Times are tough right now and everyone is feeling the pinch. The housing market is still weak and families that can't afford a home are stuck living in one bedroom apartments if they're even that fortunate. Unemployment remains high and the amount of people who have never owned a home keeps rising. Dabbling in the stock market is not for the weak of heart and most people are using their meager earnings just to put food on the table. You don't need the U.S. *Misery Index to tell you that things are bad in the U.S. with some very real indicators that we are heading toward a double-dip recession. But you can thank your lucky stars because things could be worse if you live in one of these 10 cities, which face the highest unemployment in the country, corrupt money grabbing city officials and sky-high foreclosure rates. Although this is an unofficial list of the 10 worst cities to live in, you will see why these cities were picked as you read on.
1. El Centro, California-Population: 41,241
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%-- in the country (close behind is Yuma, ., with 27.2% 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% thanks to the seasonal fluctuations of field laborers. Fieldwork is the county's third-largest employment sector after government, transportation, and utilities. "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-Population: 431,363
LeBron James isn't the only person leaving Cleveland. The U.S. 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% 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. 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-Population: 871,121
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% 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. Even the city's office vacancy rate is high, with a 30% rate that leads the nation. While Forbes names the Detroit metro area (which has a 13.7% 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-Population: 552,539
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 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% of housing units received a foreclosure filing in 2009, compared to 12% 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% from their peak in August 2006.
5. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma-Population: 560,332
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, the death rate from cardiovascular disease, acres of parkland, 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% and has half as many baseball diamonds, recreation centers, and dog parks in most cities. Detroit and Las Vegas also performed poorly on the fitness index.
6. Los Angeles, California-Population: 3,849,378
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 U.S. 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-Population: 1,512,986
If Arizona's tough immigration laws get through the courts, Phoenix is going to be a much more difficult place for immigrants (or really anyone of Latino origin) 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 it's 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 remain among the top 10 worst metro markets when it comes to foreclosures. However, in May, foreclosure activity in the city was down 9% 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%, 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-Population: 281,402
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-Population: 362,470
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-Population: 670,100
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 Investigations, 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% 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.
No matter where you live or what your job is (if you're lucky enough to have either,) it's not exactly a picnic these days is it? My roommate who works for Sony in Foster City, California told me his Boss owns a home and from outward appearances looks like his family has an upscale lifestyle. Yet just the other day his boss confided to him that he is now going without cable TV or an Internet connection in an attempt to make ends meet.
No Internet? I'd rather be homeless! Tee hee! All kidding aside though, it has gotten to the point where you can't go to any city in America and not see an increase of these types of problems. Unfortunately, the people who were voted into public office by us to deal with these issues are more interested in voting themselves pay raises and job security rather than tackling the problems we all must face if we are ever to get a handle on this. If you do happen to live in one of the 10 cities mentioned I'd love to hear your comments on living there and what you think your situation is like.
* The misery index was initiated by economist Arthur Okun, an adviser to President Lyndon Johnson in the 1960's. It is simply the unemployment rate added to the inflation rate. It is assumed that both a higher rate of unemployment and a worsening of inflation both create economic and social costs for a country. A combination of rising inflation and more people out of work implies a deterioration in economic performance and a rise in the misery index.
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