The Best and Worst Run Cities in America

google flu mapThe population of the United States living in urban areas is growing faster than the national rate. At last count, more than four in five Americans lived in a metropolitan area, an increase of over 12% in the last decade. Meanwhile, the proportion of Americans living in rural areas declined. If this trend continues, nearly all Americans will live in megacities in the near future.

Regardless of whether this happens, more pressure will be placed on mayors to manage their growing populations. 24/7 Wall St. has completed its second annual ranking of the 100 largest cities in the U.S., based on local economies, fiscal management, and quality of life measures. To evaluate how well a city is managed over the long-term, we looked at factors like the city's credit rating, poverty, education, crime, unemployment, and regional GDP. The best-run city this year is Plano, Texas. The worst-run is San Bernardino, California.

Measuring the effective governance of a city and comparing it to others can be challenging. Each city has its own unique challenges and advantages. The strength of the regional economy, the level of state funding, and the presence of major corporations or industries can all impact a city's prospects. They play a big part in a city's employment levels, safety, and fiscal stability.

All those factors, of course, are directly affected by how a city is managed. Mayors, school boards, and city councils all have a role to play in that regard. All of these groups must work with the resources available to keep budgets balanced.

Many of the best-run cities either have at least one industry that is supporting the labor force, or are close enough to major urban centers, such as Dallas, Phoenix, and San Francisco, to benefit from jobs available there.

The economies of the worst-run cities fall into two categories. Some were badly damaged by the housing price collapse. These include Riverside and Stockton in California and Las Vegas, Nevada. Others have had much more long-term economic troubles. These include Detroit, St. Louis and Cleveland, whose once-booming manufacturing-based economies have been decimated by jobs going overseas.

Fiscal management is another factor that had a strong impact on where cities ended up on our list. The majority of the best-run cities had their general obligation debt rated Aaa by Moody's. None of the worst-run cities received that perfect score; some, such as Detroit and Stockton, were rated below investment grade. Stockton is notable for actually defaulting on its debt in June of last year.

In assessing the best- and worst-run cities, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed data from a number of sources for the 100 largest cities in the country, as measured by the 2011 Census population numbers. The data we considered was city specific, with the exception of Gross Metropolitan Product (GMP) which we obtained from the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and was for the city's corresponding metropolitan statistical area. Unemployment rates were taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. General obligation debt ratings were provided by Moody's Investors Services, and are as of January 1, 2013. Violent crime rates were obtained from the FBI's Uniform Crime Report. We relied on the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey for income and poverty data, as well as graduation rates, health insurance coverage, and the change in home values between 2007 and 2011. Newly considered this year were changes in GMP, provided by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and foreclosure rates for the fourth quarter of 2011, provided by RealtyTrac. Once we reviewed the sources and compiled the final metrics, we ranked each city based on its performance in all the categories. A few cities did not have credit ratings or violent crime rates; they were neither rewarded nor penalized for the missing data. All ranks, unless otherwise specified, are for the 100 largest cities. All data, unless otherwise specified, is for the full year 2011.

Best Run Cities

20. Boston, Mass.
> Population: 624,969
> Credit rating: Aaa, stable outlook
> Violent crime per 1,000 people: 8.45 (29th highest)
> Unemployment rate: 7.1% (tied-17th lowest)

Boston is a popular city among professionals and well known for its universities and hospitals. Although the median household income of just over $49,000 was below the national median in 2011, more than 10% of households earned in excess of $200,000. Boston was in the top third of U.S. cities for violent crime, one of the few areas where it did not excel among the metrics we reviewed. Among the goals the new Boston City Council president has for the upcoming year is to enact stricter gun control measures. These include banning assault weapons, stricter background checks and even limiting the glorification of violence in movies and videogames.

19. Lubbock, Texas
> Population: 233,735
> Credit rating: Aa2
> Violent crime per 1,000 people: 7.68 (32nd highest)
> Unemployment rate: 6.1% (6th lowest)

Lubbock, located in Northwestern Texas, benefits from a relatively stable economy. Home values in the city increased by more than 14% between 2007 and 2011, higher than all but two of the 100 most populous cities. Foreclosures in Lubbock were next to non-existent in 2011. The unemployment rate of 6.1% in 2011 was the sixth-lowest of all large cities. The Lubbock City Council approved a property-tax hike in September as part of the budget, rising by nearly 2 cents to 49 cents per $100 in property to 49 cents  making slightly more than 49 cents to approximately $100 in valuation. The increased revenue allowed city employees to receive a 3% pay rise.

