You don't need the US Misery Index to tell you that things are bad in some parts of the US. Unemployment is near or at all-time highs in many parts of the country, foreclosures continue to happen at unprecedented rates and there are some very real indicators that we are heading toward a double-dip recession.
Some of us should count our lucky stars, however. In certain US cities, life is much worse for residents than in other areas of the country.
Using a variety of criteria, including unemployment rates, health data, the number of foreclosures, crime statistics, climate and other measures of misery, WalletPop came up with its unofficial list of the 10 worst cities to live in. This list is far from comprehensive, but there are some significant reasons why these cities made the cut. Read on.
1. El Centro, California
Lose your job in El Centro and it may be quite some time before you find another one. One in four people here are out of work and the city holds the not-so distinguished honor of having the highest unemployment rate — 27.5 percent — in the country (close behind is Yuma, Ariz., with 27.2 percent unemployment).
The desert city, which is located in Imperial County just across the border from Mexicali, has a jobless rate triple the national average of 9.5 percent thanks to the seasonal fluctuations of field laborers. Field work is the county's third-largest employment sector after government, transportation and utilities, according to AOL News.
"Its location across the border from a much larger Mexican city means that there is a large floating labor force," Jim Gerber, an economics professor and director of the international business program at San Diego State University, told AOL News.
"The data for Imperial County is skewed by this, such that the layoffs and out-of-work laborers are not actually counted correctly."
Even with the ebb and flow of its working population, things are still pretty bleak in El Centro. Last year, the city's cemetery went into foreclosure.
2. Cleveland, Ohio
Lebron James isn't the only person leaving Cleveland. The US Census estimated that 2,658 people left the city in 2009, the largest numerical drop among America's major cities.
Forbes also put Cleveland atop its list of most miserable U.S. cities, factoring in its high unemployment (although at 9.1 percent it's below the national average), high taxes, lousy weather, political corruption and lousy sports teams — and that was before LeBron decided to leave.
Weather is a big factor, according to Forbes. Located on the south shore of Lake Erie, Cleveland gets hit by lake-effect snow, averaging almost 60 inches of the stuff every winter. Its frigid winters help produce an average annual temperature of only 50 degrees, 10 degrees below the average of the 50 cities measured by Forbes.
Nicknamed the "Mistake by the Lake," Cleveland ranked near the bottom when looking at corruption on the Forbes list. "Northern Ohio has seen 309 public officials convicted of crimes over the past 10 years," according to the Forbes story, which cites data from the Justice Department. "A current FBI investigation of public officials in Cuyahoga County (where Cleveland is located) has ensnared more than two dozen government employees and businessmen on charges including bribery, fraud and tax evasion."
Cleveland also ranks in the top third of all metro areas for foreclosure rates. The city has thousands of abandoned homes, in part because it provided down payments through the federally-funded Afford-a-Home program to many people who could not afford their mortgage payments.
3. Detroit, Michigan
Detroit is America's most dangerous city, with 1,220 violent crimes per 100,000 people, according to violent crime statistics from the FBI's latest uniform crime report, issued in 2008. Its heavy reliance on the stumbling auto industry hasn't helped matters much. Motown also boasts high foreclosure and unemployment rates.
As a result, home prices have nosedived. Just last year you could buy a home in Detroit for $10,000. Foreclosures in metro Detroit were up 35 percent in the first six months of this year, compared to the same time in 2009.
Vacant homes and blight are so bad that the city recently imposed a new ordinance requiring banks and homeowners to register their property with the city for a $25 annual fee, according to the Detroit Free Press. Even the city's office vacancy rate is high, with a 30 percent rate that leads the nation.
While Forbes names the Detroit metro area — which has a 13.7 percent unemployment rate — as one of the worst spots to find employment, job growth is expected to rebound as the auto industry starts to recover. Finally, some good news for the people of Detroit — if anyone is left.
4. Las Vegas, Nevada
Las Vegas was one of the hardest hit cities when the housing bubble burst.
In fact, the metro area was at the epicenter of the mess, with the highest foreclosure rate in the country in 2009, according to a report on by RealtyTrac. So many homes are empty that some neighborhoods either have no one around or one lone resident. That doesn't make for much of a neighborhood block party. Nationwide, 2.21 percent of housing units received a foreclosure filing in 2009, compared to 12 percent in Las Vegas.
Those who have hung onto their homes are likely underwater on their mortgages — meaning their mortgages are worth more than their homes. During the first quarter of 2010, home prices in Las Vegas continued to fall. Prices in the metro area have fallen more than 50 percent from their peak in August 2006, the Associated Press reports.
5. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Oklahoma City is the unhealthiest city in the country, as measured by the American College of Sports Medicine's annual fitness index. The index looks at 30 fitness indicators, including obesity and exercise rates, death rate from cardiovascular disease, acres of park land, number of primary care physicians per capita and percentage of residents who bicycle or walk to work.
The index compares the 50 largest metro areas on a 100-point scale; Oklahoma City received a score of 24.3, making it the most sluggish city in the U.S. The obesity rate is 30.2%, four points above average. It has an exercise rate of 71 percent and has half as many baseball diamonds, recreation centers and dog parks as most cities. Detroit and Las Vegas also performed poorly on the fitness index.
6. Los Angeles, California
If you don't really care about breathing, Los Angeles is a great place. The metro area that stretches from Long Beach to Riverside has the worst ozone pollution in the country, according to the American Lung Association's State of the Air report for 2010. Along with being tops in ozone pollution, L.A. is ranked third in year-round particle pollution, and fourth in short-term particle pollution.
Ozone is the byproduct of pollutants released by cars, chemical plants, refineries, and other sources. It exists naturally in the upper atmosphere of the Earth, but when emitted at ground level, it's considered a harmful outdoor pollutant. Inhaling ozone can cause wheezing, coughing, chest pain, throat irritation, congestion, and can make people more susceptible to respiratory illnesses such as bronchitis and pneumonia, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency. Think about that next time you drive in Los Angeles, which also lays claim the worst traffic in the country.
7. Phoenix, Arizona
If Arizona's tough immigration laws gets through the courts, Phoenix is going to be a much more difficult place for immigrants to live in. The law would allow police officers to ask people for proof of their legal status when stopping them for another violation. Charges of racial profiling and discrimination can quickly turn a city into one of the worst places to live and its already sparking huge protests and impacting Arizona's already-fragile economy.
Beyond the controversial immigration measure, Arizona's housing market still remains a mess. According to RealtyTrac's latest foreclosure report, Phoenix and its surrounding area remains among the top 10 worst metro markets when it comes to foreclosures. However, in May, foreclosure activity in the city was down 9 percent from May 2009, offering a tiny sliver of hope.
Phoenix also ranks poorly among metro areas in per capita income growth. Between 2007 and 2008, the city's income growth shrank 1.4 percent, the nation's worst one-year loss. And let's not forget about being able to breathe in Phoenix. For year-round particle pollution from freeways, power plants and other sources, Phoenix is the worst city in the country.
8. Newark, New Jersey
Where to start for one of the worst cities in America? Newark has been likened to Detroit, but with its own political and social dysfunction.
More than a quarter of its population lives below the poverty line, the state has the most Superfund toxic-waste sites in the nation, and Newark Mayor Cory Booker is trying to close a $70 million budget deficit by cutting items like toilet paper. Non-uniformed city workers will soon start working four-day workweeks, which won't make it the first city to cut employee hours, but at least Booker has said he won't raise taxes.
Booker has brought the city a long way since being elected in 2007, but he still has a long way to go. While crime in the city has been reduced, it still remains a major issue. A recent spate of shootings has reminded residents of the city's long history of violent crime.
9. Miami, Florida
Detroit is listed by Children's Health magazine as being the worst place to raise a family, but right behind it is Miami. If a city isn't a good place to raise a family, that likely means its also a terrible place to live. Factors the magazine used to come to its conclusions, included crime and safety, education, economics, housing, cultural attractions, and health.
According to RealtyTrac, Miami has seen close to 40,000 foreclosures, making it one of the most active markets when it comes to people abandoning their homes. Crime is also a problem. Neighborhood Scout reports that Miami has one of the highest crime rates in the country, with a one in twelve chance that a resident will become a victim of a property or violent crime. Making things even worse, the city not only has some of the worst drivers in the country, but it also has some of the worst commuting times.
10. Memphis, Tennessee
Memphis has one of the worst violent crime rates in the country, and was ranked third by Forbes in its list of miserable cities for corruption by city officials.
According to stats released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the city had the second-worst rate of violent crime. NeighborhoodScout, which tracks crime and other factors in various cities and neighborhoods said "One's chance of becoming a victim of either violent or property crime here is one in 10. Within Tennessee, more than 90 percent of the communities have a lower crime rate than Memphis."
As for political corruption, reportedly nearly one public official per month over the last decade has been charged with public corruption. Recently, a former city administrator used a city account that was supposed to be for auto parts to buy big screen televisions.