America's best- and worst-run cities

Many qualities separate these locales, but perhaps the most important is access to jobs.

By MSN Money Partner Jan 9, 2012 11:44AM

Miami beach © Gary John Norman/Lifesize/Getty Images24/7 Wall St. on MSN MoneyBy Michael Sauter, Charles Stockdale and Ashley Allen


24/7 Wall St. has completed its first ranking of the best-run and worst-run cities in America. We reviewed the local economies, fiscal discipline and standard of living of the 100 largest cities by population to determine how well each is managed. Based on these data, 24/7 Wall St. ranked the 100 cities from the best to worst run. The best-run city is Virginia Beach, Va. The worst-run city is Miami, Fla.
Four of the 10 best-run cities are the economic centers of their regions. Madison, Wis., is one of the best-run cities on our list, and its businesses employ the most people in the area. Six of the best-run cities serve as residential communities for larger metropolitan areas that are the economic centers. For example, Scottsdale, Ariz., is a large city in its own right but is often referred to as a suburb of Phoenix.
Frequently, these so-called edge cities have also developed their own vibrant economies. Plano, Texas, is part of the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area. However, the city has a booming tech community, with large offices of major corporations such as Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) and Dell (DELL).
Nine of the 10 worst-run cities rely on older industries that are shrinking. Hialeah, Fla., was an important textile hub in the 1960s through the 1980s. Cleveland, Ohio, was one of the nation's leaders in steel production. Detroit, Mich., of course, manufactured cars. Since their booms, all of these cities have shed tens of thousands of jobs.
Many of the worst-run cities have been in bad shape for years. While residents who were able to moved away, those without resources remained. As a result, the cities' expenses have remained high while their tax bases have shrunk. The populations of four of the worst-run cities decreased between 2000 and 2010. Detroit lost nearly 240,000 residents. On the other hand, the populations of all the best-run cities increased.
While there is a strong relationship between high median income and high ranking, there is an even stronger relationship to poverty. While most of the best-run cities have more households making over $200,000 per year than the national average, none of the top 10 cities have high poverty rates. For example, Lincoln, Neb., has only the 33rd-highest median income among the largest cities but the 11th-lowest percentage of households making less than $10,000 per year.
For the most part, the best-run cities manage their debt and resources well. The worst-run cities do not. Moody's provided credit ratings and analysis for 16 of the 20 cities on the lists. The two cities that are the best run and that do not have credit ratings, Fremont and Irvine, Calif., do not have a need to finance government projects through debt. Their wealthy and large tax base would suggest that is the case. Hialeah, Fla., one of the worst-run cities according to our ranking, told 24/7 Wall St. that it did not issue city debt because it had other debt instruments to raise money for government projects. San Bernadino, Calif., the other worst-run city without a credit rating, did not return 24/7 Wall St.'s calls.
The 3 best-run cities in the US:

1. Virginia Beach, Va.

  • Violent crime per 1,000 people: 1.88 (8th-lowest)
  • Poverty rate: 7.5% (3rd-lowest)
  • Adult population that graduated from high school: 93.1% (5th-highest)
  • Credit rating: Aaa (negative outlook)
  • Population: 439,172

Virginia Beach is, by our measurement, the best-run city in the U.S. Located on the eastern shore of Virginia, the city is one of the most prosperous in the country. Out of the 100 largest cities, it has among the 10 lowest rates of violent crime, unemployment, and poverty. It's also among the 10 best for median income, high school graduation and health insurance coverage. Moody's listed Virginia Beach's three main strengths as a "large and diverse tax base stabilized by the presence of military bases," the city’s "strong and carefully managed financial position" and "comprehensive financial policies and conservative budgeting approach." The city’s credit rating is a perfect Aaa.


2. Irvine, Calif.

  • Violent crime per 1,000 people: 0.55 (5th-lowest)
  • Poverty rate: 12.3% (9th-lowest)
  • Adult population graduated from high school: 95.7% (2nd-highest)
  • Credit rating: None
  • Population: 212,982

Irvine has a violent crime rate of just 0.55 per 1,000 people, the fifth-lowest score among the major cities on our list. The city is also among the 10 best for home vacancy, unemployment, median income and high school graduation. In 2008, CNN Money rated it the fourth-best place to live in the U.S. According to Craig Reem, the director of public affairs and communications, "we are seeing a gradual improvement in our local economy that allows us to move from recession-ready to recovery-ready. The City Council plans conservatively: This past fiscal year (2010-2011), we outperformed our budget expectations by nearly $14 million."
3. Madison, Wis.

  • Violent crime per 1,000 people: 3.92 (21st-lowest)
  • Poverty rate: 18.7% (40th-lowest)
  • Adult population graduated from high school: 95.1% (3rd-highest)
  • Credit rating: Aaa (stable outlook)
  • Population: 233,777

Madison, the other capital city on our list, was incorporated in the mid-1800. Madison is not a particularly wealthy city, with a median household income of just more than $50,000. Nevertheless, the capital has a perfect Aaa (stable) credit rating, as well as extremely low unemployment and home vacancy rates. Madison city administrative analyst Tim Fruit says, "Over the past few years, we have really made a significant effort toward more carefully planning our six-year capital improvement program. In the past, the out years were not well scrutinized. Now we try to analyze and balance the out years much more carefully."

