Detroit Named Most Miserable City In The U.S.

Forbes has named Detroit the most miserable city in the country:

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.


This year we examined nine factors for the 200 largest metro areas in the U.S. The metrics include the serious: violent crime, unemployment, foreclosures, taxes (income and property) and home prices. We also include less weighty, but still important quality-of-life issues like commute times and weather.

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.

Violent crime in the Detroit metro division was down 5% in 2011, but it remains the highest in the country with 1,052 violent crimes per 100,000 people, according to the FBI. The city’s financial problems have forced significant cutbacks to the police force. It is a circuitous problem as high crime and unemployment force people to leave the city, which lowers the tax base and strains Detroit’s finances further.

“There is no question that Detroit has many challenges,” Bing said in a statement to Forbes today. “With all due respect to the data in this report, Detroit is in the midst of a transformation. That transformation is being driven by my restructuring plan, which is focused on four key areas: public safety; public lighting; public transportation; and neighborhood blight removal.”

Coming in a close second to Detroit is Flint, Michigan, which has had decades long economic troubles similar to the Motor City’s. Also on the list are Chicago (# 4), New York (# 10), Toledo (# 11), Camden (# 13), Cleveland (# 17), and Youngstown, Ohio (# 20).

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. JKB says:

    If only the people of Detroit will throw off their corrupt Democrat overlords. Then perhaps they to can enjoy the resurgence that occurred in East Germany after they threw off their Socialist rulers.

    To be fair, East Germany had been bombed all to hell. Detroit started out as a well-kept successful city, whose last Republican mayor left office in 1962.

  2. LC says:

    New York City at #10? Was Andrew Sullivan a contributor to this list?

  3. Gustopher says:

    The main problem with Detroit is the same as the problem through out the rust belt, and in the southern textile factories — the collapse of the manufacturing economy, which has been replaced with a financial-services/grifter economy and a service-economy feeding off that.

    And, this is one of those rare cases where both Republicans and Democrats have been at fault. Both parties have embraced free trade and low tariffs, ensuring that workers here are competing with Bangladeshi workers for wages. Neither party has put forward any type of industrial plan that significantly stimulates new industries.

    The Republicans are slightly worse than the Democrats here, with the insane belief that lowering income taxes to make it easier to extract money from a business will spur the growth of that business (with revenue losses from those tax cuts to be paid for by kicking the poor), but the Democrats haven’t done enough to sell an investment in our infrastructure, green energy, or anything that might produce jobs.

  4. JKB says:


    The decline of manufacturing in high cost unionized cities did expose the corruption but it isn’t the signal problem.

    The problem is indicated by such things as the Detroit Water and Sewer Department still has a union “horseshoer” on the payroll despite that department not having any horses. What could be the real issue?

    Union bosses insisted the DWSD (average compensation: $86,000) needs more, not fewer, such unionized employees, a view associated with a broad spectrum of thinkers from Jimmy Hoffa to the Keynesians running the United States. The DWSD has more than twice as many employees per gallon of water pumped as that other paragon of Midwestern governance, Chicago. An independent report said four out of five employees in the bloated department were redundant and discovered a thicket of union regulations driving up costs. Plumbers complained that, due to union work rules, they had to wait to fix pipes until duly authorized “operators” came along first to shut them off.

  5. Mikey says:

    Having grown up in the Detroit area and worked in the city for several years, I watched that once-great city’s awful decline, I’ve come to place the blame squarely on the horribly corrupt, insanely petty, and abominably venal City Council.

    The most recent example: the Council’s idiotic torpedoing of the Michigan state government’s proposal to lease from the city Belle Isle, an island in the Detroit River that’s a city-owned park. I used to go to Belle Isle frequently as a child and young adult, but the place has become so run-down and unsafe I’d never go today (if I still lived in the area). The state’s offer included a long-term lease that would have covered the maintenance and upkeep of the island (saving the city $6 million a year) and lease payments totaling $40 million. The proposal had the support of over 65% of Detroiters.

    Unfortunately, the Council, beset with paranoia of “outsiders” taking over any of the city’s operations, decided to forgo a vote on the proposal, and the state pulled it back. Perhaps after a re-work, it will be presented again, but as with anything regarding Detroit, hope is slim.

  6. Franklin says:

    @Mikey: Agreed. And notice that Bing was *for* that proposal. He seems to be a good guy, but no amount of mayoral skill can overcome the years of cronyism encrusted in the city government.

  7. Mikey says:

    @Franklin: Bing was for it, County Executive Ficano was for it, 65% of the residents of the city were for it…but the Council was too blinded by parochialism and self-interest to move on it.

  8. Neil Hudelson says:

    If you haven’t read it yet, check out Detroit: An Autobiography. Some of its stories are most likely embellished (the timing a little too perfect, the quotes a little too illustrative) but it does a great job documenting the hows and whys of a once-great city’s decline.

  9. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Dog bites man. Sun rises in east. Moon orbits earth. Detroit is a f’n miserable city.

    There are subjective components and merely quasi-objective components to those types of lists, but some glaring omissions from the top-10 included:

    Newark, NJ.
    Philadelphia, PA
    San Bernardino, CA.
    New Orleans, LA.
    Los Angeles, CA.

    And ranking Stockton, CA merely 8th actually is an insult to every other city on that list, except for Detroit. Hell, if Stockton only is the 8th most miserable city in the U.S. then as a country we might as well chug the Hemlock and be done with it.

    Of course there are screaming neon political and demographic elephants, actually donkeys, in these rooms, which ironically enough are so obvious they’ll be lost on most the chattering classes. The causes of all of that misery also are very easy to determine, but alas, at this particular point in our severe decline into de facto banana republic status, they’re impossible to fix. Misery sure as hell loves company. Exhibit A is what happened last November.

  10. Tyrell says:

    The culture of this city needs to change. Clean out the gangs, criminals, and thugs. Tear down all vacant houses and housing “projects” that are invested with crime.

  11. JKB says:

    @Tyrell: Clean out the gangs, criminals, and thugs.

    And that is only at city hall.

  12. al-Ameda says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    The causes of all of that misery also are very easy to determine, but alas, at this particular point in our severe decline into de facto banana republic status, they’re impossible to fix. Misery sure as hell loves company. Exhibit A is what happened last November.

    I agree, Republicans are an unhappy lot.

    By the way, why do well-known conservative pundits like Michael Savage and David Horowitz choose to live in Socialist Liberal cesspools like Marin County and Santa Monica, instead of conservative cities?

  13. wr says:

    @Tsar Nicholas: In case anyone is wondering, when the Tsar says these cities are miserable because of screaming neon elephants that media-academics irony deficients elite refure to acknowledge, he means that minorities live in them.