Special Report

The Happiest (and Most Miserable) Cities in America

5. Barnstable Town, MA
> Poverty rate:
> 2016 unemployment rate: 7.5%
> Adult obesity rate: 19.7%
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 425.8

Barnstable, Massachusetts, located on the popular summer destination Cape Cod, is one of the happiest metro areas in the United States. While area incomes are slightly lower than they are across the state as a whole, poverty is rare in Barnstable. Only 7.7% of the metro area population lives below the poverty line, the second lowest poverty rate of any U.S. city and well below the 11.6% statewide poverty rate.

Educated populations tend to report better personal well-being, and Barnstable is no exception. More than 44% of area adults have a bachelor’s degree, one of the highest college attainment rates of any U.S. city. Additionally, 96.4% of area adults have a high school diploma, the highest such share of any U.S. metro area.

4. Fort Collins, CO
> Poverty rate:
> 2016 unemployment rate: 2.8%
> Adult obesity rate: 18.9%
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 191.7

Fort Collins is located along the Colorado Front Range, a series of populous, geographically contiguous metro areas along Interstate 25 in the Rocky Mountains. Residents benefit from their proximity to other urban areas, as about half of the Fort Collins workforce commutes outside of the city to work. Perhaps as a result, just 2.8% of the workforce is unemployed, the fourth lowest unemployment rate in the country.

Fort Collins residents are also among the healthiest Americans nationwide. Just 12.1% of residents do not exercise regularly, and just 18.9% are obese, the fourth lowest inactivity and obesity rates of all U.S. metro areas. In addition to reporting satisfaction in their physical lives, less than one in 10 Fort Collins adults claim to be in fair or poor health — again the fourth smallest share of any metro area.

3. North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton, FL
> Poverty rate:
> 2016 unemployment rate: 4.7%
> Adult obesity rate: 22.4%
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 542.8

In North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton, 30.1% of residents are 65 or older, making it the sixth oldest community in the United States. The Sarasota metro area is one of many elderly communities in Florida among the happiest in the country. Although Sarasota’s $52,077 median household income is slightly lower than the national median, residents report the highest level of financial well-being in the country. This may be due in part to the large number of retirees with pension incomes and the relatively low cost of goods and services in the area.

As the baby boom generation ages and the national population that is 65 and older grows to record size, places such as the Sarasota metro area will likely experience further population expansion. Over the past five years, 77,820 more people moved to North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton than left, one of the largest net migrations of any metro area in the country.

2. Salinas, CA
> Poverty rate:
> 2016 unemployment rate: 11.2%
> Adult obesity rate: 23.7%
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 421.9

The cool climate and ocean breeze in Salinas help make residents among the happiest Americans in the country. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Pacific Ocean air from Monterey Bay acts as a natural air conditioner to the Salinas area, cooling the environment and eradicating pollutants from the air. On an average day, there are 7.2 micrograms of particulate matter in the Salinas air per cubic meter, the second lowest level of pollution in the country, after Santa Rosa, California.

The unemployment rate in Salinas of 11.2% is the seventh highest of any metro area. While the Salinas economy is in worse shape than most of the happiest places in the country, area incomes are well distributed. The top quintile of earners make just 3.6 times the income of the bottom quintile, the seventh lowest income inequality ratio in the country. Despite other relatively poor socioeconomic measures — such as high poverty and low educational attainment — Salinas residents report some of the highest levels of well-being nationwide.

1. Naples-Immokalee-Marco Island, FL
> Poverty rate:
> 2016 unemployment rate: 4.8%
> Adult obesity rate: 18.8%
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 396.2

In the Naples-Immokalee-Marco Island area, 29.3% of the population is 65 and older, making it the seventh oldest community in the country. The Naples metro area is one of many elderly communities in Florida among the happiest nationwide. The area boasts a variety of beaches, golf courses, and resorts, which are enjoyed by the area’s relatively wealthy residents. Of all area households, 8.8% earn $200,000 or more annually, more than double the 4.0% share for Florida as a whole.

While Naples-Immokalee-Marco Island has some of the most expensive real estate in the country, Americans are still relocating to the metro area at a rapid pace. Over the past five years, net migration accounted for 34,572 new residents, one of the largest such growths of any metro area in the country.

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