America can be a great place to live. That's a given. America can also be a very challenging place to live. What makes a specific place in the states more or less desirable to live in can be the result of many factors, from community engagement to the unemployment rate to even something as simple as a walkability score. It's almost unfair to say that a neighborhood is unhappy — especially when one person might not feel the same as another. Regardless, unhappiness breeds opportunities to build newer, smarter, and better, which is one of the greatest things about America.
It’s not that this city in California’s Central Valley doesn’t have potential. It just has a lot of problems to overcome. Social inequality here has deep roots, as far back as the 1930s. And studies show that those who live in the city’s south and southwest sides, where poverty concentrations are higher, live 20 years less than those in the northern sections of the city. The social repercussions lead to a ripple effect throughout the city.
Managed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the US Misery Index calculates the inflation rate and unemployment rate of communities to determine how the average person is faring economically — the assumption is that both higher unemployment and inflation equate to less overall happiness.
The Well-Being Index combines several key metrics, including quality of life, meaning in work & severe fatigue, into a single score and averages greater than 85 for healthy communities.
This city, in the southeastern part of the state, is home to Fort Bragg, a historical U.S. Army installation. Divorce rates are high. Fayetteville also ranks among the top 100 most dangerous cities in the country, but residents say crime isn’t the only reason it’s a tough place to live. Around 20% of the population falls below the poverty line, which is nearly 7% higher than the national average.
The population boom in Port St. Lucie in the 2000s led to tons of construction, but residents complain that there is no infrastructure in place to support the growth. While crime is lower here, property taxes are higher, which makes it harder for people to find a home that meets their budget requirements. Renters say their incomes haven’t increased, but rent has nearly doubled over the last six years, leaving less money for necessities or fun.
Like many other cities, Chattanooga is battling rising crime rates, which are double the state rates and hinder the residents’ potential for happiness. Property crimes are most prevalent, with motor vehicle theft, theft, and burglaries being major problems for those who live here. They say traffic also makes day-to-day life difficult, and housing costs are too high for an alarming number of residents.
Overcrowding, traffic congestion, super hot weather, and a high cost of living are just some of the reasons people living in Fort Lauderdale are so unhappy. Add to those problems swarms of cockroaches, masses of palmetto bugs, and salmonella-carrying iguanas that invade gardens and homes alike. Hurricanes and evacuations are a constant source of stress for residents in Fort Lauderdale and wreak havoc on job security, health, and property.
It’s one of the oldest cities in the U.S. and one of the most populated in New Jersey. Newark is a busy port city on the country’s eastern seaboard. More than 5000 cherry blossom trees, along with several parks and outdoor spaces, make it seem ideal. But for people who live and work there every day, especially in certain neighborhoods, not so much. Crime in the poorer sections of the city is rampant, and unemployment is high, leading to increased poverty rates.
It may be America’s party capital, but for the city’s 667,000 residents, there are a lot of downsides to living here. Somebody has to cater to the city’s visitors and clean up after the millions of visitors, yet worker wages have decreased. Substance abuse and depression are a problem. Crime rates are 33% higher than the national average, with violent crime more than 40% above the national rate.
The cost of living in Memphis isn’t as high as other parts of the country, and wages are slowly starting to increase. Yet, more than a quarter of the residents in Memphis live in poverty, with nearly 45% of those residents being under the age of 18. Median incomes here are about $10,000 less than any other city across the state. Both violent and property crime rates are the highest in the state — and five times higher than the national rate.
Although the crime rate has started to fall in recent years, violent crime rates are higher than in most other U.S. cities. The median individual income is around $22,000 per year, which is much lower than the national median of $31,000. Residents say excessive noise in their neighborhoods is so bad at times that finding quiet, even in their own homes, is challenging and adds to stress levels.
Parking regulations, unsafe intersections, and parking tickets are just some of the day-in, day-out stressors of living in Buffalo. The city falls on the list of the 100 most dangerous cities in the country, and no neighborhood is immune. Assaults are rampant here, almost three times the national rate, and residents have a one in 29 chance of being a victim of a property crime.
Although the unemployment numbers are slowly decreasing here, the number of people without jobs is still high. The area has also had issues with groundwater contamination and exposure to other chemicals due to industrial waste. Many residents say they have ongoing health issues as a result. The area has also had to deal with a shortage of physicians, with about 40 primary care doctors per 100,000 people. This is far below the federal health agencies’ recommendations of a minimum of 60.
There’s a long list of issues that can lead to higher unhappiness levels for residents. Akron, according to studies, falls well below other locales in America when it comes to access to healthcare, resources, and healthy foods. Assaults were three times higher in Akron than the national average. One out of every 30 people will likely deal with losing their possessions as a result of a property crime like burglary or car theft.
In the late 1970s, this city was at its peak. But as people started moving out of the city to communities nearby, things started going downhill. In 2012, San Bernardino fell victim to the California housing bubble. The resulting foreclosures and unemployment have had long-term ramifications. Recovery has been tough. A decade later, around one out of every 10 people who live in San Bernardino are jobless. The cost of living is high, and so are poverty levels, burglaries, murders, aggravated assaults, and robberies.
Overall, the state of Illinois scores higher on the well-being index. But a few years ago, Rockford, a city in the far northern sector of the state, made the list of the 50 worst American cities to live in. Not only are Rockford’s unemployment numbers above state and national averages, but crime statistics show that it’s also the most violent city in Illinois. Those numbers plague property values and lead to additional social issues that hinder residents’ pursuit of happiness.
Population loss over the last decade has led to stifled employment opportunities in Birmingham and a huge increase in the jobless rate. Its high poverty rate makes it one of the poorest cities in the country. Residents say there are signs that the city is working to improve things, including discrimination. However, because the state closed a majority of its psychiatric hospitals in 2015, the act severely impacted access to mental health care in Birmingham, resulting in a negative ripple effect for many residents.
This major port city is among the top five busiest for the Great Lakes. When compared to cities of similar size, Toledo has a lot of crime. In fact, it has more overall crime than 96% of the other cities in Ohio. The CDC ranked the city as the 10th most dangerous for drug overdoses. Methamphetamines, heroin, and other drugs are easily available. Alcohol abuse is also a significant problem, adding more deterrents to a happy life.
The city lies in the center of the state, just under 90 miles from Atlanta. Tornadoes are a huge stressor for residents here throughout their city’s history, and they’ve dealt with significant losses of property, livelihoods, and loved ones. Poverty and unemployment rates have soared. Vacant commercial properties and declining neighborhoods exist across the city. It’s hard to not feel miserable in those circumstances.
Crime here is nearly 102% higher than the national average. Although the cost of living is a bit lower, about 15% of Dayton residents make less than $10,000 each year. Local nonprofit efforts to revive the downtown area have helped spur some hope. But improvements take a while to make changes for those in a day-to-day survival mode of making a living and putting food on their tables.
Who knew the Buckeye State would have more cities contributing to the country’s unhappiest residents? Living in Cleveland doesn’t cost you an arm and a leg; it’s a walkable city during the day, and it’s highly diverse. But if you picture this city as being a nice, quiet place to settle down, think again. There are fewer marriages than divorces here, crime is rampant, and good-paying jobs are few and far between.
It’s hard to be happy when you’re battling a serious health issue. The rates of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes are higher here than anywhere else in the state or nation. And, they are the primary causes of death in Motor City. Industrial pollutants in the city’s waterways and air pollution from its many industrial facilities and motor vehicles make it even harder to thrive in Detroit. Add to that high crime, unemployment, and poverty rates, and it’s easy to see why Detroit is the unhappiest place in America.
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