Employees Are Miserable in These U.S. Cities

By Jake Schroeder
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Photo Courtesy: Gayle Nicholson/Flickr

Sometimes, it’s just as important to recognize what will plunge you into near-certain misery as it is to know what will make you happy. You spend a lot of your life working, so what could be worse than doing it in a city where most of the employees claim to be miserable?

Certainly, the job itself is important, but why take a chance? The verdict is in, and these cities are among the worst in the country for employee happiness. Consider this to be a cautionary list.

New York, NY

New York residents either love living in the Big Apple or absolutely loathe their existence. It’s no secret why New York is home to some of the most miserable employees in America. Forced transportation via an underground network of glorified soda cans is just the starting point for the complaints.

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Photo Courtesy: Terabass/Wikimedia Commons

What about rent? Well, if you consider the average rent of $3,475 in Manhattan — one bedroom max but probably a studio — to be reasonable, then you will be happy as a clam. Employees who work hard, only to flush their money down the toilet on rent alone are miserable.

Oakland, CA

Ahhh, Oakland. Sure, it's gentrifying nicely. After all, those who don't make an absolute killing in San Francisco have no choice but to live in Oakland. The seemingly endless financial bubble created by limited housing and Silicon Valley wealth is slowly but surely making its way to Oakland too.

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Photo Courtesy: Ethan Oringel/Flickr

Some people swear by the Bay Area, but the rest of America worries about stories of rampant homelessness, infrastructure that hasn't been updated in decades and the highest property crime rates in the country. Also, wages aren’t keeping up with rent. That’s misery in the making.

Memphis, TN

Job site kununu interviewed numerous employees in cities across America, and those results factored heavily into this list. Memphis is a city that is culturally underrated, with a rich musical history, a great downtown center that revolves around Beale Street and barbecue that is out of this world.

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Photo Courtesy: Sean Davis/Flickr

So, what do employees value that Memphis presumably lacks to make this list? Money, for one thing — Memphis is riddled with wide swaths of poverty-stricken residents and neighborhoods. Worse, it's a unique brand of deep, almost unconscionable Southern poverty, and that leads to hordes of unhappy residents. Great barbecue can only take you so far.

Houston, TX

It’s difficult to generalize about Houston because it’s the fourth-largest city in the United States. It’s so big that you inevitably get a great deal of variance in terms of the happiness of Houston's employed population. People in the suburbs tend to be quite happy, for example.

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Photo Courtesy: Katie Haugland Bowen/Flickr

That said, some obvious downsides come to mind. Because Houston is so massive, commutes can be an absolute nightmare, and the sheer number of people means you are almost certain to get stuck on Houston freeways frequently. For all of Houston's positives — a diverse foodie scene among them — it’s not the most attractive city in America either.

Dallas, TX

Nothing against Texas, honestly. This just happens to be how the Least Happy Employees in America rankings turned out. Apparently, Dallas is home to more than its fair share of those unhappy employees if the rankings are to be believed.

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Photo Courtesy: Gattacal/Wikimedia Commons

Sure, Dallas has big-city problems. Commutes and crime are among the common complaints of employees working in Dallas. These rankings also factor in the residents’ feelings about their jobs — how fun it is, how challenging it is and how well it pays. Apparently, the work in Dallas isn’t cutting it.

El Paso, TX

El Paso’s proximity to the southern border of the United States makes it an understandable addition to the list. While the city itself is actually much safer than many might expect, those who work there may deal with a lot of upheaval due to the constant flow of new people in and out of the city.

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Photo Courtesy: Ron Reiring/Flickr

But that is largely speculative — after all, it wasn’t made clear why employees in each of these cities are unhappy, just that they are. Some internet digging shows that many find El Paso's desert climate and isolation to be a downside as well.

Colorado Springs, CO

Colorado Springs just sounds like a beautiful place, doesn’t it? The mountains of Southern Colorado are as scenic in real life as they are in pictures. So, what is it about Colorado Springs that has local employees wanting to move? The Air Force Academy is there, and it feels a lot like a military town, which could partly explain it.

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Photo Courtesy: David Shankbone/Wikimedia Commons

The military is a noble profession, but the military mindset isn’t necessarily known as one associated with expressions of joy. Challenging? Sure. Fulfilling? Yes, for most, but it’s not always joyous. Plus, a high population density leads to traffic, and the town has all the downsides of icy winters.

