Special Report

The Happiest (and Most Miserable) Cities in America

5. Chico, CA
> Poverty rate:
22.3%
> 2016 unemployment rate: 7.3%
> Adult obesity rate: 25.2%
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 302.8

Chico metro area residents report some of the highest levels of financial stress in the country. A typical area household earns $42,365 a year, about $11,000 less than the national median household income. The poverty rate in the metro area of 22.3% is also much higher than than the 15.5% national poverty rate. Feelings of financial insecurity may be intensified by the highly uneven distribution of wealth in the area. The top quintile of earners makes six times as much as the bottom quintile, one of the largest income gaps nationwide.

The average Chico resident reports feeling in poor mental and physical health for 4.2 days every month, significantly more time than the 3.5 days the average American reports. However,
82.4% of Chico adults lead active lifestyles, a larger share than the 77.0% of adults nationwide. Similarly, the area’s obesity rate of 25.2% is lower than the 27.0% national obesity rate.

4. Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton, NC
> Poverty rate:
18.9%
> 2016 unemployment rate: 5.6%
> Adult obesity rate: 31.2%
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 193.7

Higher educational attainment often leads to higher incomes, better jobs, and a better overall personal well-being. In the Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton area, only 18.1% of adults have a bachelor’s degree, one of the lowest college attainment rates of any U.S. city. The area’s median household income of $41,106 is well below the national median. The area’s economy has been overly dependent on manufacturing, a sector that has been shedding jobs in recent decades. The area’s GDP per capita decreased by 12.0% from 2001 to 2014, one of the sharpest drops of any city in the country.

By many measures, a relatively large share of area residents are also in poor physical health. The obesity rate in the metro area of 31.2% is higher than the 27.0% national obesity rate. Area residents are also more likely to die prematurely due to preventable causes than adults across the country.

3. Huntington-Ashland, WV-KY-OH
> Poverty rate:
18.2%
> 2016 unemployment rate: 7.5%
> Adult obesity rate: 36.1%
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 0.0

Residents of the Huntington-Ashland metro area report some of the lowest levels of personal well-being in the country. Unemployment is relatively common in the area as 7.5% of the workforce is in need of a job, considerably more than the 5.0% national unemployment rate. A lagging local economy likely contributes to lower incomes and high poverty. The typical metro area household earns only $40,830 annually, far less than the $53,657 national median household income. Furthermore, 18.2% of area residents live in poverty compared to a 15.5% national poverty rate. Financial instability greatly reduces one’s personal well-being.

2. Fort Smith, AR-OK
> Poverty rate:
23.4%
> 2016 unemployment rate: 5.1%
> Adult obesity rate: 36.5%
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 424.7

Poor health outcomes and economic weakness likely lower overall feeling of well-being in the Fort Smith metro area. Of adults living in the area, 36.5% are obese, one of the highest obesity rates in the country. Obese individuals are at considerably greater risk of disease, which in turn can lead to lower quality of life and ultimately premature death. Each year, an estimated 9,551 years of potential life are lost due to preventable deaths, one of the worst premature death rates in the country. Financial distress is also common and affects individuals of all ages. More than one in every three children in the Fort Smith area live in poverty, for example, one of the highest child poverty rates in the nation.

The poor level of well-being in Fort Smith, as in many other areas on this list, makes the city less desirable both to prospective residents and people currently living there. Over the last five years, 3,309 more people left the area than arrived.

1. Charleston, WV
> Poverty rate:
17.9%
> 2016 unemployment rate: 6.9%
> Adult obesity rate: 32.3%
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 499.4

Charleston’s population reports the lowest level of well-being of any U.S. metro area. Unhealthy behavior, which increases the incidence of premature death, is likely a major contributor to the poor self-assessments in the area. The percentage of adults who smoke, for example, at 23.6%, is the eighth highest of all metro areas. The premature death rate, estimated at 10,325 years of life lost before age 75 per 100,000 people annually, exceeds even that of West Virginia, which is the second highest of all states.

Financial distress likely feeds the low well-being that many Charleston residents report. The area’s poverty rate of 17.9% and jobless rate of 6.9% are each well above the national figures.