Special Report

The Happiest (and Most Miserable) Cities in America

The Happiest Cities in America

10. Winston-Salem, NC
> Poverty rate: 20.0%
> 2013 unemployment rate: 7.6%
> Adult obesity rate: N/A
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 371.7

Winston-Salem metro area residents reported the 10th highest well-being compared to all large metro areas. While most areas reporting high well-being were relatively wealthy, this was not the case in the Winston-Salem metro. A typical area household earned $42,563, lower than the national median household income of $52,250. Also unlike most areas with high well-being scores, 20% of Winston-Salem residents lived in poverty in 2013, one of the higher poverty rates nationwide. Financial burdens in the area may not be as bad as they seem. The cost of living in Winston-Salem was about 10% cheaper than the national average. And the December unemployment rate of 4.7% was among the lower rates nationwide. Area residents reported relatively healthy behaviors as well. Just 10.5% of adults reported drinking excessively, one of the lowest percentages in the nation.

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9. Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV
> Poverty rate: 8.5%
> 2013 unemployment rate: 5.5%
> Adult obesity rate: 26.2%
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 331.1

As in many other metro areas with high well-being scores, financial stability is a major component of happiness in the Washington-Arlington-Alexandria metro area. The median income among households in the area was more than $90,000, second only to the San Jose metro area. Some residents had especially high incomes, as nearly 14% of households earned at least $200,000, the fourth highest proportion nationwide. Strong educational attainment helped raise incomes — and with it well-being. Nearly half of area adults had at least a bachelor’s degree, the sixth highest such rate. Strong access to healthy food also helped drive the area’s overall high well-being. Roughly one in 10 people in the area were victims of food insecurity — they did not have easy access to a grocery store — one of the lower shares nationwide. Similarly, less than 8% of residents relied on food stamps, nearly the lowest percentage in the country.

8. San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA
> Poverty rate: 10.5%
> 2013 unemployment rate: 7.0%
> Adult obesity rate: 20.4%
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 249.8

With a median household income of $91,533, the highest in the nation, high incomes contribute substantially to well-being in San Jose. The so called Silicon Valley is a hotbed of high-paying tech sector jobs that also demand high levels of education. Nearly 47% of area adults had at least a bachelor’s degree, the ninth highest proportion nationwide. While incomes are quite high, living in the area costs approximately 22% more than the national average, trailing only the New York-Newark-Jersey City and the Urban Honolulu metro areas. From mid 2010 through the middle of last year, the San Jose metro area’s population grew by 6%, one of the faster growth rates nationwide. With an obesity rate of 20.4%, considerably lower than the national average rate of roughly 35%, area residents are also relatively healthy.

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7. Provo-Orem, UT
> Poverty rate: 13.7%
> 2013 unemployment rate: 4.5%
> Adult obesity rate: 24.2%
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 70.2

Strong job security is likely the factor that contributes the most to Provo residents’ happiness. As of December, the metro area had one of the country’s lowest unemployment rates at just 2.8%. A typical household in the area earned $60,051, considerably higher than the comparable figure nationwide of $52,250. Perhaps as a result, less than 10% of area residents received food stamp benefits in 2013, one of the lowest shares in the country. High levels of education may also contribute to Provo residents’ happiness. Nearly 38% of area adults 25 and older had at least a bachelor’s degree, higher than all but a handful of metro areas. Low violent crime rates likely bolster happiness by contributing to residents’ overall trust in their neighbors. Just over 70 violent crimes were reported per 100,000 residents in 2013, much lower than the 369.7 violent crimes reported per 100,000 Americans.

6. Austin-Round Rock, TX
> Poverty rate: 14.3%
> 2013 unemployment rate: 5.1%
> Adult obesity rate: 23.5%
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 271.3

As of December, 3.4% of the Austin-Round Rock metro area workforce was unemployed, one of the lowest jobless rates nationwide. The strong labor market is largely due to Austin’s growing technology sector. The Austin region has also attracted large numbers of creative workers to media and entertainment jobs. The area’s population grew by 12.5% from 2010 through mid last year, or by about 225,000 people. This was the third fastest growth rate nationwide. Like most areas with the highest well-being scores, Austin-Round Rock metro residents were also relatively healthy and wealthy. The area’s obesity rate of 23.5%, for example, was among the lower rates nationwide. A typical household in the area earned $61,750, far higher than the national median household income of $52,250.

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