Special Report

The Happiest (and Most Miserable) Cities in America

20. Akron, OH
> Poverty rate:
13.3%
> 2016 unemployment rate: 5.9%
> Adult obesity rate: 29.0%
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 275.1

A larger share of the Akron metro area’s workforce is in need of a job than is typical across the nation. The area’s unemployment rate of 5.9% is higher than the 5.0% national rate and and full percentage point higher than the statewide rate. Metro area residents also report some dangerous habits. Drunk driving is the underlying cause of 44.1% of all driving deaths in Akron, a larger share than in all but a handful of other U.S. metro areas.

As in many other cities that rank low on the well-being index, people are leaving Akron. The city lost 1,982 residents from April 2010 to July 2015 due solely to migration.

19. Springfield, MO
> Poverty rate:
18.8%
> 2016 unemployment rate: 3.9%
> Adult obesity rate: 29.7%
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 535.9

Only 3.9% of Springfield’s workforce is in need a job, one of the lowest unemployment rates of all U.S. metro areas. Despite the favorable job market, area residents have relatively low incomes. The typical area household earns only $41,248 annually, considerably less than the $53,657 median household income across all U.S. metro areas. Financial instability can detract from personal happiness, and high poverty accompanies the lower area’s lower incomes. Nearly 19% of area residents live below the poverty line compared to the 15.5% state and national poverty rates.

18. Fayetteville, NC
> Poverty rate:
17.8%
> 2016 unemployment rate: 7.2%
> Adult obesity rate: 32.4%
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 458.7

Physical well-being, for many, is a crucial component of personal happiness. In Fayetteville, one of the least happy cities in the country, 32.4% of adults are obese, far higher than the 27.0% national adult obesity rate. Obesity is linked to a number of chronic diseases and conditions, and area residents are more likely to die prematurely of preventable causes than people across the country as a whole.

In addition to some negative health indicators, Fayetteville’s residents are also suffering economically. More than 7% of the metro area workforce is out of a job, one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. Employment reduces risk of financial insecurity and can increase an individual’s sense of purpose.

17. Erie, PA
> Poverty rate:
16.3%
> 2016 unemployment rate: 6.1%
> Adult obesity rate: 30.7%
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 226.7

Social isolation often hinders well-being, and is more likely among adults and children in single-parent households. In Erie, nearly 38.6% of children live in single parent households, a greater share than the 34.0% of children nationwide. Poor economic conditions also likely contribute to the lower personal well-being. The typical household in the area earns $45,560 annually, roughly $8,000 less than the corresponding state and national figures.

As is the case in many of the least happy cities in the country, people are leaving Erie faster than they are arriving. The city’s population dropped by more than 4,000 due to migration over the past five years.

16. Detroit-Warren-Dearborn, MI
> Poverty rate:
16.1%
> 2016 unemployment rate: 5.7%
> Adult obesity rate: 30.8%
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 529.4

Detroit is one of the most economically depressed cities in the country. The metro area’s 5.7% unemployment rate is higher than both the statewide and national unemployment rates and likely contributes to lower overall well-being in the area.

A stagnant economy is not the only potential explanation for relative dissatisfaction among Detroit-Warren-Dearborn residents. With a rate of 529.4 violent crimes for every 100,000 residents, the area is considerably more dangerous than the nation as whole, where there are 365.5 violent crimes for every 100,000 residents a year. With a lagging economy and a high violent crime rate, people are leaving the metro area in droves. From April 2010 to July 2015, the metro area’s population declined by 47,620 due solely to migration, the second most precipitous decline due migration of any U.S. metro area.