NEWS-SENTINEL EDITORIAL: State cities rank high on list of ‘miserable places’ — but should they?

News-Sentinel.com has, from time to time, commented on studies or surveys that rank cities and states for various traits – most recently, for example, the 125 best places to live in the U.S., the 50 worst commutes and a ranking of the 50 states from most to least patriotic.

Most of these rankings are compilations from census data or other sources that analysts determine lead to such conclusions. The latest such “study” is Business Insider’s ranking of the most miserable places in the U.S. to live. And there is already pushback from the three Indiana cities on the list.

Gary turns out to be the No. 1 most miserable place to live in the U.S., according to the Business Insider story published Saturday, with Hammond at 23rd and Anderson at 35th.

Fort Wayne can’t complain – out of 1,000 surveyed, the city was 441st, less miserable than Indianapolis (359th).

Business Insider explains it identified the most miserable cities by using census data, “taking into consideration population change (because if people are leaving it’s usually for a good reason), the percentage of people working, median household incomes, the percentage of people without health care, median commute times, and the number of people living in poverty.”

The website’s story says the cities all have things in common: “few opportunities, high crime and addiction rates, and often many abandoned houses. The most miserable city in the U.S. was once a manufacturing mecca, but those days are over.”

We have commented previously that such rankings may serve a positive purpose by exposing problems and thus help drive solutions. But responses from the three Indiana cities on the top 50 list indicate the rankings are not helpful.

Jerry Davich of the (Merrillville) Post-Tribune wrote a column in response to the website’s decision to brand Gary as the most miserable place to live in the U.S., including a response from the city’s mayor.

“We are keenly aware of the challenges reflected in the data used by Business Insider,” Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson told Davich. “At the same time, the article or ranking does not reflect the reality of improved data.”

For example, she said, the Business Insider story leaves out the slowdown in the decline in the city’s population, the reduction in the number of vacant or abandoned buildings, the creation of thousands of jobs over the past six years or infrastructure improvements.

“I am simply saying that the ranking is one-sided and seems only contemplated to emphasize the negative aspects of our community and others,” she said.

And columnist Davich agrees, writing, “Statistical data can be cold as steel. Notorious labels can be long lasting.”

Davich contacted Hammond’s mayor, who bemoaned the fact that Business Insider’s one-paragraph description of Hammond failed to include any of the positive aspects of his city, “like lowering crime rates, positive business environment, rising home prices, and the CollegeBound program,” he said.

The Anderson Herald Bulletin also published a rebuttal to the Business Insider conclusions.

“The reality in (the ranking) is not our actual reality,” Anderson Mayor Thomas Broderick Jr said. “The reality is, we’ve torn down around 170 blighted properties in the last three and a half years. We’ve brought in several thousand jobs in the time period they’re talking about. Our wages have continued to grow.”

Davich said the Business Insider list only worsens the challenges cities ranked high on the list. “Unfortunately,” he wrote, “it will only confirm the biases of anyone who’s already critical of Gary or Hammond or Anderson, or any of the other 47 cities on that list. They’re all convenient targets for a long-held consensus of criticism, now bolstered by outdated census data.”