10 Most Stressed Out Cities

10 Most Stressed Out Cities
Wednesday, June 25, 2014 - 10:15pm

(CNNMoney) -- From sky-high rents and gridlocked traffic to widespread poverty and unemployment, residents in these cities have a lot to stress about.

1. New York

Stress factor: Long commutes and work hours, high cost of living

Zen factor: Lower crime

Living in New York can be a lot of work.

Despite enjoying some of the best public transportation in the country, New Yorkers spend more time getting to work each day -- at an average of nearly 40 minutes one way -- than commuters anywhere else in the country. They also log in more hours at work once they get there than workers in most other areas.

And that's not all: Sky-high housing costs, which are more than double the national average, eat up a big chunk of most residents' budgets. Combine that with a high cost of living, as well as above-average poverty and unemployment rates, and that means more people are struggling to get by.

On the plus side, crime has fallen significantly in recent years as a result of aggressive policing policies. Now, New York's property crime rate is among the lowest per capita, and the murder rate is also below average for the places analyzed, which has helped make residents feel a lot more secure.

New York also offers a variety of free stress-relieving activities, such as free yoga and pilates classes in the parks. "If you think and you plan, you'll reduce your stress," said Helana Natt, executive director of the Greater New York Chamber of Commerce.

2. Detroit

Stress factor: High crime, unemployment

Zen factor: Shorter commutes and work hours

Detroit's historic bankruptcy isn't the only thing stressing Motor City's residents out.

Murder and property crime are prevalent in this troubled city, which has had its police force slashed in the past decade.

Many residents are also struggling to make ends meet. The metro division's unemployment rate is hovering around 9%, several percentage points higher than the national average. Meanwhile, more than a quarter of Detroit's residents live below the poverty line.

Some bright spots: It's pretty cheap to live in most parts of the city, though downtown prices have been climbing, and shorter work hours and better commuting conditions make for a less stressful work life.

Plus, while city workers and retirees are bracing for benefit cuts, many residents are optimistic that the city's bankruptcy will help improve city services and strengthen the local economy, said Sandy Baruah, chief executive officer of the Detroit Regional Chamber.

"I think the bankruptcy is fairly widely viewed as a tool to resolve problems," he said.

3. Los Angeles

Stress factor: Heavy traffic, high cost of living

Zen factor: Healthy lifestyles, shorter work hours

On average, Los Angeles residents smoke less, work shorter hours and face far fewer cloudy days -- a proven mood booster.

But they also spend a lot of time stuck in their cars, thanks to gridlock that is among the country's worst. And unlike many other places, L.A. doesn't offer many major public transportation alternatives that help them escape those traffic headaches.

There are projects aimed at fixing that. The Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority is pushing forward with five additions to the area's mass transit network, including the long-awaited "Subway to the Sea." Meanwhile, Caltrans is spending billions on freeway improvements, including adding and extending carpool lanes.

"If we can get people to participate in carpooling we can try to reduce traffic and improve the air quality," said Caltrans spokesperson Patrick Chandler.

Living in the city is also pricey, which makes it even harder for the 20% of residents who live below the poverty line to get by.

4. Riverside/San Bernardino

Stress factor: Unemployment, long commutes

Zen factor: Shorter work hours

Once a booming area for the construction industry, the recession hit the cities of Riverside and San Bernardino especially hard.

"It took us longer to bounce out of that recession than others around the nation," said Larry Vaupel, economic development manager for the city of Riverside. "We had to retool."

In fact, the city of San Bernardino is currently working its way through federal bankruptcy protection, which it filed for in 2012.

And many of the area's residents are still struggling to recover. Nearly 20% of the metro area's residents live in poverty and the local unemployment rate remains several percentage points above the national average at more than 8%.

Those who have jobs face long commutes, with roughly 20% of residents traveling to Los Angeles or Orange County for work. Commuters spend just over an hour on the road each day, on average.

Things are starting to look up: employment now exceeds the pre-recession years and the construction industry is starting to make a comeback, said Vaupel. And he noted that houses in the area are more affordable than many other Southern California cities.

5. Houston

Stress factor: Longer work hours and commutes

Zen factor: Plenty of jobs, low cost of living

Workers in Houston give even New Yorkers a run for their money when it comes to working long hours.

Known for its many oil jobs -- which can require 80-plus hour weeks in the oilfields -- the metro area has the longest average workweek of all 55 places CNNMoney analyzed.

Getting to work can also be a major frustration due to traffic congestion. Houston's massive sprawl means that residents are often forced to brave the roads.

Blame it on the booming economy. Close to 400,000 jobs have been added to the area in the past four years, said Patrick Jankowski, vice president of research at the Greater Houston Partnership.

"Yes there is traffic," said Jankowski, whose organization is looking into ways to improve traffic conditions. "But on the other hand the economy is doing really well here so no wonder there is the traffic and the stress."

So what keeps Houstonians going? Jobs and money.

Low unemployment and a moderate cost-of-living means most people can easily afford to live here.