Milwaukee, WI

Did you know that Wisconsin is cold? Like, really, really cold? Apparently, the harsh winters are getting to the employed residents of Milwaukee, because they rank near the bottom of the survey rankings for the unhappiest employee cities in America. Unlike many cities in Wisconsin, Milwaukee also has its fair share of poverty and crime.

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Photo Courtesy: Towpilot/Wikimedia Commons

Did you know that Milwaukee even has a prominent mob presence? Read Donnie Brasco — it's true! People also complain that it has something of an industrial feel to it, which makes sense for the largest city in the state.

Albuquerque, NM

It's apparently well known throughout New Mexico that Albuquerque gets a "bad rap" in some internet circles. So, why does Albuquerque suffer from so much criticism? Those who live there point to its sky-high national ranking in terms of auto theft as well as its spread-out metropolitan area.

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Photo Courtesy: Ron Cogswell/Flickr

Going to different places in the city means spending significant time driving, and that's one thing residents don’t like. The meth problem in the city is also real, according to residents, but the weather is sunny most of the year.

Charlotte, NC

This is one city you may be surprised to see on this list, as North Carolina is typically known for relatively pleasant weather, easy access to beautiful mountains and an overall sense of appealing "quaintness." One possibility for what could make working in Charlotte a hassle: traffic.

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Photo Courtesy: James Willamor/Wikimedia Commons

Additionally, online responses show that some believe Charlotte to be a suburb-dependent city, but those suburbs leave much to be desired in terms of culture. Again, any number of unique employee experiences could be informing these rankings, and any city has its fair share of unappealing jobs.

Shreveport, LA

Those who love Shreveport swear by it, but WalletHub's rankings of "Best and Worst Cities to Start a Career In" places Shreveport squarely at the bottom. The reason is it ranks low in terms of both professional opportunity and quality of life. These rankings considered several factors, including job market saturation, housing affordability and commuter friendliness, among other variables.

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Photo Courtesy: Shreveport-Bossier Convention and Tourist Bureau/Flickr

Residents pointed to the allowance of smoking in nearly every bar, pub and casino in Shreveport as a downside as well as a less-than-stellar pool of dating candidates. Fair or not, some have an impression of Shreveport as an Old Boys Town.

Detroit, MI

It keeps being said that Detroit is coming back, but is that really true? Remember that Eminem commercial with him driving in a Chrysler sedan and talking about how Detroit was on its way back? If an Eminem commercial can't change the widely held perception that Detroit is a brutal place to live and work, then what can?

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Photo Courtesy: Jon Hurd/Flickr

Apparently, reality is hard to get around. Detroit remains a city relatively low on lucrative employment opportunities, and it was ranked in 2019 as the FBI's most violent big city. That's not exactly a recipe for a happy pool of employees.

Montgomery, AL

Sticking with WalletHub's extensive list of the cities with the lowest employment opportunities and quality of life, Montgomery rears its (not-so-pretty) head on the list of cities with the worst employment situation. It ranked dead last (182nd) in terms of professional opportunities.

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Photo Courtesy: Ron Cogswell/Flickr

If you have ever been to Montgomery, you know that it’s a glorified breeding ground for truck stops, cheap motels and fast food joints. That’s not Southern bias talking — it’s pure fact. Not surprisingly, the WalletHub survey confirms that all those employees at the motels and burger joints aren't exactly loving their jobs and their lives.

Hialeah, FL

Do a Google Image search of the term "Hialeah, FL," and you will quickly realize why the Miami suburb ranks so low in terms of employee satisfaction. Apparently, there is one building worth taking a picture of in the city (and it's pictured here).

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Photo Courtesy: Ebyabe/Wikimedia Commons

Even that one building could use some improvement if you look closely. Nothing about Hialeah screams "thriving local job market," and a deeper dive into the matter confirms that initial suspicion. But, wait! There’s a Long John Silver's in Hialeah! Looks like the town is moving on up to the big time.

Bridgeport, CT

Bridgeport, CT, ranked 176th on the list of American cities with good professional opportunities, which obviously isn’t good. It is perpetually among the cities in Connecticut with the highest unemployment rate — often coming in at number one in that respect.