18. Fayetteville, N.C.
> Population: 203,922
> Credit rating: Aa1
> Violent crime per 1,000 people: 5.17 (36th lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 7.6% (tied-28th lowest)

Although Fayetteville is not a particularly high-income city - the median household income in 2011 of $43,379 was more than $7,000 below the national median - it does well in many other areas. The Fayetteville housing market has done better than all of the 100 largest cities. Median home values rose 17.4% between 2007 and 2011, even as they declined by 10.7% nationwide. The defense industry plays a significant role in Fayetteville's economy. The city is home to the Fort Bragg and Pope Field military bases. According to the city, these bases pump $4.5 billion into the area's economy each year.

17. Irving, Texas
> Population: 220,699
> Credit rating: Aaa, negative outlook
> Violent crime per 1,000 people: 2.33 (10th lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 7.2% (tied- 19th lowest)

Irving has a diverse economy, a strong housing market and a low crime rate. The city is home to the world headquarters of ExxonMobil, the largest company in the U.S. in terms of revenue in 2011. Many other Fortune 500 companies also have a sizable presence in the city. The largest employer as of 2011 was Citigroup, with approximately 7,500 employees. Other large companies with a significant workforce in Irving include Verizon, Allstate and Microsoft. Irving was also able to avoid the housing mess that most of the country faced. Home values actually rose by 2.1% in the city between 2007 and 2011, even as they declined by 10.7% nationwide. The violent crime rate of just 2.33 cases per 1,000 people is the 10th lowest of all large cities.

16. Omaha, Neb.
> Population: 415,076
> Credit rating: Aa1, stable outlook
> Violent crime per 1,000 people:  5.60 (42nd lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 5.1% (3rd lowest)

Omaha was able to escape the recession relatively unscathed. Home values between 2007 and 2011 rose 3.4%, despite declining 10.7% across the country. Just 0.77% of Omaha's homes were in foreclosure in 2011, one of the lowest rates of all the cities measured. The city's strong housing market helped contribute to a 5.1% unemployment rate in 2011, the third-lowest of all 100 largest cities. While the economy is already strong in Omaha compared to the rest of the country, 46% of residents expect more growth in 2013, while just 10% believe that the economy will shrink, according to a survey conducted by the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce.

15. Portland, Ore.
> Population: 595,325
> Credit rating: Aaa
> Violent crime per 1,000 people: 5.15 (35th lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 8.4% (tied- 38th lowest)

In Travel + Leisure's ranking of America's Favorite Cities, Portland was rated the best city for both environmental friendliness and public transportation/pedestrian friendliness. Like most cities, however, Portland continues to deal with fiscal woes. The budget passed by the City Council in the spring of 2012 cut administrative services in the Office of Management and Finance, the city's office dealing with revenue and spending, and also delayed cost-of-living adjustments for city employees. But even as it seeks ways to cut costs, Portland is one of just two cities with a population of over 200,000 to have no sales tax, making it attractive for business and residents. In 2011, regional GDP grew by 5.5%, more than all but two of the corresponding metro areas for the 100 largest cities.

14. Colorado Springs, Colo.
> Population: 426,406
> Credit rating: Aa2
> Violent crime per 1,000 people: 4.40 (30th lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 9.1% (tied- 49th lowest)

Like many of the best-run cities, Colorado Springs avoided the worst of the housing crisis. Median home values in Colorado Springs saw no significant decline between 2007 and 2011, compared to a drop of more than 10% in the country as a whole. One weakness was Colorado Springs' unemployment rate of 9.1%. Though higher than the 2011 national rate, it was still lower than most of the worst-run cities. Colorado Springs' economy is primarily driven by the defense and technology industries. Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman are among the 10 largest employers in the area as of 2011, while Hewlett-Packard and Verizon also have a sizable presence.

13. Chesapeake, Va.
> Population: 225,050
> Credit rating: Aa1
> Violent crime per 1,000 people: 3.97 (22nd lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 6.5% (tied- 11th lowest)

Chesapeake, the third-largest city in Virginia, has the seventh-highest median household income - $66,563 - of all of the 100 largest cities. While households were very wealthy in 2011, extreme poverty in Chesapeake was also low. Only 3.4% of families earned less than $10,000, better than the 5.1% of households nationwide and the eighth-lowest rate among all the cities measured. Chesapeake's workforce is spread out among a wide range of industries. Some of the largest employers include HSBC Finance, Cox Communications and QVC.

