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Forbes: America's Most Miserable Cities


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America's Most Miserable Cities

California has never looked less golden, with eight of its cities making the top 20 on our annual list.

Arnold Schwarzenegger was sworn in as the governor of California at the end of 2003 amid a wave of optimism that his independent thinking and fresh ideas would revive a state stumbling after the recall of Gov. Gray Davis.

The good vibes are a distant memory: The Governator exited office last month with the state facing a crippling checklist of problems including massive budget deficits, high unemployment, plunging home prices, rampant crime and sky-high taxes. Schwarzenegger's approval ratings hit 22% last year, a record low for any sitting California governor.

California's troubles helped it land eight of the 20 spots on our annual list of America's Most Miserable Cities, with Stockton ranking first for the second time in three years.

Located in the state's Central Valley, Stockton has been ravaged by the housing bust. Median home prices in the city tripled between 1998 and 2005, when they peaked at $431,000. Now they are back to where they started, as the median price is forecast to be $142,000 this year, according to research firm Economy.com, a decline of 67% from 2005. Foreclosure filings affected 6.9% of homes last year in the Stockton area, the seventh-highest rate in the nation, according to online foreclosure marketplace RealtyTrac.

Stockton's violent crime and unemployment rates also rank among the 10 worst in the country, although violent crime was down 10% in the latest figures from the FBI. Jobless rates are expected to decline or stay flat in most U.S. metro areas in 2011, but in Stockton, unemployment is projected to rise to 18.1% in 2011 after averaging 17.2% in 2010, according to Economy.com.

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Our list of America's Most Miserable Cities goes a step further: We consider a total of 10 factors, things that people gripe about around the water cooler every day. Most are serious issues, including unemployment, crime and taxes. A few we factor in are not as critical, but still elevate people's blood pressure, like the weather, commute times and how the local sports team is doing.

One of the biggest issues causing Americans angst the past four years is the value of their homes. To account for that we tweaked the methodology for this year's list and considered foreclosure rates and the change in home prices over the past three years.. Click here for a more detailed rundown of our methodology.

...

Florida and California have ample sunshine in common, but also massive housing problems that have millions of residents stuck with underwater mortgages. The two states are home to 16 of the top 20 metros in terms of home foreclosure rates in 2010. The metro area with the most foreclosure filings (171,704) and fifth-highest rate (7.1%) last year is Miami, which ranks No. 2 on our list of Most Miserable Cities.

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The good weather and lack of a state income tax are the only things that kept Miami out of the top spot. In addition to housing problems (prices are down 50% over three years), corruption is off the charts, with 404 government officials convicted of crimes this decade in South Florida. Factor in violent crime rates among the worst in the country and long commutes, and it's easy to understand why Miami has steadily moved up our list, from No. 9 in 2009 to No. 6 last year to the runner-up spot this year.

California cities take the next three spots: Merced (No. 3), Modesto (No. 4) and Sacramento (No. 5). Each has struggled with declining home prices, high unemployment and high crime rates, in addition to the problems all Californians face, like high sales and income taxes and service cuts to help close massive budget shortfalls.

The Golden State has never looked less golden. "If I even mention California, they throw me out of the office," says Ron Pollina, president of site selection firm Pollina Corporate Real Estate. "Every company hates California."

Last year's most miserable city, Cleveland, fell back to No. 10 this year despite the stomach punch delivered by LeBron James when he announced his exit from Cleveland on national television last summer. Cleveland's unemployment rate rose slightly in 2010 to an average of 9.3%, but the city's unemployment rank improved relative to other cities, thanks to soaring job losses across the U.S. Cleveland benefited from a housing market that never overheated and therefore hasn't crashed as much as many other metros. Yet Cleveland was the only city to rank in the bottom half of each of the 10 categories we considered.

Two of the 10 largest metro areas make the list. Chicago ranks seventh on the strength of its long commutes (30.7 minutes on average--eighth-worst in the U.S.) and high sales tax (9.75%---tied for the highest). The Windy City also ranks in the bottom quartile on weather, crime, foreclosures and home price trends.

President Obama's (relatively) new home also makes the cut at No. 16. Washington, D.C., has one of the healthiest economies, but problems abound. Traffic is a nightmare, with commute times averaging 33.4 minutes--only New York is worse. Income tax rates are among the highest in the country and home prices are down 27% over three years.

And it does not get much more miserable than the sports scene in Washington. Beltway fans should be grateful for the NHL's Capitals, their only major pro team to finish out of the basement in the last two seasons. The Nationals (MLB), Redskins (NFL) and Wizards (NBA) have all finished in last place in their respective divisions the past two years.

Click on the link for the full article

List:

  1. Stockton, CA
  2. Miami, FL
  3. Merced, CA
  4. Modesto, CA
  5. Sacramento, CA
  6. Memphis, TN
  7. Chicago, IL
  8. W. Palm Beach, FL
  9. Vallejo, CA
  10. Cleveland, OH
  11. Flint, MI
  12. Toledo, OH
  13. For Lauderdale, FL
  14. Youngstown, OH
  15. Detroit, MI
  16. Washington, DC
  17. Fresno, CA
  18. Salinas, CA
  19. Jacksonville, FL
  20. Bakersfield, CA

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And it does not get much more miserable than the sports scene in Washington. Beltway fans should be grateful for the NHL's Capitals, their only major pro team to finish out of the basement in the last two seasons. The Nationals (MLB), Redskins (NFL) and Wizards (NBA) have all finished in last place in their respective divisions the past two years.

Ouch.

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are those a lot of southern CA towns?

