Feb 10, 2011

Top 10 most depressed cities of 2011

There are many ways to gauge misery. This list considers 10 factors, including unemployment, crime, taxes and a few that are less serious but still elevate people's blood pressure, such as the weather, commute times and local sports-team performance.

To account for the misery caused by the housing bust, we tweaked the methodology for this year's list and considered foreclosure rates and the change in home prices in the past three years.

Here are the top 10 most depressed cities in the country.

1. Stockton, Calif.

Unemployment here has averaged 14.3% in the past three years, which is third-worst in the country among the 200 largest metropolitan areas. The housing market collapsed as well, with home prices down 58% in the same time.

All of the California cities on the list are struggling with the state's inherent problems, including high sales and income taxes and service cuts to help close massive budget shortfalls.
2. Miami

The sun and lack of a state income tax are the only things keeping Top Spot Miami out

Foreclosures hit one in 14 homes last year. Corruption is off the charts, with 404 government officials convicted of crimes this past decade in South Florida.
3. Merced, Calif.

The economic downturn and busted housing market hit Merced harder than any other area in the country. Average unemployment of 16.2% since 2008 is the highest in the U.S., as is the city's 64% drop in its median home price.
4. Modesto, Calif.

The median home price here was $275,000 in 2006; today, it is $95,000. And don't leave your car on the street in Modesto, where 3,712 vehicles were stolen in 2009, the second-highest auto-theft rate in the country. The city ranked first in four of the previous five years.
5. Sacramento, Calif.

No state taxes $50,000 of income like California, which has a rate of 9.55% for that middle-class tax bracket.

Sacramento is a one-team sports town, and that team has been awful in recent years. The NBA's Kings have won just 26% of their games in the past two-plus seasons.
6. Memphis, Tenn.

Tennessee is one of nine states without an income tax; it does tax dividends and interest income. But it hits residents with one of the highest sales-tax rates in the U.S. at 9.25%.

Violent crime was down 5% in 2009 in Memphis, according to the FBI, but it still is tops in the country.
7. Chicago

Baseball's Cubs used to be lovable losers, but $140 million payrolls and 102 years without a World Series title are miserable. Chicago had the highest sales tax among big cities at 10.25%, but it was rolled back to 9.75% in 2010 and now matches Los Angeles and Oakland, Calif., for the top rate.
8. West Palm Beach, Fla.

The West Palm Beach-Boca Raton, Fla., area might sound glamorous, with its beaches and million-dollar oceanfront homes. The reality is much different.

The median home price here is $225,000, down 39% the past three years. Prices are expected to fall an additional 22% this year as foreclosures continue to affect the housing market. The area's unemployment rate was recently 12.3%.
9. Vallejo, Calif.

This one-time Navy town became the largest California city to file for bankruptcy when it entered Chapter 9 protection in 2008. Unemployment is expected to average 12.5% this year, up from 4.9% five years ago.
10. Cleveland

Last year's most miserable city drops back, thanks to a housing market that never overheated and therefore hasn't crashed as it has in other areas. The weather is lousy, corruption is persistent and it's a tortured sports market, with no championships since 1964. LeBron James' departure from the NBA's Cavaliers delivered the latest cruel blow last summer.


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