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Photo Courtesy: 826 PARANORMAL/Flickr

But, hey, Bridgeport has this house that is supposed to be teeming with paranormal activity. Too bad ghost hunting isn't as booming an industry as it once was. If it ever comes back into fashion, Bridgeport might be in for an absolute employment windfall. Of course, that’s a really big "if."

Pearl City, HI

Can you imagine how depressing it would be to scroll through nothing but photo after photo of the most economically downtrodden cities in America? This one should give you an idea. It's difficult to imagine that any city in Hawaii could be as industrial and unnatural looking as Pearl City.

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Photo Courtesy: US National Archives/Flickr

It ranked in the bottom six in terms of professional opportunities, and online responses indicate it’s one of the worst places to live if you like to have fun at night. The schools aren't good either, but it's more affordable than neighboring Honolulu.

Newark, NJ

The Balance ranked Newark as the third worst city to find a job, behind Shreveport and Detroit. If you've ever been to Newark, you may not know that it has lots of crime and slum areas. One problem is the taxes are extremely high, as they are in all the counties in New Jersey.

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Photo Courtesy: Ron Cogswell/Flickr

Widespread poverty combined with high taxes certainly isn’t a recipe for attracting appealing job candidates and desirable employers, so the cycle continues. A marked decline in the manufacturing sector hit Newark particularly hard around 2016, and there are few signs that the city is going to rebound.

Arvin, CA

USA Today ranked Arvin, CA, the 47th worst city to live in, and if a city is terrible to live in, what are the chances local employees are going to be happy living there? Seriously, they go hand-in-hand, and residents of Arvin — a landlocked wasteland in Southern California that looks like something straight out of Grapes of Wrath — are feeling the pain.

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Photo Courtesy: Kirk McKoy/Getty Images

Arvin has an astoundingly high poverty rate of 27.5%, which is a tough number to explain in relatively prosperous economic times, even for Arvin. It’s also the most dangerous city in the Bakersfield metropolitan area in terms of violent crime.

Fort Smith, AR

USA Today ranked Fort Smith, AR, as one of the worst cities to live in or work in in the United States. The reasoning was simple: It offers few economic opportunities, a poor educational system and lots of crime. Do you really need to hear more?

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Photo Courtesy: Brandonrush/Wikimedia Commons

Many people think of Southerners as being happy in general, but that isn’t true for the residents of Fort Smith. It’s home to the lowest percentage of adults with a bachelor's degree of any city in Arkansas, and the state is already low on the totem pole for its number of college-educated residents.

Toledo, OH

Toledo ranked near the bottom in WalletHub's Professional Opportunity rankings, which is why it's on this list of cities where employment isn’t great. Certainly, there are nice things about Toledo — the people, for one — but those who live there complain about relatively high crime rates, especially for its size.

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Photo Courtesy: Senior Master Sgt. Beth Holliker/US Air Force

It also faces a problem attracting and retaining quality professionals, something the city needs to improve its overall image. Although there are more crime-riddled, economically depressed areas in Ohio, Toledo's status as something of a major city attracts more attention to its warts, which include a less-than-desirable job market.

Mendota, CA

USA Today wasn’t kind to Mendota, CA, listing it as the single "worst" city in America to call home. It's easy to see how the writers could come to that conclusion, as the poverty rate in Mendota is a mind-numbing 49.5%. One in two people in Mendota doesn't have a job!

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Photo Courtesy: RichardHarrison/Wikimedia Commons

You can bet that any city where half the population is unemployed isn’t exactly bustling with quality jobs for those who do work there every day. Keep in mind that these numbers may be skewed by off-the-books jobs, but those jobs typically aren't very desirable either.

California City, CA

According to USA Today, California City, CA, is about as good at providing quality jobs for its residents as it is at coming up with an original name. It’s in the top 10% of unemployment rates in the nation, with just a tad fewer than 30% of its residents lacking a job.

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Photo Courtesy: Craig Dietrich/Flickr

Beyond that, it ranks in the top 25% of American cities in terms of violent crime — never a good thing — and it has the lowest percentage in terms of home values. It’s safe to say you won't find many Harvard graduates working in California City.

Highland Park, MI

Highland Park is a suburb of Detroit that is basically in the same boat as Detroit itself. With the slow death of American manufacturing and the American auto industry, in particular, parts of the city have turned into abandoned ghost towns, where the only thing higher than the crime rate is the unemployment rate.