None of those are Southern Cal, they are all central valley and further north. Sacramento comes as a bit of a surprise to me as it's the state capital so it's not lacking for jobs on some level. Home prices there the past few years really did get tremendously out of hand however.

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None of those are Southern Cal, they are all central valley and further north. Sacramento comes as a bit of a surprise to me as it's the state capital so it's not lacking for jobs on some level. Home prices there the past few years really did get tremendously out of hand however.

thats good. my brother is going to grad school in san marcos next semester and i would love to move out there

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are those a lot of southern CA towns?
None of those are Southern Cal, they are all central valley and further north. Sacramento comes as a bit of a surprise to me as it's the state capital so it's not lacking for jobs on some level. Home prices there the past few years really did get tremendously out of hand however.

Basically, it is every agricultural town in the Central Valley of California, from Bakersfield in the south up through Fresno, Merced, Modesto, Stockton, Salinas, Sacramento. The only outlier is Vallejo, which is a former military town which has never recovered from having the Mare Island Naval Base closed.

The problem is that each of those places forgot what they were and what made them successful. When California house prices boomed, people in Stockton played the house flipping game the same way people in San Diego and San Jose did, and developers built a zillion brand new houses for them to flip, but there were no high paying jobs and rich purchasers to buy all those homes when the bubble burst. Everything is in foreclosure there.

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San Marcos is in San Diego county, approx an hour and a half drive south of LA and about a 30 minutes north of San Diego's downtown area. It's mellow but has a cool vibe to it.

yea my brother told me its close to the city and the surrounding neighborhoods (carlsbad, encinitas, esconido) are nice as well. it just so happens that my employer (L-3 Communications) is pretty big out there so it could potentially be a good fit.

do you live in LA?

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yea my brother told me its close to the city and the surrounding neighborhoods (carlsbad, encinitas, esconido) are nice as well. it just so happens that my employer (L-3 Communications) is pretty big out there so it could potentially be a good fit.

do you live in LA?

I live in Orange County, which is between LA and SD counties. The San Marcos area is cool but it is really mellow (as in there is no nightlife to speak of). those beach cities however that you mention above are cool. They all have a surf-centered vibe to them. You have to drive to SD proper or LA is you want to branch out.

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All of northern Ohio is represented - Toledo, Cleveland, and Youngston made the top 20. Things are bleak in that part of the country.

Which is weird because Pittsburgh, according to Forbes, is #1 as most livable.

The weird thing is that Pittsburgh didn't really seem to learn from being a one industry town (Steel) in the past. Now the vast majority of industry seems to be Health Care related. Things are going great and there's an uptick but will it really maintain for the next decade or so?

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Which is weird because Pittsburgh, according to Forbes, is #1 as most livable.

The weird thing is that Pittsburgh didn't really seem to learn from being a one industry town (Steel) in the past. Now the vast majority of industry seems to be Health Care related. Things are going great and there's an uptick but will it really maintain for the next decade or so?

Sure, if they stay small enough. Pittsburgh's high rankings are not so much a function of amazing growth or success, but of simple attrition. The population dropped from almost 700k to barely 300k. It's a lot easier to find jobs for the 40 percent that remained, and housing gets cheap when a city shrinks. :whoknows:

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Sure, if they stay small enough. Pittsburgh's high rankings are not so much a function of amazing growth or success, but of simple attrition. The population dropped from almost 700k to barely 300k. It's a lot easier to find jobs for the 40 percent that remained, and housing gets cheap when a city shrinks. :whoknows:

Amazing growth? No. Steady sustainable growth? Yes. There are still many remnants of the old Pittsburgh, but just as many green shoots. Plus, I don't know where you got 300K for population.

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Amazing growth? No. Steady sustainable growth? Yes. There are still many remnants of the old Pittsburgh, but just as many green shoots. Plus, I don't know where you got 300K for population.

U.S. Census - Pittsburgh population

Yr. Pop. =/-%

1900 321,616 34.8%

1910 533,905 66.0%

1920 588,343 10.2%

1930 669,817 13.8%

1940 671,659 0.3%

1950 676,806 0.8%

1960 604,332 −10.7%

1970 520,117 −13.9%

1980 423,938 −18.5%

1990 369,879 −12.8%

2000 334,563 −9.5%

2010 309,602 −7.5%

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Amazing growth? No. Steady sustainable growth? Yes. There are still many remnants of the old Pittsburgh, but just as many green shoots. Plus, I don't know where you got 300K for population.
309,602 represents Pittsburgh proper - inside city limits. I imagine with suburbs that figure is closer to 600k.
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309,602 represents Pittsburgh proper - inside city limits. I imagine with suburbs that figure is closer to 600k.

Well, ok. Every city has suburbs. But the Pittsburgh Metropolitan area has been steadily dropping in population as well.

http://www.bizjournals.com/pittsburgh/stories/2010/03/22/daily16.html

I'm not knocking Pittsburgh - it's a nice place. I'm just saying that its much hyped renaissance in recent years is not as simple as "reinventing itself." It's more about successfully shrinking from a big city economy to a small city economy. Pittsburgh is now the 61st largest city in America, smaller than Toledo Ohio, Bakersfield California, Wichita Kansas, and Aurora Colorado.

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Sure, if they stay small enough. Pittsburgh's high rankings are not so much a function of amazing growth or success, but of simple attrition. The population dropped from almost 700k to barely 300k. It's a lot easier to find jobs for the 40 percent that remained, and housing gets cheap when a city shrinks. :whoknows:

It's not just attrition. They managed to switch from industrial to health care and research. If it were just attrition, Detroit would be a paradise.

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