The 3 worst-run cities in the US:


1. Miami, Fla.

  • Violent crime per 1,000 people: 11.08 (13th-highest)
  • Poverty rate: 32.4% (5th-highest)
  • Adult population graduated from high school: 68.2% (4th-lowest)
  • Credit rating: A2 (stable outlook)
  • Population: 400,892

According to a 2011 UBS study, Miami is the richest city in the country and the fourth-richest city in the world by domestic purchasing power. However, a 2011 study by the Census Bureau found the Miami metropolitan area also had the second-highest income inequality rate in the nation -- probably due to the incredibly high percentage of households living in poverty. Despite the city's wealth, Miami's median household income of $27,291 is the third-smallest among the 100 biggest cities. Its poverty rate of 32.4% is the fifth-highest. The city faces a handful of other problems. Only 68.2% of adults have a high school diploma or more -- the fourth-lowest rate. Also, 22.5% of housing units are vacant, which is the fifth-highest percentage. A 2011 Brookings Institute report put Miami among the 20 weakest-performing metropolitan statistical areas in the country with regards to recovering from the recession, due in large part to the crash of its housing market.

2. Detroit, Mich.

  • Violent crime per 1,000 people: 18.87 (the highest)
  • Poverty rate: 37.6% (the highest)
  • Adult population graduated from high school: 77.4% (18th-lowest)
  • Credit rating: Ba3 (on review)
  • Population: 711,910

Despite being more notorious for its troubles than any other major U.S. city, Detroit managed to avoid the title of worst-run city in the country. The city has been in a tough spot for decades, but continued problems with corruption and poor management have not helped matters. Detroit already sports the worst credit rating awarded by Moody's and is the only one of the 100 largest cities in the U.S. to have a rating below investment grade. Worse still, the agency is reviewing the Ba3 rating, which already had a negative outlook, after the state of Michigan announced that it's evaluating whether the city's troubles constitute an economic crisis. Of the 100 largest cities, Detroit has the highest home vacancy rate, the highest unemployment rate, the highest poverty rate, the worst violent crime rate and the lowest median household income.

3. Newark, N.J.

  • Violent crime per 1,000 people: 10.29 (21st-highest)
  • Poverty rate: 30.2% (10th-highest)
  • Adult population graduated from high school: 69.2% (6th-lowest)
  • Credit rating: A3 (negative outlook)
  • Population: 277,232

Newark has a very high rate of poverty, reaching 30.2% in 2010. Its median household income is $32,043, the ninth-lowest among the 100 largest cities. Less than 70% of the adult population has a high school diploma or more — the sixth-lowest rate. Meanwhile, Newark's violent crime rate has been increasing. In late November 2010, the city laid off nearly 15% of its police force. By May 2011, the annual homicide rate had increased by a stunning 65%. Robberies, burglaries and thefts increased as well.

More from 24/7 Wall St.


Jan 9, 2012 1:35PM
no surprise with miami being no 1. ever since castro flushed his toilets in 1980, the city was overrun with cubans. now its a cho-cho melting pot with hispanic politicians running the city into the ground. if it were not for the developers and the wealthy people in miami beach who prop up the region economically, miami would STILL be a war zone like it was in 1980! 
Jan 9, 2012 2:43PM

I am Puerto Rican and I've been to Miami. My sister lives there (she loves it). My only problem is that a lot of the Hispanic minorities where my sister lives think they own the area. My sister works as a teller all of them speak Spanish except one.  A lady came up to the teller who doesn't speak English and cursed her out and ranted in Spanish saying "why can't you speak Spanish? You live in Miami, everyone speaks Spanish." And proceeded to bash the lady who's at least 50 years old until the manager put her in her place by saying this is America where they speak English and kicked her out of the bank.


Miami might be beautiful for most. Personally I don't care for it. They have beautiful people. But what Miami lacks is the proper education and respect. I don't care how beautiful you are, if you can't respect another person, you are deemed ugly in my book.