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Photo Courtesy: Andrew Jameson/Wikimedia Commons

The poverty rate in Highland Park is 49%, and the 1,701 violent crimes per 100,000 people puts the city in the top 10% nationally — not a goal you ever want to achieve. The median household income hovers around the $15,000 mark, an unfathomable figure for most families.

Bessemer, AL

Bessemer, AL, is one of those tiny, rural Southern towns that you may not even realize is there until you're driving through it. Based on a Google Image search, its most defining feature is the railroad track running through town, but it’s also plagued with sky-high unemployment and poverty rates.

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Photo Courtesy: Bobak Ha'Eri/Wikimedia Commons

Bessemer isn't a place you want to find yourself if you’re in need of a job, let alone a good job. The poverty rate is just under 30%, and the 2,986 violent crimes per 100,000 people is in the top 10% percent in the nation.

Avenal, CA

Avenal, CA, is one of those towns where you see the old school movie theater and think, "Oh, that's cute!" But then you realize how little the town has progressed if that’s the only movie theater. Then you look at the economic statistics for the town and think, "Oh, that's sad!"

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Photo Courtesy: Armona/Wikimedia Commons

Avenal has an unemployment rate of more than 36%, and high poverty typically comes with high crime rates. Not surprisingly, Avenal is in the top 25% nationally in terms of violent crime, and unless someone invents a time machine for Avenal to hop in, that's unlikely to change.

Flint, MI

What did you say, most promising young job candidates in America? You don’t want lead and other toxic chemicals in your drinking and bathing water? Well, perhaps Flint, MI, isn’t the town for you! But you already knew that, didn't you?

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Photo Courtesy: kennethaw88/Wikimedia Commons

Flint has taken a ton of criticism for putting its residents at risk of death and disease due to years of neglect, corruption and mismanagement. It’s shocking, but it turns out that such patterns of behavior aren't great for attracting, retaining or creating happy employees. Flint's poverty rate is more than 41%, home values are virtually nonexistent and violent crime is rampant. Not good!

East St. Louis, IL

East St. Louis sits across the river from the main city in Illinois. It has all the trappings of most of the cities on this list: high crime, few professional opportunities, massive unemployment and a shortage of happy employees. The unemployment rate of more than 43% is in the top 10% in the country.

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Photo Courtesy: Paul Sableman/Flickr

Adding insult to injury, violent crime is in the top 10% percent as well. In fact, according to USA Today, East St. Louis is the most dangerous city in the United States. It has a steadily declining population base, and that is never a sign that a city is retaining happily employed all-stars in any industry.

Union City, GA

If you looked at Union City, GA, on a Google Image search, you might think it was quaint. It looks like one of those small, dot-on-the-map Southern towns that time forgot. Seemingly innocent enough, right? The stats tell a different story.

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Photo Courtesy: Thomson200/Wikimedia Commons

Union City ranks in the top 25% in terms of poverty. Perhaps more surprising (based on initial appearances) is the fact that the town ranks in the top 10% nationally in terms of violent crime. That leads to one simple fact: Those with good employment options don't want to work in a city where they could get robbed at any moment.

Firebaugh, CA

Firebaugh, CA, isn’t a particularly violent town. It’s just a landlocked desert city in South Central California that is as barren visually as it is in terms of employment. You get the idea from the photo. It’s one of those places where most residents can't wait to leave — if they only had a way out.

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Photo Courtesy: Joe Valtierra/Flickr

Unemployment is typically somewhere around 30%, a figure that is likely to remain level or even rise. There’s certainly no discernible reason for Firebaugh to see an influx of jobs at any point this century.

Bogalusa, LA

If you drive through or even near Bogalusa, LA, you will smell a distinct odor. You may think initially that it’s roadkill — yes, it smells that bad — but anyone familiar with the smell will tell you it’s just the paper plant. It turns out that cities that embrace the all-encompassing stink of papermaking aren't likely to attract many other quality employers.

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Photo Courtesy: Aaron Manning/Wikimedia Commons

Although the paper mill is an indispensable source of employment for the people of Bogalusa, it hasn’t prevented an unemployment rate of more than 36% for the town. The violent crime rate also ranks in the top 10% nationally.