Last year at this time I wrote about Stockton, a California community whose mayor was "mad as hell" at Forbes Magazine for naming it "America's Most Miserable City," but this year I can report that it has dropped to eleventh place (and therefore off Forbes' chart of the Ten Most Miserable).
I don't live there, but I took it upon myself to point out some of the many positive things about the city, which Forbes did not take into account in last year's judging, preferring instead to knock Stockton for lacking a professional sports team. (With all the pro teams we have in the Bay Area, who needs one more?) Overlooked were such things as higher education -- Stockton has the University of the Pacific and the McGeorge School of Law -- decent weather year-round, a location on the Sacramento Delta with a marina for yachts, older neighborhoods with gracious Victorian houses, and a very upscale City Center, just to mention a few.
What has changed in this year's judging? Certain criteria, for one thing. The role of sports seems to have been downplayed a bit, which worked to Stockton's advantage. Another change was the switch from sales tax rates to property tax rates, and that also benefited Stockton.
To be sure, Stockton still has problems. According to Forbes it ranks among the country's six worst when it comes to unemployment, foreclosures and crime rate. Add to that a looming insolvency brought on by the housing boom -- then bust -- of recent years. Stockton could become the largest city in the nation to file for Chapter 9 protection since that honor went to another California city, Vallejo, which emerged from bankruptcy last year.
So what are the factors for judging a city's "misery level," which Forbes defines as a measurement of the things that most people complain about? Some were serious, like violent crime, unemployment, foreclosures, taxes, home prices and political corruption. Other factors were less so, like commute times, weather and how the pro sports team did.
And who were the top ten winners this year? Some may surprise you.
No. 1: MIAMI, where the housing crisis has devastated the city, with 47% of homeowners underwater on their mortgages, and foreclosures are rampant.
No. 2: DETROIT, with home prices down 54%, the worst in the country. To avoid filing for bankruptcy, Detroit has even closed schools and laid off police.
No. 3: FLINT, another Michigan city. There the state had to appoint an emergency manager to take over the city's budget and operations. The violent crime rate is the third worst in the nation.
No. 4: WEST PALM BEACH, being situated in South Florida which has long been stained by corruption. Home prices in the area are off 50% since 2006.
No. 5: SACRAMENTO, the only California city on the list this year, and where foreclosures were among the ten highest in the country. This year it's Sacramento that gets dinged by Forbes in the sports category. (For the failure of its lone pro sports team to win more games.)
No. 6: CHICAGO, where residents enjoy many cultural and financial benefits but must also endure gridlock traffic, high property taxes and severe winter weather. Commute time to work is the eighth worst in the U.S.
No. 7: FORT LAUDERDALE, the third Florida city on the list, has been hard hit by the bursting of the housing bubble. Some areas are down 50% since 2006.
No. 8: TOLEDO, the only Ohio city on the list, gets poor marks for scandals involving bid rigging and stolen funds. Also scores poorly when it comes to income and property tax rates.
No. 9: ROCKFORD, the second Illinois city in the top ten, got there because of high property taxes, the fifth highest in the country last year.
No. 10: WARREN, the third Michigan city on the list, has seen its housing market collapse, with median home prices down 50% over the past three years.
And, as I mentioned, Stockton came in at No. 11. A big improvement over last year's No. 1.