Special Report

The Happiest (and Most Miserable) Cities in America

15. Baton Rouge, LA
> Poverty rate:
17.0%
> 2016 unemployment rate: 5.3%
> Adult obesity rate: 33.9%
> Violent crimes per 100,000: N/A

Poor health is likely a major contributor to Baton Rouge area residents’ low overall level of well-being. The obesity rate among area adults of 33.9% is far higher than the 27.0% national obesity rate. Physical inactivity can raise the likelihood of obesity and contribute to worse overall physical and mental well-being. In Baton Rouge, 27.2% of metro area adults lead sedentary lifestyles, versus the 23% of adults who do nationwide. Due in part to unhealthy lifestyles, premature death is far more common in Baton Rouge than it is across the United States. Annually, 9,060 years of life are lost to preventable deaths for every 100,000 Baton Rouge residents. By contrast, the national premature death rate is 6,600 years for every 100,000 residents.

14. Flint, MI
> Poverty rate:
21.5%
> 2016 unemployment rate: 5.5%
> Adult obesity rate: 36.0%
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 652.2

There are about 652 violent crimes per 100,000 people in Flint each year, one of the highest violent crime rates in the country. Area incomes are low, poverty is widespread, and 23.7% of all households rely on food stamps — the seventh highest rate of any metro area. Not surprisingly, Flint residents report feeling the most negatively towards their community.

As poor as they are, socioeconomic measures fail to adequately capture the daily hardships of Flint residents. Over the past few years, the Flint water supply has become heavily contaminated. The undrinkable water was the result of government mismanagement and neglect and is yet to be resolved. On January 16, President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency in response to the Flint water crisis. There remains no clear answer as to when Flint will have a reliable water source again.

13. Utica-Rome, NY
> Poverty rate:
17.5%
> 2016 unemployment rate: 5.9%
> Adult obesity rate: 30.3%
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 259.2

Social isolation and financial insecurity, which are more likely among adults and children living in single-parent households, often work against personal well-being. In the Utica-Rome metro area, children are more likely to grow up in single parent households than children across the state and country as a whole. Additionally, 29.1% of area children live below the poverty line, a considerably larger share than the 22.6% child poverty rate across the state and the 21.7% national child poverty rate .

People are leaving many of the least happy cities, and the situation in Utica-Rome is no different. Over the past five years, 4,315 more people moved out of the metro area than moved in.

12. Indianapolis-Carmel-Anderson, IN
> Poverty rate:
14.8%
> 2016 unemployment rate: 4.6%
> Adult obesity rate: 31.1%
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 646.3

Indiana’s violent crime rate of 365 incidents per 100,000 residents annually is inline with the national violent crime rate. In the Indianapolis-Carmel-Anderson metro area, however, violent crime is far more common with 646 reported incidents for every 100,000 people. Feeling safe is a major factor in happiness, and the area’s high violent crime rate likely plays a role in its relatively low ranking on the well-being index. Also, poor health among area adults likely detracts from overall well-being. Adults in the metro area are more likely to report being in fair or poor health than adults across the country.

11. Scranton–Wilkes-Barre–Hazleton, PA
> Poverty rate:
15.5%
> 2016 unemployment rate: 6.1%
> Adult obesity rate: 29.6%
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 0.0

In the Scranton–Wilkes-Barre–Hazleton area, low incomes are prevalent. The typical household in the metro makes $45,257 a year, less than the $53,657 national median household income. Once a booming manufacturing town, Scranton and the surrounding region’s economy has suffered from the nationwide sector decline and the outsourcing of manufacturing jobs. While the national GDP per capita has grown from $47,985 to $52,526 from 2001 to 2014, a 9.5% increase, Scranton’s has grown from $34,330 to $36,310 per capita, a 5.8% increase.

The area’s 6.1% unemployment rate is higher than the 5.0% national jobless rate, and residents may be feeling the hard times. In addition to financial stress, residents report weak senses of purpose and community.