12. Chandler, Ariz.
> Population: 240,098
> Credit rating: Aaa, stable outlook
> Violent crime per 1,000 people: 2.84 (13th lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 7.1% (tied- 17th lowest)

Chandler, which is part of the Phoenix metropolitan area, had a median income of $69,260 in 2011, the sixth-highest of all cities measured. Many city residents work in the technology industry, specifically in semiconductor and chip making. The one negative in Chandler is its high foreclosure rate of 4.61%. This was the sixth-highest rate of the 100 most populous cities. The top employer in Chandler is Intel, with over 10,000 employees. Financial services is also a major industry in the city, with both Bank of America and Wells Fargo employing several thousand people.

11. San Francisco, Calif.
> Population: 812,826
> Credit rating: Aa2, on review for upgrade
> Violent crime per 1,000 people: 6.60 (43rd highest)
> Unemployment rate: 8.6% (40th lowest)

While California continues to struggle with budget woes, San Francisco's finances are in check. Mayor Ed Lee signed a two-year, $14.9 billion balanced budget in June that includes training for 300 new police officers and 84 new firefighters, and reinstates funding for HIV and AIDS services. Because San Francisco is a highly desirable city to live in, the cost of buying a home is very high. The median home value in the city was $719,800 as of 2011, the highest of all of the 100 most populous cities. Of course, residents are able to afford these steep prices – median household income was also nearly $70,000, the fifth-highest among the largest cities.

10. Scottsdale, Ariz.
> Population: 221,007
> Credit rating: Aaa, stable outlook
> Violent crime per 1,000 people: 1.81 (7th lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 6.8% (12th lowest)

Although Scottsdale was, like much of Arizona, hurt by the housing crisis - median home value dropped by almost one-third between 2007 and 2011 - the city fared better than much of the state following the recession. In 2011, when statewide annual unemployment rate was 9.5%, the city's unemployment rate was just 6.8%. That same year, just 8.9% of Scottsdale residents lived below the poverty line, well beneath the national rate of 15.9% that year.The city is home to a number of large public companies, including restaurant operator Kona Grill and self-defense product maker TASER International. Scottsdale is also home to the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, one of the nation's largest annual college football games.

9.  Austin, Texas
> Population: 820,601
> Credit rating: Aaa, no outlook
> Violent crime per 1,000 people: 4.30 (27th lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 6.2% (7th lowest)

Austin, the capital of Texas, had a stronger economy in 2011 than almost any other large city in the U.S. That year, the city's unemployment rate was just 6.2% versus 8.9% nationally. The local housing market also avoided the housing crash as the median home value rose by 11.4% between 2007 and 2011, just as national home values fell by more than 10%. In 2011, the city's GMP rose by 5%, well above the 1.6% average for the 363 metro areas surveyed by the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Austin boasts a strong technology sector, with industry heavyweight Dell headquartered in nearby Round Rock, as well as major investments from Samsung and Apple. The state's flagship university, the University of Texas at Austin, also has an incubator that helps new technology companies find funding.

8. Virginia Beach, Va.
> Population: 442,707
> Credit rating: Aaa, negative outlook
> Violent crime per 1,000 people: 1.75 (5th lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 6.0% (5th lowest)

Virginia Beach's economy benefits from the area's sizeable military presence. According to the Virginia Beach Economic Development Authority, the 11 major military bases located within the  metro area provided a direct economic impact of $13.5 billion in 2011. According to the Daily Press, at the outset of the year, all four local congressmen, recognizing the importance of the military on the local economy, voted against the fiscal cliff deal, which postponed upcoming military cuts until March.  Compared to most major cities, financial hardship in Virginia Beach is relatively absent, with just 8.6% of residents living below the poverty line in 2011 - roughly half of the national rate, and the fourth-lowest among the largest cities. Violent crime is extremely low in the region, with just 1.75 reported violent incidents per 1,000 residents in 2011. Among the few negatives for Virginia Beach is that the metro area's GMP contracted by 1.1% in 2011 when the average metro area in the U.S. grew by 1.6%.

