Bert Sperling, Founder and President of Sperling BestPlaces.



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Tacoma named as the
most stressful US city

10 January 2004: Between international terrorism and a struggling economy, today's US citizens are faced with more stress than ever, claims a study released in January 2004. In this study, Portland-based Sperling's BestPlaces have identified the most and least stressful US cities.

The ‘Sperling Stress Index’ is composed of nine different factors which are associated with stress: unemployment rate, divorce rate, travel-to-work time, violent and property crime rates, suicide rate, alcohol consumption, self-reported ‘poor mental health’ and number of cloudy days.

Main findings
Tacoma, Washington, a city of some 195,000 people and situated 50 kilometres south of Seattle, ranks as the most stressful city of the 100 largest metro areas. Galveston, Texas, earns the dubious honour in the mid-size category, and Yuba City, California, is the most stressful among the smallest metro areas.

On the brighter side, New York State capital Albany is the least stressful large metro area, while Provo, Utah, anchors the top spot among the mid-size cities. Among the smallest metro areas, Bismarck, North Dakota, is number one in a low-stress environment.

Bert Sperling, President of Sperling’s Best Places, said that most of the top-ten stress cities were grappling with high unemployment. "It affects the entire community, whether one personally has a job or not. Rising unemployment has been tied to increased crime, and declining tax revenues force reductions in social services that affect young and old alike," Mr Sperling said.

Las Vegas has a robust economy, but had the highest percentage of divorced residents and the highest rate of suicides. And despite Miami's number two stress ranking, they maintained a positive mental attitude, with one of the lowest rates in residents reporting poor mental health.

Among the low-stress cities, there appears a common theme of state capitals and institutions of higher learning. "Government and universities provide a solid economic base to smaller cities, lessening the stress caused by economic cycles," Bert Sperling added

There appears to be something special about Honolulu. Researchers found that they had a unique attitude that allowed them to be less affected by the stresses of today's busy lifestyle. A recent Sperling's BestPlaces study on the Best Cities for Sleep found Honolulu residents reporting the highest scores for restful and relaxing sleep. In this study, Honolulu also reported the lowest number of days that they felt anxious, tense, stressed or depressed.

An interesting footnote to this study was the discovery of a strong correlation between the rates of suicide and divorce. In the great majority of the cities BestPlaces investigated, those areas with a high percentage of divorced residents were matched with a high suicide rate. And the opposite was true as well - places with few divorces also had few suicides.

Top five most stressful cities
Tacoma, Washington
Tacoma residents contend with one of the highest divorce rates in the country as well as one of the highest unemployment rates. It's cloudy in Tacoma much of the time, and the suicide and property crime rates are high. On a brighter note, Tacomans can feel safe from bodily harm thanks to the low violent crime rate.

Miami, Florida
The study reports that Miami has the highest violent crime rate as well as one of the highest property crime rates. Making Miami even more stressful is the long commuting time, a high unemployment rate, and a high rate of divorce. Despite these factors, Miami residents manage to maintain a positive mental attitude.

New Orleans, Louisiana
New Orleans has a high violent crime rate and a high unemployment rate. The city also reports a significant number of suicides and divorces.

Las Vegas, Nevada
The turbulent lifestyle of Las Vegas produces some extremely stressful conditions-- the highest suicide and divorce rates in the study, as well as a great deal of alcohol use. Unfortunately, the greatest number of sunny days per year doesn't seem to translate to overall happiness - residents of Las Vegas have a great number of days experiencing poor mental health.

New York City, New York
Beginning and ending their days with the longest commuting journey in the country, the hustle and bustle of the Big Apple can really stress people out. Unemployment is high and so is violent crime, which may explain why New Yorkers spend many of their days experiencing stress, depression, and problems with emotions. But New Yorkers are not quitters - the suicide and divorce rates are some of the lowest.

Top five least stressful cities
Albany-Schenectady-Troy, New York and
Harrisburg-Lebanon-Carlisle, Pennsylvania

These hardworking state capitals and their surrounding areas boast two of the lowest unemployment rates in the country. In fact, both areas score well in many categories - low divorce rates, short average commuting times, a low overall crime rate, and low rates of suicide. One downside to these north-eastern cities is their often-cloudy skies and dreary winters

Orange County, California
Orange County reports little crime, low unemployment, and plenty of sunshine. Commuting can take awhile, but Orange County residents seem to be able to handle it. And their suicide rate is one of the lowest.

Nassau-Suffolk, New York
Although residents of Nassau and Suffolk counties have a very long commuting journey, the area has the lowest violent and property crime rates in the country. The divorce and suicide rates are also among the lowest in the country, indicating a safe and stable place to live.

Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota
The Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St Paul have a low unemployment rate and a low violent crime rate. Despite many cloudy days, the suicide rate is low and the stress scores are generally favourable across the board.



Despite the city's glorious setting in the shadow of Mount Rainier, Tacoma was named as the most stressful US city


Methodology
All places (Metropolitan Statistical Areas or MSAs) received points for each of the study criteria based on their relation to the other MSAs' scores in that data category. To maintain consistency throughout the study, the most significant data element for any given category (that which implied the most stress) received a score of 100 points. The data element for any given category which was associated with the least stress received a score of 0 points. The remaining cities were assigned point values between 0 and 100 based on their data element's percentage of the range between the most desirable score in that category and the least desirable score in that category. In this way, the point values assigned to cities preserve the proportionality of the data points in relation to the data set while providing a common point scale.

There were nine data categories in this study:
• Divorce rate - the per cent of the metro area's population over the age of 16 which are currently divorcees, and have not remarried.
• Unemployment rate - the per cent of the metro area's workforce which are seeking a job, but are currently unemployed.
• Travel-to-work time - the average time for a one-way commute to the place of work.
• Violent crime - the rate of violent crimes per 100,000 residents. Violent crimes include murder, rape, assault, and robbery.
• Property crime - the rate of property (non-violent) crimes per 100,000 residents. Property crimes include burglary, larceny, and auto theft.
• Suicide rate - the per-capita rate of the population which have taken their own life.
• Alcohol consumption - the self-reported number of alcoholic drinks per month consumed by adult residents.
• Mental health - the self-reported number of days per month where one's ‘mental health was not good’.

The nine categories were weighted as to their importance to the study:
• Those categories considered most significant were unemployment rate, crime, commuting time, and suicide.
• Of moderate importance were the categories of divorce and mental health.
• Those categories weighted with the least importance were cloudy days and alcohol consumption.