Special Report

The Best and Worst Run Cities in America

5. Stockton, California
> Population: 298,000 (59th largest)
> Credit rating: Ca, developing
> Violent crime per 100,000: 1,548 (5th highest)
> 2012 Unemployment rate: 18.3% (2nd highest)

The housing downturn, as well as years of poor fiscal management by city officials, led Stockton to file for bankruptcy in 2012. Even as it is preparing to exit bankruptcy, pension obligations still loom over the city’s finances. Stockton’s debt currently carries a Ca credit rating from Moody’s, lower than that of any other major city. The local economy struggles as well. Stockton’s average unemployment rate of 18.3% in 2012 trailed only Detroit among large cities. Also, one in every 40 homes was in foreclosure in the fourth quarter of this year, again one of the highest rates among large cities. Crime remains a major issue, with 1,548 violent crimes per 100,000 people last year, worse than all but a handful of major cities.

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4. Miami, Florida
> Population: 413,864 (42nd largest)
> Credit rating: A2, negative
> Violent crime per 100,000: 1,172 (15th highest)
> 2012 Unemployment rate: 10.3% (24th highest)

Miami’s credit is rated A2 with a negative outlook, one of the worst among large cities. Roughly one in 10 jobs in Miami is construction related, more than the vast majority of the largest U.S. cities. Miami’s poverty rate of 31% last year was roughly double the national rate. Job growth in Florida’s construction industry has improved somewhat recently, but the sector has a long way to go after it was slammed by the housing crisis. Between 2008 and 2012, Miami home values fell by nearly 40%, one of the worst drops among major U.S. cities. Last year, one in every 19 homes in the area were in foreclosure, worse than all but one other large city. On the other hand, Miami has recently been experiencing a boom in condo construction.

3. Newark, New Jersey
> Population: 227,718 (38th smallest)
> Credit rating: A3, negative
> Violent crime per 100,000: 1,155 (18th highest)
> 2012 Unemployment rate: 15.0% (4th highest)

After spending years working to revitalize Newark as mayor, Cory Booker was elected New Jersey’s newest senator. Booker’s legacy, however, remains mixed, with some unconvinced he has produced real improvements or long-lasting changes. The city still faces massive challenges: As of 2012, barely two-thirds of adults 25 and older had a high school diploma; 15% of the workforce was unemployed; and the city’s violent crime rate was nearly three times the national rate. The city’s school district has worked to improve the quality of education. Last year, it moved to base compensation on performance, and it recently announced broad restructuring plans, according to The Newark Star-Ledger. However, the city’s financial management is still lacking. Moody’s has criticized Newark officials for not filing budgets and audits in timely manner, and points to the city’s use of financing to cover cash shortages.

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2. Detroit, Michigan
> Population: 701,524 (18th largest)
> Credit rating: Caa3, negative
> Violent crime per 100,000: 2,123 (the highest)
> 2012 Unemployment rate: 18.6% (the highest)

In July, Detroit became the largest city in American history to file for bankruptcy. The city has had to cope with high debt, a declining population, and extremely poor management — former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick is currently in prison for corruption. The city faces a long road to recovery — even now its bankruptcy is being disputed in court by its pension plans. Detroit may have to resort to selling valuable pieces of art from its collection. Residents are struggling as well. The city’s 18.6% unemployment rate was the highest among large cities in 2012, and its median household income was less than $24,000, the lowest of any large city. More than 30% of housing units were vacant last year, far more than any comparable city.

1. San Bernardino, California
> Population: 213,298 (9th smallest)
> Credit rating: not rated
> Violent crime per 100,000: 941 (26th highest)
> 2012 Unemployment rate: 16.0% (3rd highest)

In the summer of 2012, San Bernardino filed for bankruptcy in the face of a $46 million deficit. The filing came in the wake of falling tax revenues, poor financial planning, including inaccurate reporting from city officials, and a housing market in crisis. Last year, home values were about half what they were in 2008. Nationally, home values fell by nearly 13%. San Bernardino — population 213,298 — was at the time the second-largest city to file for bankruptcy, behind Stockton. City residents have not been faring much better than the city itself. Median household income was $37,244 in 2012, well below the typical income across the country. Further, San Bernardino’s average unemployment rate was 16% last year, nearly double the national rate of 8.1%. Less than 11% of adults living in San Bernardino had a bachelor’s degree or higher last year, the smallest percentage of any large U.S. city.

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