Be grateful for the little things. As rough as the economy is right here In New Hampshire, one need not look far to see straits more dire. A recently compiled list of the ten worst places to live, based on a variety of components, makes things look comparatively rosy here. Then again, the suffering in these places may also be little more than a sign of things to come.
Topping the list was El Centro, CA, a relatively small town but situated right on the border with Mexicali. The unemployment rate is 27.5%, roughly three times the national average. It is a crop town, and close to the border, with a floating population of migrant workers, but then again, field work is only number four in terms of being the largest employment sector. The largest employment sector in the country? Government…followed by the transportation industry and then utilities. Which one doesn’t fit? Can’t be picking fruits and vegetables, we all have to eat. Transportation? I doubt it. Cargo and people have got to move or everything collapses. Utilities? I don’t think so. We’ve got to have lights, telephone, internet, water and energy for the same reason. That leaves the “government” jobs. What are all of those people doing, I wonder? Essential, or “non-essential”? You be the judge.
Coming in second in the “worst-places-to-live” competition is Cleveland, OH. Forbes named it the #1 most miserable city in the country. It has been nicknamed the “Mistake by the Lake”. I was surprised to learn it is one of the most politically corrupt cities in the country. That’s not an easy trophy. Also, there are the lake-effect snows, averaging in excess of 60″ per year, and the cold temperatures that go with it. Scratch Cleveland off your bucket list.
Detroit ranked third in this dismal contest. No surprise. Ravaged by the collapse of the auto industry, Motown has been in a state of decline for years. It has been called the “most dangerous” city in the country and foreclosures for the first six months of this year were up a whopping 35% over the same period last year. There is a 30% vacancy rate for office and commercial space. Homes were being offered for less than $10,000.00 with no takers, and entire neighborhoods have been vacated, looted and abandoned. There is a glimmer of hope, as the auto industry begins a modest recovery, but this once iconic city will never be the same.
Roll the dice. Snake Eyes. Las Vegas is number four, one of the hardest hit areas in the country as the housing bubble burst. While the national average foreclosure rate hovers around 2.1%, Vegas rolls in at 12% . Like Detroit, entire neighborhoods were abandoned. Unlike Detroit, they have the Tumbleweeds to complete the picture. Fortunately, they had the helping hand of our President admonishing people for wasting their money and suggesting that as we tighten our belts, we cancel that trip to Vegas at the same time. Still, of all the top ten, my money is on Vegas to rebound.
Oddly, Oklahoma City ranked fifth of the worst. This surprised and disheartened me as I have always had a soft spot for Oklahoma and I don’t even know why. That “Heartland” thing, I suppose? While they weren’t particularly worse than the country at large in terms of economy, they were deemed the “unhealthiest” city based on medical statitistics for obesity and heart disease. Depending on how much you like to eat, this could easily be moved to one of the best places to live.
Los Angeles. Number six. Crime, corruption, traffic and the worst pollution in the country. L.A. has the most ozone of any city in the country. I’m not talking the upper atmosphere ozone, but rather the close-to-the-ground stuff that makes breathing unhealthy on nearly every day of the year. Randy Newman loves L.A. . I’ll take the clean air of New Hampshire.
The only thing surprising about Phoenix, AZ is that it didn’t score higher in this contest. Forbes ranked it within the top ten worst real estate markets in the country. The immigration problem is bad enough, but add to it the unintended ramifications of that problem, i.e.: the press coverage, the back and forth between Governor Jan Brewer and Washington, and the nearly-constant protesting in the streets, and you have a state that is in trouble. Still, like Vegas, Phoenix is on my list of places that will recover. Arizona is beautiful, it has allure, and that will always be the case. For the most part, they can’t screw up the natural beauty of the place, so I have faith in Phoenix rising from the ashes.
Number eight. Newark, New Jersey. Self-explanatory.
How sweet it is. Remember Jackie Gleason’s opening line from the Honeymooners, shot live from Miami Beach? Well, it’s not as sweet as it used to be. Miami ranked number nine in the misery game. The foreclosure rate is through the roof, and it has perhaps the highest “abandonment” rate in the country. This is folks who just roll up the rugs and leave. See ya later. There is something about that that ratchets up the misery level. Foreclosure is bad enough. Losing your home is traumatic. But how stunningly bad do things have to be that you just back out of the driveway and leave? Miami-bad…that’s how bad.
Finally, Memphis, TN took the number ten spot. This surprised me as well but this report cited violence and corruption as the primary reasons for not wanting to settle in Memphis. Some of the increases in violence, and even the political corruption to some degree, can be traced to the poor economy, but it’s still not a place that I would think of as dismal. There are a lot of great songs about Memphis and a terminal romance about the name, so I put it firmly on my list of places I expect to rebound.
What is most unsettling about all of this is the disparity in places that made this list. Only about half of this list were places I expected to see. Detroit? No surprise. Cleveland? If you say so. Oklahoma City? Didn’t see that one coming. The overview is that what is happening to all of these places, is also happening to the rest of the country. It’s a bit of a crystal ball, I think, of what the rest of us can expect if the economy continues to unravel and unemployment continues to rise. No matter where you live, your own town or city is feeling the crunch. Take a look around your neighborhood tonight, and imagine it dark, with windows boarded up, lawns overgrown and not a soul in sight. Coming soon to your town?