7. Raleigh, N.C.
> Population: 416,126
> Credit rating: Aaa
> Violent crime per 1,000 people: 4.22 (25th lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 7.6% (tied- 28th lowest)

The Research Triangle has consistently brought high-skilled labor to the Raleigh area, with major employers including IBM and Cisco Systems. Accompanying this is a very well-educated workforce. More than 45% of city residents over 25 have at least a Bachelors degree, compared to the 28.5% of adults nationwide. Raleigh, along with surrounding areas, grew its total employment by 35.9% between 2000 and 2010, and the trend continued in 2011. The area's GMP increased by 3% in 2011, among the 10 highest growth rates of all metro areas and significantly higher than the 1.7% average among U.S. metro areas. Last December, city mayor Nancy MacFarlane was on BBC's "Newshour" after Raleigh was identified by the network as one of the "cities of the future." The program highlighted the fact that the city is one of the fastest growing in the U.S., largely due to mayor's emphasis on sustaining job growth through a strong tech sector.

6. Seattle, Wash.
> Population: 620,778
> Credit rating: Aaa, stable outlook
> Violent crime per 1,000 people: 5.93 (45th lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 7.5% (tied- 23rd lowest)

Thanks in part to its strong, tech-heavy job market, Seattle has continued to sell itself as a desirable city for young professionals and wealthy individuals. Nearly one in five workers were employed in generally high-paying scientific, professional, and management occupations in 2011, the fourth-highest proportion among large U.S. cities. In 2011, 13.5% of households in the city earned more than $200,000, the seventh-highest percentage of all large cities. scienti Meanwhile, just 3.7% of households earned under $10,000, the ninth-lowest rate in the country. Seattle is a highly educated city, with 56.2% of residents over the age of 25 having a bachelor's degree. This is more than all major cities except Plano, Texas.

5. Fremont, Calif.
> Population: 216,912
> Credit rating: Not rated
> Violent crime per 1,000 people: 1.77 (6th lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 7.5% (tied- 23rd lowest)

Fremont was incorporated in 1956, joining five towns together as a single city. The city is near the core of Silicon Valley, while also connected to San Francisco by the Bay Area Rapid Transit system. It has one of the most educated and high-earning populations in America, with over 51% of residents age 25 and older holding a college degree in 2011. That year, median household income was $92,665, the highest of any large city in the U.S. The city has an exceptionally strong manufacturing base, with almost 22% of working adults employed in the sector. Among the companies with manufacturing operations in Fremont are tech manufacturers Western Digital and Seagate Technologies, as well as electric car builder Tesla Motors.

4. Lincoln, Neb.
> Population: 262,350
> Credit rating: Aaa, stable outlook
> Violent crime per 1,000 people: 3.71 (18th lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 3.9% (the lowest)

Lincoln's 3.9% unemployment rate in 2011 was the lowest of all metropolitan areas in the country. The city is home to the University of Nebraska's flagship campus, which employs more than 8,000. Like Omaha, Lincoln has been spared from the recession more than most places. Home values rose 2.7% between 2007 and 2011 compared to a 10.7% drop nationwide. In 2011, just 0.36% of Lincoln's homes were in foreclosure, the eighth-lowest rate among large cities. Like many of the other top-rated cities, Lincoln's general obligation debt is rated as a perfect Aaa, with a stable outlook.

3. Irvine, Calif.
> Population: 215,511
> Credit rating: Not rated
> Violent crime per 1,000 people: 0.56 (the lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 6.5% (tied- 11th lowest)

With almost 97% of residents aged 25 and over with at least a high school diploma, and with nearly 63% with at least a bachelor's degree, Irvine has the most educated population of all of the 100 most populous cities. The city's high educational attainment has translated to a highly compensated population - a whopping 18.8% of households earned more than $200,000 in the last year. Irvine has the lowest violent crime rate of all the 100 largest cities, with just 0.56 violent crimes per 1,000 people in 2011. Irvine's government has received a lot of flack recently for its efforts to transform the Orange County Great Park, with critics arguing that more than $200 million worth of spending has gone to waste. The newly elected City Council has pledged more oversight on spending and has terminated contracts with two firms working on the project.

