There are many ways to gauge misery. We consider 10 factors, including unemployment, crime and taxes, and a few that are less serious, but still elevate people’s blood pressure, like the weather, commute times and how the local sports team is doing. To account for the misery caused by the housing bust we tweaked the methodology for this year’s list and considered foreclosure rates and the change in home prices over the past three years.
01. Stockton, Calif.
Unemployment has averaged 14.3% the past three years, which is third worst in the country among the 200 largest metro areas. The housing market collapsed as well, with home prices down 58% over the same time. All the California cities on the list are struggling with the inherent problems the state is facing, including high sales and income taxes and service cuts to help close massive budget shortfalls.
02. Miami, Fla.
The sun and lack of a state income tax are the only things keeping Miami out of the top spot. Foreclosures hit one in 14 homes last year. Corruption is also off the charts, with 404 government officials convicted of crimes this decade in South Florida.
03. Merced, Calif.
The economic downturn and busted housing market hit Merced harder than any other area in the country. Average unemployment of 16.2% since 2008 is the highest in the U.S., as is the city’s 64% drop in median home prices.
04. Modesto, Calif.
The median home was valued at $275,000 in 2006; today it is $95,000. And don’t leave your car on the street in Modesto, where 3,712 vehicles were stolen in 2009, making for the second-highest auto theft rate in the country. It ranked first in four of the previous five years.
05. Memphis, Tenn.
Tennessee is one of nine states without an income tax (it does tax dividends and interest income), yet it hits residents with one of the highest sales tax rates in the U.S. at 9.25%. Violent crime was down 5% in 2009 according to the FBI, but still is tops in the country.
06. Chicago, Ill.
Baseball’s Cubs used to be lovable losers, but $140 million payrolls and 102 years and counting without a World Series title is miserable. Chicago had the highest sales tax among big cities at 10.25%, but it was rolled back to 9.75% last year and now matches Los Angeles and Oakland for the top rate.
07. Cleveland, Ohio
Last year’s most miserable city drops back thanks to a housing market that never overheated and therefore hasn’t crashed like many other metros’. The weather is lousy, corruption persistent and it’s a tortured sports market, with no championships since 1964. LeBron James’ departure delivered the latest cruel blow last summer.
08. Flint, Mich.
Weather, crime and unemployment are some of the top misery factors in the birthplace of General Motors. Flint’s downward spiral is tied to GM’s pullout from the city; GM employment in Flint has fallen from 80,000 in the 1970s to less than 8,000 today.
09. Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
The party has slowed down at this popular vacation destination. The area’s economy sagged 7% between 2007 and 2009, and it has been one of the hardest-hit areas in the country with foreclosures.
10. Washington, D.C.
Washington has one of the healthiest economies in the country, thanks to spending by the federal government, but only New York area residents have worse commutes. And those Washington Redskins? Truly miserable.