Special Report

The Happiest (and Most Miserable) Cities in America

5. El Paso, TX
> Poverty rate: 22.6%
> 2013 unemployment rate: 8.6%
> Adult obesity rate: 25.4%
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 347.3

Nearly 25% of El Paso households relied on food stamps, 28.4% had no health insurance, and 22.6% lived in poverty in 2013, all some of the higher rates nationwide — exceptionally high compared to other areas with the highest well-being. In addition, less than three-quarters of adults had at least a high school diploma, nearly the lowest such rate nationwide. Yet residents still reported the fifth highest overall level of well-being. Relatively strong health indicators partly explain the high well-being. Just over 25% of residents were obese, one of the lower rates compared to other metro areas. The infant mortality rate of 4.4 deaths per 1,000 live births was also one of the lower figures in the nation. Also, El Paso’s job market has been improving at a healthy pace. While the 2013 annual unemployment rate of 8.6% was well above the national rate, it fell to 5.6% in December, roughly in line with the nation.

4. Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura, CA
> Poverty rate: 11.9%
> 2013 unemployment rate: 7.8%
> Adult obesity rate: 21.3%
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 193.8

As in other areas with high levels of well-being, financial stability likely contributes the most to residents’ happiness. More than 10% of households in the Oxnard area earned more than $200,000 in 2013, more than twice the national share and the fifth highest share among all metro areas. Crime tends to be more common in areas with high unemployment rates. But while the 2013 unemployment rate of 7.8% in the Oxnard area was just higher than the national rate of 7.4%, the area’s crime rate was far below that of the nation. Just 193.8 violent crimes were reported, nearly half the comparable national rate. By December, the unemployment rate had fallen to about 6.0%, roughly in line with the nationwide decline. Residents are also in fairly strong health as only 12.1% of adults reported smoking regularly.

ALSO READ: America’s Fastest Shrinking Cities

3. Raleigh, NC
> Poverty rate: 12.0%
> 2013 unemployment rate: 6.3%
> Adult obesity rate: N/A
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 219.3

As in most other areas reporting high levels of well-being, Raleigh residents are especially well educated. Nearly 44% of area adults had at least a bachelor’s degree, considerably higher than the comparable national attainment rate of nearly 30%. The presence of large universities nearby such as Duke University, North Carolina State, and the University of North Carolina helped raise educational attainment rates and likely helped improve the overall well-being of residents. The unemployment rate of 4.1% in December was also one of the lowest rates nationwide. The strong economy partly explains the strong population growth. From July 2010 through July 2014, Raleigh’s population grew by 9.3%, 11th fastest compared with other metro areas.

2. Urban Honolulu, HI
> Poverty rate: 9.4%
> 2013 unemployment rate: 4.4%
> Adult obesity rate: 22.1%
> Violent crimes per 100,000: N/A

The happiness of Honolulu residents is likely derived from healthy behaviors. Just 22.1% of adults in the area were identified as obese in 2013, and only 14.6% of adults smoked regularly — nearly the lowest rates in the country. Strong life evaluations may also result from a strong regional economy. Just 3.5% of the labor force was unemployed in December, more than two percentage points below the national unemployment rate of 5.6%. While the area’s median household income of $73,388 was one of the highest incomes nationwide, the cost of living is the highest compared to the nation.

ALSO READ: America’s Fastest Growing Cities

1. North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton, FL
> Poverty rate: 14.4%
> 2013 unemployment rate: 7.2%
> Adult obesity rate: 22.5%
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 422.2

The North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton metro area reported the highest well-being on Gallup’s survey. Roughly 30% of the area’s population was at least 65 years old, nearly the highest share compared to other metro areas. Many members of the area’s relatively large elderly population are likely retired. Living in retirement does not guarantee happiness, but more free time and retirement living is likely a major contributor to well-being in the North Port metro area. It is also a popular destination for migrants, with the population growing 6.4% from the middle of 2010 through July of last year, one of the faster growth rates compared to other metro areas. Warm weather is strongly associated with metro area growth, and Florida’s favorable climate is both a luxury for residents and an added incentive for Americans looking to relocate. Strong health indicators also explain the metro’s lead position on Gallup’s Index. The obesity rate of 22.5% in the North Port metro was among the lower rates nationwide.

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