2. Madison, Wis.
> Population: 236,889
> Credit rating: Aaa, stable
> Violent crime per 1,000 people: 3.48 (15th lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 4.9% (2nd lowest)

Madison is home to the state capitol, as well as the University of Wisconsin's flagship campus. In addition, the region is a base to employers in fields such as technology and healthcare. The unemployment rate of 4.9% in 2011 was the second-lowest among all large cities in the U.S. Of the city's adult population, 54% have a bachelor's degree, the third-highest rate among the top 100 largest cities. In December, the Madison City Council adopted a rule banning the government from using emergency reserves to fund the operating budget unless two-thirds of members vote otherwise. With the city exercising this kind of caution, it is no surprise Moody's analytics rates madison general obligation debt as a perfect Aaa, with a stable long-term outlook.

1. Plano, Texas
> Population: 271,380
> Credit rating: Aaa, no outlook
> Violent crime per 1,000 people: 1.62 (2nd lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 6.9% (13th lowest)

Plano, based in the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area, is the best-run city in America. Among households in the city, 14% earned over $200,000 in 2011, the fourth-highest proportion of all cities. Meanwhile, a mere 1.9% of households earned under $10,000, which was the second-lowest of all cities. The city's 1.62 violent crimes per 1,000 people is the second-lowest of all large cities. Plano is home to many corporate headquarters, including J.C. Penney and Dr. Pepper Snapple Group. These companies are among the 10 largest employers in the city. The city appears to be largely unaffected by the housing crisis. The median home price rose by more than 5% between 2007 and 2011, while the national median price fell by more than 10%.

Worst Run Cities

20. Tucson, Ariz.
> Population: 525,798
> Credit rating: Aa2, negative outlook
> Violent crime per 1,000 people: 6.52 (47th highest)
> Unemployment rate: 9.2% (tied-49th highest)

Tucson's housing market fared better than most of Arizona, which was hit particularly hard by the recession. For instance, while housing prices in Phoenix dropped by 44.2% between 2007 and 2011 and by 39.5% in Mesa, in Tucson they declined by just 24.8%. The median home value in 2011 was just $138,300, below other nearby cities such as Phoenix and Chandler. Tucson's foreclosure rate of 2.62% is among the worst 20% of large cities. The city's debt is rated by Moody's at Aa2, with a negative outlook. One of the issues Moody's notes with the city is uncertain sources of revenue. In order to improve on this, along with passing a budget of $1.3 billion in May, the city raised property taxes by an additional 10 cents to $1.26 per square foot, and also raised water rates by more than 8%.

19. Reno, Nev.
> Population: 227,509
> Credit rating: Aa3, negative outlook
> Violent crime per 1,000 people: 4.88 (31st lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 13.0% (15th highest)

Between 2007 and 2011, median home values in Reno declined more than 47% from $337,200 to just $178,200. But while Reno's city government had to make drastic cuts at the height of the economic downturn, its finances are finally getting in order. The $295 million budget for 2012-2013, which was passed in May, was the first in five years that does not contain any layoffs, cuts in services or dips into the city's financial reserves. According to The New York Times, Reno has had difficulty reinventing itself away from the casino industry it is dependant on, and remains a one-industry city. Meanwhile, the city's gaming revenue continues to fall, dropping by 3.3% in November of 2012 from a year earlier.

18. Sacramento, Calif.
> Population: 472,169
> Credit rating: Aa2, under review for downgrade
> Violent crime per 1,000 people: 7.11 (38th highest)
> Unemployment rate: 14.1% (tied- 9th highest)

Home values in Sacramento fell 41.4% between 2007 and 2011, which is nearly four times more than the national rate. With the decline in home values came a decline in jobs. The city's unemployment rate in 2011 was 14.1%, which was the ninth-highest of the largest cities. The city's finances, however, may begin to improve. After city voters approved a half-percent sales tax increase in November, the City Council considered reversing budget cuts in areas such as the police department, fire department and park maintenance that have taken place in the last several years. There has been significant turnover in City Hall recently, with five of the eight seats changing in the last two years.

