Way back at the end of January, Forbes.com posted their annual list of the Ten Most Miserable Cities in America. I would have posted about it sooner but I prefer to offer non-breaking news here at AWTY?? in an effort to be a non-trendsetter! Well, that and my darling daughter never got around to doing the artwork I had asked her to do so I had to attempt some creativity on my own. Trust me, the child did not get her artistic talent from her mother!
Anyhow, back to the list which I have to take some exception to as I've been to six of the ten cities on the list, passed through another three in the course of my travels, and have to admit to having no knowledge whatsoever of the tenth but that still doesn't stop me from having an opinion! As a matter of fact, I spent a good many years residing in the city that landed at the #2 spot on the list and I am somewhat surprised that it not only made the list but achieved #2 in the ranking as that just seems a bit unfair. Perhaps true in some ways but unfair nonetheless because it's being compared to cities that are much, much larger.
In order to rate the most miserable cities in the country, Forbes needed some sort of guidelines to go by in an effort to be fair and not just pick ten random cities out of a hat. One of the indicators most often used to measure misery, which is defined as "a state of great unhappiness and emotional distress", is the Misery Index which was created by economist Arthur Okun and adds the unemployment rate to the inflation rate. In addition to that there is the Misery Score which is the sum of corporate, personal, employer and sales taxes in different countries. Forbes decided to expand on the Misery Index and the Misery Score to create their very own Forbes Misery Measure. They kept the unemployment and personal tax rates and then added four more factors that can make Americans quite miserable: commute times, weather, crime, and toxic waste dumps.
Forbes then looked at only the 150 largest metropolitan areas which supposedly meant a population of 370,000 or more and this is one of the areas where I take exception to this list as there are several cities on it that don't meet the population requirement. Whether I agree or not, though, Forbes added together the six factors in their Misery Measure and then ranked the cities accordingly. When all was said and done, the list ended up reading, from miserable to really miserable, like this:
10. Providence, Rhode Island - population 170,435I checked the population totals using the FactFinder on the website for the U.S. Census Bureau** and these are the current numbers based on the 2006 U.S. Census. Granted math was never my strong subject in school but it looks to me like there are four cities on that list that do not have populations over 370,000. If that's the case, then I don't see how those four cities could possibly be on this list. Somehow it just doesn't seem fair to me. But then again that's just me and not Forbes and it's their list - not mine.
9. Charlotte, North Carolina - population 610,949
8. Modesto, California - population 204,242
7. Los Angeles, California - population 3,844,829
6. Chicago, Illinois - population 2,842,518
5. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania - population 1,463,281
4. New York City, New York - population 8,143,197
3. Flint, Michigan - population 122,524
2. Stockton, California - population 284,418
1. Detroit, Michigan - population 886,671
Anyone who reads my blog regularly knows that I have ties to Stockton, California - good ole' #2 on this list - so when I first saw this list my initial reaction was to pick up the phone and call my good friend MizCyn who currently resides in Stockton and has, I believe, lived there all of her life. She didn't seem at all surprised at the results and immediately began chanting "We're number two! We're number two!" After that she pointed out to me that "the study was done by an Oregonian and it's a well known fact that people from Oregon hate Californians." I guess that must be a well-known West Coast fact as I had never heard of it but she adamantly assured me that it was true. I've learned through the years not to argue with Cyndi as I very rarely win so I decided to accept the statement as fact, well known or not!
Still, no matter who did the survey and their feelings towards Californians, Stockton definitely has its problems and, even though they don't meet the population requirements that Forbes set for themselves, there's a lot to be miserable about. Foreclosures are at an all-time high, the unemployment rate in San Joaquin County (of which Stockton is the County Seat) just hit 10% in January, and their crime rate puts them at number two in the nation - probably with a bullet. No pun intended as crime has always been horrible in Stockton and in spite of the best efforts of the police department, it just seems to keep getting worse.
