Special Report

The Happiest (and Most Miserable) Cities in America

Evan Comen, Samuel Stebbins, Thomas C. Frohlich

Source: Thinkstock

5. Canton-Massillon, OH
> Poverty rate: 13.2%
> Obesity rate: 31.1%
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 323.7
> 5-year pop. change: -0.3%

In the Canton-Massillon metro area, residents report a lesser sense of purpose in their daily lives than nearly any other metro area population. Only 73% say they enjoy what they do every day, one of the lowest shares nationwide. One reason for the low job satisfaction among Canton residents may be the area’s unhealthy job market. The economies of Canton and many other Rust Belt cities have suffered from the outsourcing of American steel production. The bygone industry may also be responsible for the significant air pollution in the area. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that there are 14 micrograms of fine particulate matter per cubic meter of air in the Canton area, among the most of any metro area. Nearly 20% of residents believe Canton is not the perfect city for them, one of the higher shares nationwide.

Source: Thinkstock

4. Topeka, KS
> Poverty rate: 13.3%
> Obesity rate: 32.6%
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 391.7
> 5-year pop. change: -0.2%

Residents of Topeka report a lower degree of physical well-being than those in nearly any other city. More than 31% of surveyed residents have had high cholesterol at some point in their lives, and 15% have had asthma, the fourth and eighth highest such shares of any metro. Additionally, only 56% believe their doctor would say they manage their health well, the smallest share of any city other than Fort Smith, Arkansas.

Nearly 28% of surveyed residents believe Topeka is not the best city for them, the fourth largest such share of any metro area. In recent years, some dissatisfied residents may have relocated. Compared to the U.S. population growth rate of 3.9% between 2010 and 2015, the number of Topeka residents fell by 0.2% over the same time period.

3. Huntington-Ashland, WV-KY-OH
> Poverty rate: 20.1%
> Obesity rate: 36.1%
> Violent crimes per 100,000: N/A
> 5-year pop. change: -1.0%

One of the largest determinants of happiness is physical well-being and residents of the Huntington-Ashland metro area are among the least healthy of any metro area nationwide. An estimated 33.3% of Huntington adults are not physically active, and 36.1% are obese, much larger shares than the 23.0% and 27.0% national inactivity and obesity rates. Approximately 39% of Huntington residents surveyed say they were prevented from doing their usual activities due to poor health, the largest share of any metro area. Poor physical health may be undermining mental health in the metro area. Some 29.1% of Huntington-Ashland residents have suffered from depression recently, the largest share of any city.

 

2. Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton, NC
> Poverty rate: 15.8%
> Obesity rate: 31.2%
> Violent crimes per 100,000: N/A
> 5-year pop. change: -0.7%

One of the largest setbacks to the well-being of Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton residents is likely their financial situation. The typical Hickory household earns just $40,380 a year, far less than the $55,775 a year the typical household nationwide earns. Nearly 46% of residents say they do not have enough money to pursue their wants and needs, the largest share of any metro area.

Some Hickory residents struggle to afford basic necessities. Approximately 20% of surveyed residents claim they do not have enough money for food, and 23% cannot afford health care, some of the largest shares of any city. Just 58% of Hickory residents have access to locations for physical activity such as parks or gyms, compared to 84% of Americans. Overall, only 44% of Hickory residents believe they are in near-perfect physical shape — the smallest share of any metro area.

Source: Thinkstock

1. Fort Smith, AR-OK
> Poverty rate: 20.5%
> Obesity rate: 36.5%
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 446.0
> 5-year pop. change: -0.2%

Compared with nearly 200 U.S. metro areas, Fort Smith residents report the lowest well-being. Residents are considerably more likely than people nationwide to earn low incomes and report financial distress as well as the poor health outcomes that are often associated with financial hardship. The typical household earns $41,040 annually, and 20.5% of people live in poverty, versus the national median income of $55,775 and poverty rate of 14.7%. Nearly 44% of survey respondents in the area say they worry about money, and 28% report not having enough money to buy food, each the highest such percentages of all metro areas reviewed.

Physical and mental health are major determinants of well-being. In Fort Smith, the proportions of people who report high blood pressure (43.5%), say that poor health hinders regular activity (36.4%), and who have experienced depression (28.1%) are each among the top five such shares nationwide.