17. Chicago, Ill.
> Population: 2,707,123
> Credit rating: Aa3, negative outlook
> Violent crime per 1,000 people: n/a
> Unemployment rate: 11.3% (21st highest)

Chicago, the third-largest city in the U.S., suffers like most large cities from higher than average crime and poverty rates. This is likely exacerbated by low graduation rates from Chicago's Public Schools, which, while improving, still stand at just over 60%. The city's government received much attention in September when teachers from the district, which is under the control of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, went on strike over compensation and a teacher evaluation system. The two parties were finally able to compromise, but not until students missed a week and a half of school. In November, the City Council passed a $6.5 billion budget that included hundreds of job cuts through layoffs or attrition, reduced library hours, and the closing of half of the city's mental health facilities. The city is still running a nearly $300 million deficit, although this is down significantly from prior years due to previous cuts.

16. St. Louis, Mo.
> Population: 318,069
> Credit rating: Aa3, stable outlook
> Violent crime per 1,000 people: 18.57 (2nd highest)
> Unemployment rate: 11.7% (19th highest)

The city of St. Louis struggles with high poverty and crime. Twenty-seven percent of residents lived in poverty in the last 12 months, with more than 13% of households earning less than $10,000 a year - both figures significantly higher than the national rates. St. Louis also ranked among the most violent crime-ridden cities in America. Residents in November voted to reinstate local police control, taking power away from a state board. Supporters argued this would increase police efficiency and accountability, ultimately leading to safer streets. Opponents argued that this measure could weaken the ability of a civilian review board to monitor officer conduct. City residents also voted to cut the number of aldermen from 28 to 14. Advocates of the measure argued this will make the board more efficient, while opponents claimed it will just add thousands of people to an already overtaxed aldermans' constituency.

15. Santa Ana, Calif.
> Population: 329,405
> Credit rating: Baa1
> Violent crime per 1,000 people: 4.00 (21st lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 13.7% (tied-11th highest)

Santa Ana's unemployment rate of 13.7% in 2011 was significantly higher than the 8.9% unemployment rate across the country. Less than 55% of Santa Ana's residents aged 25 and over had a high school diploma, and under 10% of all residents had at least a bachelor's degree, making Santa Ana the least educated among the 100 most populous cities. Santa Ana is one of the few cities to not have an investment grade credit rating on its bonds by Moody's. Moody's noted that while the city has had two years of surpluses in its budget, it has little in emergency reserves. The agency also points out that the high unemployment played a role in a weaker rating.

14. Toledo, Ohio
> Population: 286,033
> Credit rating: A2, stable outlook
> Violent crime per 1,000 people: 9.98 (23rd highest)
> Unemployment rate: 10.4% (tied- 33rd highest)

Toledo is a low-income city. More than 30% of the population lived below the poverty line in the past 12 months, the 10th-highest percentage of all cities. The median household income was $31,090 in 2011, the eighth-lowest among major U.S. cities. Home values in the Toledo area plummeted by nearly 20% between 2007 and 2011 to reach a median of under $82,000. Although Toledo's credit rating of A2 from Moody's is still considered investment grade, it is far from pristine. Moody's noted that while its finances are improving, the city continues to suffer from high unemployment and a declining population.

13. Birmingham, Ala.
> Population: 211,458
> Credit rating: Aa2, no outlook
> Violent crime per 1,000 people: 14.83 (5th highest)
> Unemployment rate: 10.9% (25th highest)

Birmingham is the largest city in Jefferson County, which was responsible for the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history when it filed for Chapter 9 protection in late 2011. Although the city of Birmingham keeps its finances independent of the county, city residents are affected by the county's poor management nonetheless. According to The Wall Street Journal, the city, which is the county seat, has had difficulty convincing businesses to locate there. A 2012 study by the Tax Foundation showed the part of Birmingham located within Jefferson County had the highest sales tax rate of any major U.S. city at 10% – another factor which likely has had a negative impact on business growth in the area. This high sales tax rate is also especially troubling in a city with a 32% poverty rate - more than double the national rate of 15.9% - since sales taxes disproportionately impact the poor.

12. Riverside, Calif.
> Population: 310,654
> Credit rating: Baa1
> Violent crime per 1,000 people: 4.26 (24th lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 13.7% (11th highest)

Riverside is struggling to rebound from the economic downturn, which sent home values in the city plunging more than 46% from 2007 to 2011. Nearly 4% of homes were in foreclosure in 2011, while the unemployment rate that year was 13.7%. Both figures were among the highest in the country for large cities. Riverside's bonds were downgraded by Moody's last month from A1 to Baa1, making them below investment grade. Among the reasons that the agency gave for its decision were the city's high unemployment and foreclosure rates. Some good news for city residents, Riverside's violent crime rate is lower than nearly three quarters of major U.S. cities.

