Special Report

The Happiest (and Most Miserable) Cities in America

Samuel Stebbins, Evan Comen, Thomas C. Frohlich

The Happiest Cities in America

25. Visalia-Porterville, CA
> Poverty rate:
28.6%
> 2016 unemployment rate: 12.3%
> Adult obesity rate: 29.5%
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 421.6

The Visalia-Porterville metro area lags behind much of the country in several important economic measures. More than one in four area residents live below the poverty line, a larger share than in all but a handful of other U.S. metro areas. Additionally, the city’s 12.3% unemployment rate is more than double the 5.5% national rate. Despite a flagging economy, Visalia-Porterville residents report an especially high degree of well-being. A particularly young city, only 10.3% of area residents are 65 and older, one of the smallest shares in the country. Young people are far more likely to be in good physical health than the elderly, and physical well-being can be crucial to personal happiness.

24. Port St. Lucie, FL
> Poverty rate:
15.3%
> 2016 unemployment rate: 5.5%
> Adult obesity rate: 25.4%
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 331.3

Ranking as one of the happiest cities in the United States, it is perhaps no surprise that Port St. Lucie experienced one of the largest net migrations of any metro area in the country. Over 32,000 more people moved to Port St. Lucie than left over the past five years. Physical well-being is crucial to personal happiness, and Port St. Lucie is well equipped to support healthy lifestyles. More than 92% of the metro population has adequate access to places for physical activity such as parks and recreation centers, a considerably larger share than the 84% of Americans with adequate access.

Other factors likely play into Port St. Lucie resident’s strong sense of well-being. For some, Florida is an ideal retirement state due to the relatively low taxes and warm climate, and Port St. Lucie’s population is one of the oldest in the country. Roughly one-quarter of metro area residents are 65 and older.

23. Colorado Springs, CO
> Poverty rate:
12.0%
> 2016 unemployment rate: 3.8%
> Adult obesity rate: 21.3%
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 385.8

While money does not buy happiness, financial insecurity can greatly reduce quality of life and personal happiness. Colorado Springs residents are more likely to be financially secure than most Americans as a typical area household earns $59,441 annually, roughly $6,000 more than the typical American household. Higher incomes in the area have led to a relatively low poverty rate of 12.0%, considerably less than the 15.5% share of Americans living in poverty.

Like many of the happiest U.S. cities, Colorado Springs has been attracting new residents in recent years. In the past five years, the metro area’s population expanded by 23,500 due to migration alone.

22. Asheville, NC
> Poverty rate:
12.6%
> 2016 unemployment rate: 4.8%
> Adult obesity rate: 23.8%
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 205.6

A high prevalence of violent crime can detract from an individual’s sense of community and his or her personal happiness, and Asheville’s violent crime rate is among the lowest in the country. Only 205.6 violent crimes are reported for every 100,000 metro area residents a year, far fewer than the corresponding national rate of 366 incidents per 100,000. Asheville residents are also more likely to be financially secure than most Americans. While incomes in the city tend to be lower than they are across the country, a dollar goes considerably further in Asheville than in much of the United States. The average cost of goods and services in Asheville is 7.8% less than it is nationwide. A lower cost of living likely contributes to lower poverty rates. Only 12.6% of metro area residents are impoverished, a smaller share than the 15.5% of Americans living in poverty.

21. San Diego-Carlsbad, CA
> Poverty rate:
14.7%
> 2016 unemployment rate: 4.7%
> Adult obesity rate: 20.2%
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 325.2

Strong familial connections can be an important contributor to personal happiness. In the San Diego metro area, 29.2% of children live in single parent households, a smaller share than most metro areas and considerably smaller than the 34.0% corresponding national figure. Physical well-being is also often a strong contributor to personal happiness, and the San Diego metro area is well equipped to support healthy lifestyles. More than 96% of metro area residents have access to parks and recreation centers, a considerably larger share than the 84% of Americans with such access. With greater access, San Diego residents are far more likely to be physically active than the typical American. More than 85% of area adults participate in leisure time physical activity compared to only 77% of American adults.