Having lived in Stockton for close to eight years myself and still having friends and former family living there, I like to see what's going on in my former city of residence and often read the local newspaper, The Stockton Record, online (we're allowed to read news sites at work so it's something to do when 911 isn't ringing off the hook). It seems like every day there's another shooting or robbery or burglary and, because The Record is nice enough to provide the stats every day, it's easy to see that the San Joaquin County Jail which is just outside of Stockton is filled to capacity and then some. For example, today they posted that "There were 91 bookings at the San Joaquin County Jail in the 24 hours ending at 8 a.m. Friday. At that time, there were 1,517 people held at the jail, which has an official capacity of 1,411." Yep - crime is most definitely a problem in Stockton. It was when I lived there and worked at the police department and it still is now when I no longer live there or work at the police department!
Being number two in the nation for crime has got to be a tough title to carry, though, so it's no wonder that Stockton has gone through four police chiefs in five years. Ed Chavez, who retired as chief and became mayor of Stockton in 2003 was replaced by Police Chief Mark Herder who retired at the end of 2005 after only being in the position for two years. Herder was replaced by Chief Wayne Hose in 2006 who just retired on February 29th, again after only two years of service. His successor, Tom Morris, was sworn in as Stockton's newest Chief of Police in a ceremony at the department on Friday. Chief Morris has said that he'll stay at the helm of the department for three to five years "unless a personal issue arises that would cause him to change his mind" but who knows? I suspect it's a pretty tough job and there are going to be lots of obstacles in front of him.
One of the major obstacles that the new chief is going to face is scrutiny from the community itself. Apparently there was a bit of disgruntlement when the city choose to appoint from within its own ranks rather than conduct a nationwide search for a new chief. People complained of "cronyism" and the "good ole' boy" system but sometimes it just makes more sense to promote someone who is not only familiar with the department he's taking over but also with the city he is now in charge of. Just because you bring a new person in for the job doesn't guarantee that the crime rate is going to go down.
City Manager Gordon Palmer defended his choice to appoint the #2 man to the position by stating that Morris has "been trained and groomed for taking this job. He's probably the most qualified individual we've ever had to come in line for police chief." At the Police Department, Morris is considered a cop's cop and that means a lot to the men and women who are out on the streets fighting crime. "They picked the right guy," said Officer Gordon Gray, president of the Stockton Police Officers Association.
Stockton police Lt. John Mize, who has been with the department for 23 years, told The Record that Hose and Morris share similar virtues as leaders. "I've worked for both of these men for a good number of years, and I find they both have a strong community ethic, and they are very interested in maintaining good morale in the department." Mize said. "Those two things make our department effective at combating crime."
As Chief Hose's replacement, Morris plans on running things very much the same as his predecessor which might not be a bad thing considering that during Hose's time as badge #1 the city's violent crime rate actually dropped slightly and Stockton had its fewest criminal homicides since 1997. Granted, there were still 29 of them but if the number was down from previous years, that's a good thing, right? Who knows, maybe having a "new-old" man at the helm who holds onto some old values but has the foresight to try new things might just turn around Stockton's crime rate and help get them off of Forbe's list of the ten most miserable cities.
As for the other measures of misery that put Stockton on the list ... well, I'm not as well read in those and can't really say much. Stockton has its redeeming factors just as I'm sure every other city on that list does. To be honest, I'm not exactly sure what good it does to post a list of the Ten Most Miserable Cities in America to begin with as I'm sure it doesn't give the people who live in those places the warm fuzzies (though I'm pretty sure that people who live in New York, Philly, or Providence don't give a flying fig what anyone thinks!) and certainly doesn't encourage any sort of positive growth from potential industries. Perhaps Forbes would be better off adhering to the lyrics of a song made popular by both Bing Crosby and The Andrews Sisters -
"You've got to accentuate the positiveOf course, that probably wouldn't sell as many magazines, would it?
Eliminate the negative
And latch on to the affirmative ..."
Eliminate the negative
And latch on to the affirmative ..."
**For more guidance in getting the most out of the recently updated U.S. Census website, click on this link which will show you how to navigate the site and help you find just what you're looking for!