit metro was down 5% in 2011, but it remains the highest in the country with 1,052 violent crimes per 100,000 people, according to the FBI. Home prices were off 35% the past 3 years, which is the biggest drop in the U.S.

To see the rest of the 20 most miserable cities in the nation, go to Forbes.com:

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