For this year's ranking, we added the corruption component. We used the criminal conviction of government officials in each area over the past decade as compiled by the Public Integrity Section of the Department of Justice. This division of the Justice Department was created in 1976 to focus on "crimes involving abuses of the public trust by government officials."
A Little Corruption Problem
The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Illinois, which includes Chicago, has been very busy in recent years. They convicted 385 public officials of crimes over the past decade, a per capita rate that puts it in the bottom third of big U.S. metros.
The Northern District office boasts of recent successful prosecutions, including "a corrupt former governor of Illinois, Chicago officials who rigged city hiring, individuals who lied about their support of foreign terrorism, corporate executives who cheated public shareholders and traditional organized-crime bosses who were responsible for notorious murders."
Illinois' record of public corruption, particularly in the governor's office, is staggering. Five of the past nine governors have been charged with crimes, and three, as of now, have served time in prison. Whether former Gov. Blagojevich will do any jail time is still to be determined.
The misery in Chicago runs much deeper than just corruption, though. Unemployment is expected to surge to 9.2% in 2009, up from 6.6%. The Tribune Co. is mired in bankruptcy, while big local employers like Midway Games, Motorola and the University of Chicago Medical Center have all announced big layoffs.
Residents have been showing their dissatisfaction with Chicago with their feet, perhaps fed up by the average low temperature of 17 degrees in January. There has been a net migration of people out of Chicago for seven straight years, a trend that is expected to continue. And for all of the recent success of the lovable Cubs, last year marked the 100th straight season without a World Series championship. The title drought is 40% longer than any other major professional sports team.
Sandwiched between Stockton and Chicago is Memphis, Tenn. The home of FedEx has an incredibly high rate of violent crimes, with only Detroit faring worse. The 1,218 violent crimes per 100,000 residents is more than twice the rate in the New York City metro area. The city's sales tax and rate of government employees committing crimes also fall within the 10 highest in the U.S. Pro sports has been a mess in Memphis in recent years as well. The city's lone major franchise, the Memphis Grizzlies, has lost 74% of its games during the past three years, the worst in the NBA.
Detroit relinquished its 2007 crown of most miserable city despite a memorable 2008 that included a jailed mayor, the further deterioration of the auto industry and the NFL's first zero-win, 16-loss season.
The Motor City benefited from our revised criteria this year (we added sales tax and sports teams in addition to corruption). Its 6% sales tax is one of the lowest in the country. The success of Detroit's winter sports teams more than offset the ineptitude of the Lions. The Red Wings and Pistons won two-thirds of their games, including a Stanley Cup title for the Wings.
In Pictures: America's 10 Most Miserable Cities