11. Las Vegas, Nev.
> Population: 589,340
> Credit rating: Aa2, stable outlook
> Violent crime per 1,000 people: 7.41 (36th highest)
> Unemployment rate: 14.2% (8th highest)

Las Vegas, along with the rest of the state of Nevada, was absolutely devastated by the housing crisis. Home values declined by more than 50% between 2007 and 2011, the fourth-largest decline among all large cities. A large majority of Las Vegas homeowners owe more than their homes are worth. The city had an unemployment rate of 14.2% in 2011, one of the highest rates in the country. The city government approved a relatively unchanged budget for 2013 compared to 2012, with no layoffs or pay cuts for employees. This is an improvement from previous years when it made severe cuts to city services. However, the city has major debt expenses to pay off, especially after spending $185 million on a new city hall and $13.5 million on a new parking garage.

10. Orlando, Fla.
> Population: 243,209
> Credit rating: Aa1, stable outlook
> Violent crime per 1,000 people: 10.73 (17th highest)
> Unemployment rate: 10.2% (tied- 38th highest)

Like the state of Florida as a whole, Orlando took a significant hit during the housing crisis. Median home values between 2007 and 2011 declined by nearly 40%. Violent crime has also plagued the Orlando area. In 2011, there were nearly 11 violent crimes for every 1,000 people, which placed Orlando among the top fifth of the 100 largest cities. In 2013, the city will have to borrow $29.5 million from its reserves in order to balance the $354.2 million budget. Despite the shortfall, the budget deal did not raise property taxes and city employees will get a 3% raise.

9. Cleveland, Ohio
> Population: 393,804
> Credit rating: A1, stable outlook
> Violent crime per 1,000 people: 13.66 (9th highest)
> Unemployment rate: 10.3% (37th highest)

Cleveland has been widely affected by the struggles America's manufacturing sector faced during the preceding decade. Total employment in the city's manufacturing sector fell consistently between 2002 and 2010. Despite the slight improvement in manufacturing, the city's residents have struggled in recent years. Cleveland's median household income in 2011 was just $25,371 - barely half the national median of $50,502. Also that year, the city had a poverty rate of 34.3%, more than double the U.S. rate. Violent crime also remained an issue, with 13.66 violent crimes per 1,000 residents - significantly higher than the national rate of just 3.86.

8. Newark, N.J.
> Population: 277,545
> Credit rating: A3, negative outlook
> Violent crime per 1,000 people: 11.66 (14th highest)
> Unemployment rate: 15.2% (6th highest)

While Mayor Cory Booker's political stature is rising, the city of Newark continues to struggle. Nearly 32% of residents found themselves impoverished within the last 12 months, the seventh-highest percentage of the 100 largest cities. The City Council finally approved a budget in October, after running 10 months without one. The budget curtailed spending, which New Jersey Governor Chris Christie required as a condition for $10 million in state aid to close the city's budget hole. In addition, a 3.7% increase in property taxes was levied against homeowners in Newark, bringing the average total tax bill to $6,020 for 2013.The city also had one of the highest violent crime rates and the sixth-highest unemployment rate of any large U.S. city.

7. Fresno, Calif.
> Population: 501,365
> Credit rating: Baa2, under review for downgrade
> Violent crime per 1,000 people: 5.82 (42nd lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 15.6% (tied- 4th highest)

Like many California cities, Fresno's economy has been slow to recover from the Great Recession. In 2011, the city's unemployment rate was higher than almost every other cities, at 15.6%. The city's median home value declined considerably during the recession and was nearly 39% lower in 2011 than in it was in 2007. The weak economy also forced the city to make substantial cuts. Between 2009 and early 2012 Fresno eliminated more than $100 million in expenses to address budget shortfalls. In October, Moody's announced that Fresno's ratings were under review for a downgrade from its already abysmal Baa2 rating, with the main justification for this poor rating coming from the sizeable budget gap the city recently had to close.

