Chicago would seem to be on quite a roll these days. The city is a leading contender to host the Summer Olympics in 2016. The hometown Cubs had the most wins of any team in the National League last year and are one of the early favorites to win the 2009 World Series. And, of course, one of its own just became the most powerful person in the world (we're not talking about Oprah either, but she's close).
So with all of the good vibes coming out of Chicago, how does it show up as the third worst city on our second annual list of America's Most Miserable Cities?
Lousy weather, long commutes, rising unemployment and the highest sales tax rate in the country are to blame for the Windy City being near the top of our list. High rates of corruption by public officials didn't help either.
Misery was up around the country in 2008. Market meltdowns, bank blowups and bailouts and cratering home prices often overshadowed the incredibly positive stories of 2008 like the Beijing Summer Games and the historic election of Barack Obama. The highly watched Misery Index spiked as the unemployment rate plus the inflation rate surged to 9.6 in 2008, up from 7.5 the previous year. It was the highest annual level since 1993.
Our own Forbes Misery Measure saw a shuffling of the deck among the top 10 cities, with five new candidates getting a failing grade this year. Topping the charts is Stockton, Calif., which was the runner-up on our list last year.
The Most Miserable City
Stockton ranks in the bottom seven in four of the nine categories we looked at: commute times, income tax rates, unemployment and violent crime. Only New York City has a higher income tax rate than what Stockton, and all California residents, are forced to pay.
Stockton was ground zero for the housing boom and now the subsequent bust. Home prices more than tripled between 1998 and 2005 and then came crashing down last year. Stockton had the country's highest foreclosure rate last year at 9.5%, according to RealtyTrac, an online marketer of foreclosed property. Things are not looking much brighter in 2009 as housing prices are expected to fall another 36% on the heels of a 39% drop in 2008. Also, unemployment is expected to jump to 13.3% from 10.4%, according to economic research firm Moody's Economy.com.
"We are engaging the entire community and encouraging everyone to get involved and help us find solutions that meet the needs of our community," says Stockton Mayor Ann Johnston. "Volunteerism is encouraged, looking out for your neighbor, and taking personal responsibility where individuals can make a difference. We are partnering with all community organizations--schools, churches, non-profits-- to provide support services and help individuals and families get through these difficult times."
We compiled our rankings by looking at the 150 largest metropolitan statistical areas in the U.S., which meant those with a population of at least 378,000. We ranked those metros on nine factors: commute times, corruption, pro sports teams, Superfund sites, taxes (both income and sales), unemployment, violent crime and weather.