Special Report

The Happiest (and Most Miserable) Cities in America

10. San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles-Arroyo Grande, CA
> Poverty rate:
> 2016 unemployment rate: 4.4%
> Adult obesity rate: 21.8%
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 420.9

The San Luis Obispo metro area is one of many in California with some of the happiest Americans in the country. The area is fairly wealthy and has a strong educational system. The typical household makes $63,474 a year, about $10,000 more than the $53,657 national median household income. Also, 92.7% of students in the metro area finish high school within four years, a much larger share than the 82.0% national high school graduation rate.

Unlike many of the happiest metro areas, San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles-Arroyo Grande is fairly dangerous.There are 421 violent crimes per 100,000 residents reported annually, up significantly from the 267 incidents per 100,000 people violent crime rate in 2010. In fact, the metro area has one the the fastest growing crime rates nationwide. Nevertheless, area residents particularly satisfied with the strength of their community.

9. Anchorage, AK
> Poverty rate:
> 2016 unemployment rate: 6.3%
> Adult obesity rate: 27.4%
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 843.7

Incomes in the Anchorage metro area are among the highest in the country. The typical area household earns $75,682 annually, over $22,000 more than the typical American household. Financial stability is often critical to personal happiness and poverty is relatively scarce in Anchorage. Only 9.9% of Anchorage residents live in poverty, one of the lowest poverty rates of any U.S. city and a far smaller rate than the 15.5% national poverty rate.

Despite relative financial security, Anchorage is no especially safe. There are 844 violent crimes for every 100,000 residents annually, the second highest violent crime rate among all U.S. cities. High violent crime rates are uncharacteristic of the majority of country’s happiest cities.

8. Charlottesville, VA
> Poverty rate:
> 2016 unemployment rate: 3.9%
> Adult obesity rate: 25.8%
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 161.9

Home to the University of Virginia, Charlottesville is one of many college towns among the happiest metro areas in the country. About 40% of area adults have at least a bachelor’s degree, a larger share than the 30% of Americans nationwide with similar education.

The university has a major impact on Charlottesville’s economy. The university employs about one-fifth of the area’s total workforce and likely contributes to the area’s low unemployment. Charlottesville’s jobless rate of 3.9% is significantly lower than the 5.0% national unemployment rate.

7. Boulder, CO
> Poverty rate:
> 2016 unemployment rate: 2.5%
> Adult obesity rate: 13.3%
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 231.8

Like Colorado as a whole, Boulder residents report very high levels of physical well-being. Just 9.4% of Boulder adults do not exercise regularly, the smallest share of inactive residents nationwide. Likewise, Boulder’s 13.3% obesity rate is the lowest amongst U.S. metro areas and less than half the 27.0% national obesity rate. In addition to some of the healthiest habits, area residents also report some of the healthiest outcomes. Just 4,065 years of life per 100,000 people are lost due to premature death annually in Boulder, the second lowest incidence of premature death of any U.S. metro area.

Boulder is also home to some of the highest-earning, most well-educated Americans in the country. The 58.0% of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree is the highest such share nationwide, and the $71,540 a typical household earns annually is well above the $53,657 national median income. High educational attainment helps maintain a low unemployment rate in the metro area. At 2.5%, Boulder has the lowest unemployment rate nationwide.

6. Santa Cruz-Watsonville, CA
> Poverty rate:
> 2016 unemployment rate: 9.0%
> Adult obesity rate: 20.6%
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 418.0

An active lifestyle can contribute to physical well-being, a critical component of personal happiness. The Santa Cruz-Watsonville metro area is well equipped to support active lifestyles. More than 96% of metro area residents have adequate access to places such as parks and recreation centers, a far greater share than the 84% of Americans with such access.

As in many of the happiest U.S. cities, Santa Cruz-Watsonville residents earn more than most Americans. The typical area household earns $65,368 annually, over $11,000 more than the typical American household. Higher incomes in the area help offset the high cost of real estate. Largely due to its location along the Pacific coast in Central California, rent prices in Santa Cruz-Watsonville are roughly 71% higher than they are across the country on average.

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