Plus, all those work hours mean many workers are earning overtime or higher salaries, Jankowski said. "Some people want the opportunity to earn the extra money," he said. "Sometimes the stress is by choice."

6. Chicago

Stress factor: Bad weather, heavy traffic

Zen factor: Low property crime rate

Brutal winters aren't the only thing raising Chicago residents' stress levels.

Years after the recession ended, the unemployment rate is still above the national average. Rush hour traffic is a pain. And with sunny days occurring around half of the year, residents don't often get the mood boost that the sun's rays can provide.

Meanwhile, Chicagoans aren't exactly living the healthiest lifestyles. Binge drinking is common here, as is smoking -- and nearly 20% report they are in fair or poor health, according to a Centers for Disease Control survey.

There are bright spots, though: Despite a historic reputation for violence, the metro area's property crime rate is actually below average. Chicago is also home to the country's second largest transit agency, which provides a variety of public transportation options for those hoping to avoid traffic.

Meanwhile, the waterfront city offers a variety of parks and recreational opportunities, and Chicago's City Hall is currently funding a variety of park improvements to ensure every resident lives with a 10-minute walk from a park.

7. Miami

Stress factor: Heavy traffic, high poverty rate

Zen factor: Plenty of sunshine, fewer binge drinkers

It may have tropical weather, beautiful beaches and a cool art scene, but Miami's residents are dealing with plenty of stresses: poverty, a high cost of living and terrible traffic.

Almost 18% of metro area residents, which includes a large immigrant population, live below the poverty line. Plus, affordable rents are hard to come by, leaving many families priced out of the housing market, according to the local Habitat for Humanity.

Local nonprofit Catalyst Miami provides a number of services for low-income residents, including financial coaching to help with everything from buying a home or dealing with debt collectors to enrolling in health insurance.

"What we encounter with a lot of our clients is a lack of familiarity with the American system, not understanding how to access benefits and services they are entitled to," said Gretchen Beesing, the organization's chief executive officer. "Certainly it causes stress."

And don't forget about the traffic. Commuters here deal with some of the most stress-inducing gridlock in the country. It's so bad on one common route, US-1, that it's been dubbed "Useless 1" by the locals.

On the bright side, residents enjoy plenty of sunny days, and according to the CDC, they are also less likely to be binge drinkers.

8. New Orleans

Stress factor: Unhealthy lifestyles, high crime rates

Zen factor: Plenty of jobs, low cost of living

Just because it's called "The Big Easy" doesn't mean it's always easy to live here.

Crime is rampant: The city has battled the notorious moniker of "Murder City," with a murder rate consistently among the nation's highest.

Health concerns are also weighing on many residents. Almost a quarter of people surveyed by the CDC reported they were in fair or poor health. Smoking and lack of exercise are also common.

On the bright side, it's cheaper to live here thanks to below-average living costs. The median home price, for example, is around $160,000.

And most residents aren't stressing about finding a job: unemployment is remarkably low at around 4%. Hospitality and construction jobs are common, and there is also a burgeoning startup scene.

New Orleans Chamber President Ben Johnson said in a statement that, following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, the city is "leading urban centers around the U.S. in reinventing itself," including the development of a new $2 billion biomedical district.

9. Atlanta

Stress factor: Heavy traffic, long commutes

Zen factor: Low cost of living, healthy lifestyles

If long work days combined with a headache-inducing commute sounds like the ultimate stressful day, then Atlanta might not be the place for you.

The sprawling city has some of the worst traffic congestion in the country, with the average commuter on the road an hour every day.

"Atlantans wear it like a badge. Traffic is a systemic problem in the Atlanta region," said Brian Carr, director of communications at the Clean Air Campaign, a nonprofit that offers programs to encourage commuters to switch to carpooling, public transit and other options.

The Atlanta Regional Commission, a regional planning agency for the area, said that the heavy traffic is in part tied to the area's population growth. It said there are plans to add 54 miles of new lanes to the interstate system, expand alternative commuter programs and offer incentives to encourage the development of walkable communities.

Some other bright spots: Residents enjoy a cost of living that is more affordable than most of the other metro areas, fueled by below-average home prices. They are also less likely to be binge drinkers or smokers, according to the CDC.

10. Memphis, TN

Stress factor: High crime rates, unhealthy lifestyles

Zen factor: Shorter commutes

There can be a lot to sing the blues about in Memphis.

Crime is rampant here, with a murder rate that trails only Detroit and New Orleans.

"There are many areas of the city in which gunfire is just as prevalent as the birds singing," said Memphis Mayor A C Wharton.

Around 20% of the metro area's residents live below the poverty line.

Wharton, who spent decades as a public defender, said the high crime and poverty can cause a variety of stressful situations, from a mother scrambling for bail money for an arrested son to someone stressing about paying medical bills.

"I think Forrest Gump could see that those are not ideal living conditions," he said. "They are real stressors."

Yet the city is trying to fight back, with efforts that include the filing of legal injunctions against gang members and an ambitious anti-poverty campaign.

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