Special Report

The Happiest (and Most Miserable) Cities in America

Evan Comen, Samuel Stebbins, Thomas C. Frohlich

The Most Miserable Cities in America.

Source: Thinkstock

25. Memphis, TN-MS-AR
> Poverty rate: 18.4%
> Obesity rate: 34.4%
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 1,038.0
> 5-year pop. change: 1.3%

Of Gallup’s five elements of well-being — physical, financial, social, community, and purpose — residents of the Memphis metro area rank the lowest in their sense of community. One reason for the lack of community spirit may be the 1,038 violent crimes per 100,000 residents reported annually, more than 2.5 times the national rate of 387 violent crimes per 100,000 Americans. As many as 19% of Memphis residents surveyed say they do not feel safe or secure, the fourth largest share nationwide. Just 52% of survey respondents believe Memphis is the perfect city for them, and only 56% claim they are proud of their community, nearly the lowest shares of any metro area.

Source: Thinkstock

24. Stockton-Lodi, CA
> Poverty rate: 17.4%
> Obesity rate: 29.4%
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 797.1
> 5-year pop. change: 5.6%

Only 50.6% of survey respondents in the Stockton-Lodi area are proud of their community, the second smallest share of any metro area in the country. A lack of community pride may be tied to the prevalence of violent crime. There were 797 violent crimes for every 100,000 metro area residents in 2015, the ninth highest violent crime rate of any metro area in the country. Likely because of the high crime rate, about one in every five area residents do not feel safe in their community, the largest share of any MSA in the Gallup survey.

High crime areas often also have lagging economies, and Stockton-Lodi’s 7.7% unemployment rate is higher than in all but 14 other U.S. metros.

Source: Thinkstock

23. Oklahoma City, OK
> Poverty rate: 14.5%
> Obesity rate: 30.8%
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 462.0
> 5-year pop. change: 8.0%

Oklahoma City’s population grew by 8% between 2010 and 2015, twice the national population growth rate over that period. The growth reflects favorable economic conditions — the metro area’s unemployment rate of 4.2% is slightly below the national rate. Yet, residents of Oklahoma City report relatively low overall well-being. Financial constraints are likely contributing factors. While the area’s poverty rate of 14.5% is in line with the national rate, 17.1% of surveyed residents say they do not have enough money to buy food, and 19.3% say they do not have enough money for health care, each higher than the corresponding national percentages.

Source: Thinkstock

22. Roanoke, VA
> Poverty rate: 13.2%
> Obesity rate: 28.9%
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 213.9
> 5-year pop. change: 1.9%

In no metropolitan area did well-being decline to a greater degree between 2015 and 2016 than Roanoke, Virginia. Today, 14% of residents surveyed in the Roanoke area say their friends and family do not give them positive energy on a daily basis, and 16% state they do not have someone in their lives who encourages them to be healthy — each the fourth largest such share of any metro area. A strong social support network can be a prerequisite for a healthy lifestyle, and Roanoke’s population is relatively unhealthy. Roughly 40% of surveyed residents have had high blood pressure in their lifetime, and 29% have had high cholesterol, each among the highest shares in the country.

Source: Thinkstock

21. Cedar Rapids, IA
> Poverty rate: 11.1%
> Obesity rate: 30.5%
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 189.5
> 5-year pop. change: 3.0%

Cedar Rapids residents are more likely to lack a strong sense of purpose than most Americans. Only 54.7% of survey respondents in the metro area say they have a role model in their lives who makes them enthusiastic about the future, nearly the smallest share of any area surveyed. In addition, a relatively large share of Cedar Rapids residents do not take especially good care of themselves. Only 45.6% of survey respondents exercise regularly, the third smallest share of any U.S. metro area. Partially as a result, the area’s 30.5% obesity rate is above the 27.0% corresponding national rate.