The PJ Tatler

Detroit Tops Forbes 'Most Miserable Cities' List: Chicago #4

No surprise, really. Detroit is worse than broke and will soon become a ward of the state of Michigan. It has an incredibly high crime rate (1052 violent crimes per 100,000) and an unemployment rate over 10%.

Housing values, net migration, other quality of life measurements like commute time — all have made Detroit the most miserable city in the US.


Forbes put Detroit Mayor Dave Bing on its cover in 2011 for a story with the optimistic headline: “City of Hope.” The premise was that the city had hit rock bottom and was poised for a turnaround.

“Right now, it’s all about survival,” Bing told Forbes.

Two years later, Detroit’s problems continue to multiply, sadly. It is still dealing with high levels of violent crime and unemployment. Home prices, already at historic lows, plummeted a further 35% during the past three years to a median of $40,000 as net migration out of the city continued.

The latest blow was Tuesday’s announcement that the city is on the verge of being taken over by the state. Detroit is in a financial emergency and cannot pay its bills. The city has been issuing debt to fund day-to-day operations. The continuing problems propelled Detroit to the top spot in our 2013 ranking of America’s Most Miserable Cities.


We tweaked the methodology in this year’s list in response to feedback from readers, dropping our rankings of both pro sports team success and political corruption, since both were based on regional, rather than city-specific data. We also added a new measure—net migration—which we see as a clear gauge of whether or not residents feel a community is worth living in. Detroit, which ranked No. 2 last year, also would have finished No. 1 under the previous methodology (click here for more details about the criteria for the list).

Detroit’s problems are hardly new. It has been in a four-decade decline, paralleling the slide of the U.S. auto industry. The city’s debt rating was cut to junk by Moody’s Investors Service in 1992, but declining tax revenues from a shrinking city will soon make Detroit a ward of the state.

Is it a surprise that Chicago ranks 4th most miserable city in the survey and New York, the 10th?

Two cities on our list, Chicago (No. 4) and New York (No. 10) may surprise readers, though they’ve been here before. Both offer a myriad of opportunities and positives as the homes of financial centers, world-class culture, leading universities, sports teams galore and high-end restaurants. But it isn’t easy living in either city, particularly if you don’t earn a lot of money (even if you do it can be tough).

Chicago residents must endure long commutes (31 minutes on average), plummeting home prices (37% the past five years), brutal winters and high foreclosure rates (3.3% of homes in 2012 says RealtyTrac). Many residents are giving up on the Windy City with a net migration out of the city of 107,000 people the past five years, according to Moody’s Analytics.

The sky-high murder rate in Chicago rightly receives a lot of attention, but violent crime otherwise has declined. The tax base is declining as businesses flee the high taxes and intrusive regulatory ways of the city council. Like New York, you have to make a lot of money to live well in Chicago, unlike nearby suburbs that are cleaner, safer, and offer more economic opportunity.

But overall, there is a political fatalism among citizens that the corruption inherent in Chicago politics will never be dealt with, and that the Machine will always triumph. No one is surprised when another alderman, or a Congressman like Jesse Jackson, Jr., gets sent off to jail for robbing the taxpayer. This cynicism leads to a kind of depression that some deal with by withdrawing from city life, and others simply pick up and leave.

It’s why Chicago will remain a miserable city, no matter what their ranking by Forbes.