Forbes Magazine’s annual list of “America’s Most Miserable Cities” is out, measuring the (lack of) wellbeing in America’s 200 largest metro areas.
The Forbes list is a close cousin to quality-of-life research—a growing, interdisciplinary body of economic inquiry that recognizes human happiness is not easily measured in dollars and cents. This stands out for Forbes because, well, it’s a publication devoted to dollars and cents.
But read at your own risk: This quality-of-life index has an ideological bent.
“The metrics include the serious: violent crime, unemployment, foreclosures, taxes (income and property) and home prices,” Kurt Badenhausen, the list’s author, wrote last week. “We also include less weighty, but still important quality-of-life issues like commute times and weather.” Detroit earned the dubious honor of most miserable, followed by Flint, Mich., Rockford, Ill., Chicago, and Modesto, Calif. All told, it’s probably a pretty accurate list, but it also includes a few flights of social conservative fancy.
For instance: Why equate taxes with misery? Campus Progress called Badenhausen to ask.
“For people who live in high-tax states and high-tax cities, it is a continuous point of angst that they have to deal with,” he said. “You talk to people in New York and New Jersey, some of the property taxes they have to pay, it’s one of their biggest sources of concern.” Badenhausen said Forbes editors chose the metrics, guided in part by feedback from Forbes readers.
But tax money isn’t just flushed down the toilet, Carl Davis, senior policy analyst at the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy responded.
“They’re counting higher tax rates as a variable that contributes to people’s misery, but I don’t see the variable here for fire department response time, or whether that crack in the sidewalk outside your apartment is going to get fixed, or how long you’re going to have to wait at the courthouse to get the paperwork you need,” he said. Local and state taxes also fund essential public services like education, mass transportation and health care.
Taxes aside, many of the other Forbes variables were well-chosen. Here’s hoping that they scrap taxes in next year’s list and instead include poverty rate, after-tax income, or another variable that would measure actual financial strain and not just grumblings about the IRS.
Mirrored from Campus Progress. Photo by me.