Deep, dark depression, excessive misery . . .
That, according to Forbes.com, is what I should be feeling, but as a native Michigander, I find it hard to be miserable, let alone depressed, on a cloudless day in February. Even mere half-Poles are naturally pessimistic, but a blazing sun in a bright blue sky greatly diminishes the need to take a pull on the bottle of Zubrówka.
Still, the reasons why Forbes.com says I should be miserable remain. On February 18, the website published its third annual ranking of America’s Most Miserable Cities. The Forbes Misery Measure “takes into account unemployment, as well as eight other issues that cause people anguish”:
The metrics include taxes (both sales and income), commute times, violent crime and how its pro sports teams have fared over the past two years. We also factored in two indexes put together by Portland, Ore., researcher Bert Sperling that gauge weather and Superfund pollution sites. Lastly we considered corruption based on convictions of public officials in each area as tracked by the Public Integrity Section of the U.S. Department of Justice.
Anyone who has read this column over the past decade can see where this is going. Unemployment in Rockford is at levels not seen since the recession of the late 70’s and early 80’s, and our sales tax (8.25 percent on most things; 9.25 percent in restaurants) is ridiculous for a city our size. The Rockford Files evolved out of Chronicles’ coverage of a Superfund district in southeast Rockford, and Tom Fleming can tell you just how miserable the weather is here (sunny February days notwithstanding).
On the other hand, all of our sports teams are minor league, but they don’t do too badly; there’s no commute time to speak of, unless your job is 70 miles away in Chicago; and no public officials have been convicted recently (though that does not mean there is no corruption). As for violent crime, Rockford’s rates are high for a city this size, but still about average for the state of Illinois. And as everyone other than Ron Unz knows, in most cities of any size violent crime tends to be confined not only to certain neighborhoods but to certain segments of the population. I live and work and worship on the “high-crime” west side of Rockford, and I walk from home to office to church at all hours of the day and night without any fear for my safety.
To read, therefore, that Rockford is the 14th most miserable city in the United States came as a bit of a shock. My only consolation is that, unlike Chronicles contributing editor Tom Piatak, I don’t live in Cleveland, the most miserable city. (Though having spent a long weekend there for Tom’s wedding three years ago, I’ve largely overcome my Michigander aversion to the Mistake on the Lake, and my Polish side even looks forward to spending more time in Cleveland, the Polka Town.)
This is Rockford’s first year on the list; Forbes increased the cities it examined from the 150 largest metropolitan statistical areas to the top 200, and Rockford got scooped up in the lower 50. So it’s too early to tell whether we’re headed up or headed down, but in the end, it hardly matters, if only because the lists that Forbes and Money Magazine and other publications put out are designed less to enlighten than to sell magazines.
If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all . . .
What does matter is that Rockford sits where it does on this year’s list not through bad luck, or even through the actions of local government, but largely because of the kinds of economic policies that Forbes, the aptly named “Capitalist Tool,” has pushed in print and on the web, not to mention in editor-in-chief Steve Forbes’ 1996 and 2000 runs for the Republican nomination for president.
Free trade, merger mania, globalization, outsourcing, offshoring, financial instruments more akin to roulette than to sound investment vehicles—Forbes has supported them all. While Rockford’s manufacturing base eroded and local governments (city and county) raised taxes to deal with the effects of unemployment and crime, local businesses and even banks fell victim to the credit crunch after the nationwide housing bubble burst.
And then Forbes has the gall to rub salt in our wounds, all so it can generate a few days of headlines on websites and the business pages of newspapers. And now the sun has gone down, and the cold is creeping into my office, and that bottle of Zubrówka is looking mighty comforting.
Gloom, despair, and agony on me.