6. Modesto, Calif.
> Population: 202,761
> Credit rating: not rated
> Violent crime per 1,000 people: 6.94 (39th highest)
> Unemployment rate: 14.6% (7th highest)

The national downturn in home values between 2007 and 2011 was especially difficult for Modesto, where home values fell by more than half during that time. In 2011, more than 4.4% of all homes were in foreclosure, and the city's unemployment rate was close to 15% - up from a 13.7% average in 2009. Also in 2011, the Modesto metro area's GMP fell by 1.7%, the largest decrease among the nation's 100 largest metro areas. Not all is bad for the city – Modesto's violent crime rate, while not the best, is not terrible either.

5. Hialeah, Fla.
> Population: 229,967
> Credit rating: not rated
> Violent crime per 1,000 people: 3.78 (18th lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 14.1% (tied- 9th highest)

Home prices between 2007 and 2011 fell by 44% in Hialeah, the 10th-highest decline of all 100 largest cities. The median household income of $27,208 in 2011 was the third-lowest of all major cities, after declining by 44% during the recession. Of workers residing in Hialeah, 15.5% worked in the generally low-paying retail trade, the highest percentage of all of the 100 largest cities. As a result of industry composition, nearly 40% of city residents are without health insurance, higher than any other large city in the U.S.

4. Detroit, Mich.
> Population: 706,640
> Credit rating: Caa1, negative outlook
> Violent crime per 1,000 people: 21.37 (the highest)
> Unemployment rate: 19.9% (2nd highest)

Detroit was hit hard during the recession, with the near-collapse of the automobile industry and a further slowdown of the already embattled housing market. The median home value between 2007 and 2011 tumbled by 43.5%, or more than four times the rate of decline across the country. The lack of income coming into the city's coffers in the last few years has led to significant financial difficulty for Detroit. Moody's currently rates city's bonds as Caa1, which is considered junk status and the worst-rating Moody's gave to any major city. Mayor Dave Bing signed a budget that aims to cut $250 million in the 2012-2013 fiscal year, with total spending of $1.12 billion.

3. Stockton, Calif.
> Population: 296,367
> Credit rating: Caa3, negative outlook
> Violent crime per 1,000 people: 14.08 (8th highest)
> Unemployment rate: 20.2% (the highest)

Last year, Stockton was unable to fund its pension liabilities and make debt service payments. As a result, it became the largest city in U.S. history to file for bankruptcy. The city had been especially hurt by the recession. Its unemployment rate for 2011 was above 20%, while more than 5% of homes were in foreclosure - both among the highest rates for any large city. Just before the bankruptcy filing, Moody's downgraded the city's credit rating to account for the likelihood of a default. Moody's noted, "The Caa3 rating level assumes losses to bondholders will be greater than 20%. The negative outlook reflects the high likelihood that losses could exceed our estimates." Not only have the city's creditors been affected, but so have city employees and retirees. According to NPR, the city may cut health benefits to reduce its $417 million in unfunded liabilities.

2. Miami, Fla.
> Population: 408,760
> Credit rating: A2, negative outlook
> Violent crime per 1,000 people: 11.98 (12th highest)
> Unemployment rate: 12.4% (17th highest)

Between 2007 and 2011, the median home value in Miami fell by 43.5%. Additionally, the city had one of the nation's lowest median household incomes, at under $29,000, while 31% of residents lived below the poverty line - nearly twice the U.S. rate of 15.9%. Despite the difficult economic conditions Miamians faced, the city joined with Miami-Dade County to pay for almost 80% of the more-than $600 million cost of building a new baseball stadium for the Miami Marlins. The deal has caused significant uproar. While taxpayers pay extremely high costs to service the stadium debt, the team has traded many of its top players. In 2011, the SEC launched an investigation into the agreement.

1. San Bernardino, Calif.
> Population: 213,008
> Credit rating: not rated
> Violent crime per 1,000 people: 8.76 (27th highest)
> Unemployment rate: 17.6% (3rd highest)

Few cities were hurt by the housing crisis to the same extent as San Bernardino, where the median home value declined by 57.6% between 2007 and 2011, more than any other large city in the U.S. By the end of 2011, almost 4.4% of homes in San Bernardino were in foreclosure, among the highest rates for all large cities. That year, the unemployment rate reached 17.6%, or nearly double the U.S. rate and almost 10 percentage points higher than city's annual rate in 2007. In August, declining home values and rising employee retirement costs forced the city to file for bankruptcy. But the city's filing is being challenged by its largest creditor, the California Public Employees' Retirement System, which is demanding payments.


Filed under: 24/7 Wall St. Wire, Research Tagged: featured

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