Special Report

The Happiest (and Most Miserable) Cities in America

Evan Comen, Samuel Stebbins, Thomas C. Frohlich

Source: Thinkstock

15. Lubbock, TX
> Poverty rate: 20.7%
> Obesity rate: 28.2%
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 825.4
> 5-year pop. change: 6.5%

With 825 violent crimes in 2015 for every 100,000 residents, Lubbock, Texas is one of the most dangerous metro areas in the country. Crime in the area is likely detracting from residents’ overall well-being. A smaller than typical 73.4% of survey respondents in the area say that they feel safe and secure in their community, and a larger than typical 17.1% of respondents are not proud of their community.

Poor economic conditions also likely detract from personal well-being in the Lubbock metro area. More than one in five area residents live in poverty compared to 14.7% of all Americans, and 42.3% of survey respondents in Lubbock have worried about money in the last week, the third largest share of any metro area.

Source: Thinkstock

14. Olympia-Tumwater, WA
> Poverty rate: 12.7%
> Obesity rate: 28.6%
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 242.5
> 5-year pop. change: 6.5%

Residents of the Olympia-Tumwater metro area report a lower sense of purpose than nearly any other metro area surveyed by Gallup. Just 73% of surveyed residents claim to like what they do every day, and less than half believe their supervisor at work treats them like a partner — some of the smallest shares nationwide.

Just 17.3% of Olympia’s adults have a bachelor’s degree, one of the lower shares among U.S. metro areas. The area’s low educational attainment rate may have led to high job dissatisfaction in the area, as those without a college degree often have less choice in their profession, and tend to be paid less.

Source: Thinkstock

13. Baton Rouge, LA
> Poverty rate: 16.2%
> Obesity rate: 33.9%
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 478.9
> 5-year pop. change: 3.3%

It is harder for people without stable and comfortable housing to maintain a high quality of life and well-being. Fewer than two-thirds of people in Baton Rouge say the house or apartment they live in is ideal for their family, the lowest such proportion nationwide. Feeling safe and secure is also a key component of well-being, as well as a factor in feeling satisfied with a particular area. But in Baton Rouge, just 67.3% of survey respondents say they feel safe and secure, a lower percentage than in the vast majority of areas reviewed. The metro area’s violent crime rate of 478.9 incidents per 100,000 people annually is also well above the national violent crime rate.

Source: Thinkstock

12. Rockford, IL
> Poverty rate: 14.3%
> Obesity rate: 31.9%
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 818.8
> 5-year pop. change: -2.5%

Like in a number of other low-well being metro areas, Rockford’s population is shrinking. The population declined by 2.5% between 2010 and 2015, while populations grew nationwide and in most metro areas. Just 72.9% of surveyed area residents are satisfied with the place in which they live, much lower than the comparable national share of 85.0% and one of the lowest percentages of areas reviewed. The population decline in Rockford can likely be partially attributed to weak economic conditions, which in turn help account for the low reported well-being among area residents. Like many Midwest cities, Rockford’s economy declined considerably since its days as an industrial center of U.S. manufacturing. In December, the metro area’s unemployment rate of 6.4% was among the higher rates in the country.

Source: Thinkstock

11. Toledo, OH
> Poverty rate: 17.2%
> Obesity rate: 32.0%
> Violent crimes per 100,000: 583.6
> 5-year pop. change: -0.7%

Toledo is one of three metro areas in Ohio where residents report relatively low overall well-being. Physical health is a crucial component of individual well-being, and many in Toledo are not taking especially good care of themselves. A larger than typical 19.6% share of area adults identify as smokers, and only 46.5% of survey respondents exercise regularly, nearly the smallest share of any U.S. metro area.

Unhealthy habits likely detract from both mental and physical health. Some 32% of metro area adults are obese, compared to 27% of all U.S. adults, and 21.3% of Gallup survey respondents in Toledo struggle with depression, higher than the 17.8% national share.