Jan 9, 2012 3:58PM
detroit is a prime example of social engineering. 600,000 white people have been driven out of Detroit  by violent crime,pathetic schools,a bumbling circus of  a city counsel,corrupt mayor after corrupt mayor,a black hatred towards whites that starts in the churches and grade schools,and two major hurricanes that hit detroit in the seventies and nineties called hurricane HUD  which gutted the city worse than Katrina. 
 if anybody wants to see social engineering close ,GOOGLE Detroit and zoom in at the detriot border and its suburbs .Detroit looks like bombed out Berlin and across the street is a thriving neiborhood in any of Detroits suburbs because HUD money   wasn't  being used to artificially lower or raise property values.  
Jan 9, 2012 3:21PM
I am amazed that Chicago is not listed as one of those cities.  Chicago (and Illinois in general) is second only to New Orleans in crime and corruption.  Most of the public officials are on the take from either the unions or the mob--both of which really run the city.  The Mayor and the aldermen/women , the judges all the way down to the meter maids are lining their pockets with shady money.  And yes, I'm a resident of the city of Chicago and I pay attention to whats going on in my city.
Jan 9, 2012 4:12PM
Worst run should be Washington D.C!! Rape is over the top cause they screw all of us everyday! 
Jan 9, 2012 3:31PM
Detroit at number 2? That's pretty hilarious. Miami Beach is considered a trendy hot spot. So much so, the elite in this country wouldn't be caught dead without one of their homes there. Detroit, on the other hand, has no redeeming qualities. Their government officials, much like the population, is best described as ignorant entitlement babies.

There is no city in the union even remotely as trashy as Detroit. Period.
Jan 9, 2012 2:06PM
Detroiters owe much of this award to Kwame Kilpatrick.  Can't believe how one guy can screw so many people and still get re-elected!  WOW! 
Jan 9, 2012 2:05PM
Whoever wrote this definately has his facts straight when it comes to Miami being #1 as worst run city in the Nation. I unfortunately live there and everyday this city runs like a dysfunctional 3rd world country. Not to mention I risk my life every day getting inside my car. Whoever said Marielitos had to do with this they are wrong. It's what's coming now from Cuba and other parts of Latin America. I used to love the diversity but now I can't stand the dysfuctional mentality they bring from their country and their resistance to adapt to the American way of life (just in case you're misinterpreting what I'm saying, I'm born in the US from parents who are Cubans who came from the 60's). Soon as the economy gets better I'm gone!
Jan 9, 2012 2:51PM
well lets see the 3 best our a mostly white population area while the 3 worse are almost all Black and Spanish does anybody get it yet
Jan 9, 2012 1:45PM
Yeah....   Madison, Wisconsin with their union-sanctioned, tax-payer funded $150,000/ year bus drivers.     The only thing that keeps Madison afloat are education (University of Wisconsin-Madison) and health care (Wisconsin-hub).    If the taxpayers go bankrupt due to the unruly government-sector unions, both of these 'industries' will go up in flames....and the city of Madison will go right up with them.    It's EXPENSIVE to live and work in Madison.....I know....I tried it for a few years.     I found Chicago to be less expensive with greater opportunities.    In Madison, even dudes working in car washes have Masters degrees.   Go figure...........
Jan 9, 2012 2:25PM
Newark, Detroit and Miami-Dade are classic examples of "Negrocracy."  The municipal government is dominated in each city by African-Americans, and although there's no law against non-blacks serving in city government, non-blacks are effectively prohibited from running for municipal office.  The result of any Negrocracy (e.g. Detroit, New Orleans, St. Louis, Washington, Baltimore under Shmoke, NYC under Dinkins) is always the same - cronyism, corruption and urban decay. 
Jan 9, 2012 4:23PM
I live in the suburbs of Detroit.  I moved here 20-some years ago from Miami... so I know a bit about bad cities!  :)  That said, Detroit is clearly the worst city in America and it has been for decades.  One needs to remember that the only people who still live in the city are the people unable to move out -- from about 1925 to the late 50s this is a city that rivaled Chicago as the greatest and largest city in the midwest, in 1955 the population was around 2.5 million.  Today, (similar to but worse than Chicago) Detroit stands as a beacon for liberalism and all that is wrong with the Democrat Party, having elected Democrats every election since 1962.  (Other than Dennis Archer, they were also all crooks!)  Today the city is basically bankrupt, with huge debts owed to pensioners (many former political appointments) that can never be repaid.  The last ones out should turn off the lights and roll up the sidewalks. Sadly, if we continue to elect liberals this is but a snapshot of the future of our nation.
Jan 9, 2012 1:49PM
I'm surprised Washington DC isn't on the Worst list.  Every day there's a story about govt corruption, councilmembers going to jail, Mayor under investigation.  Crime is usually pretty high as well.
Jan 9, 2012 2:45PM
I wholeheartedly agree with the statistics as far as Miami FL is concerned. I have lived here for over 20 year and have seen firsthand how the quality of life has dwindled due to a variety of problems - overcrowding, poverty, crime, not the least of which is racial inequalities that hinder progress for many people. When a sports complex paid for with residents' tax money, then turn around and open the complex stating that the several thousand of jobs available will only be considered for bilingual (aka spanish speakingi ) applicants, then you know what kind of problems this city faces. No one asks
Jan 9, 2012 2:01PM
Take the Navy out of Virginia Beach and watch what happens!
Jan 9, 2012 4:19PM
Jan 9, 2012 2:49PM

Buffalo, NY is the 3rd poorest citiy in the nation and less than 50% of high scholl studenst graduate.


The downtown is vacant after 5pm and The housing is falling apart.


Their sports teams sink. Not a single playoff for the Bills since 2000 and the Sabres are a disaster.


The city looks liked it was bombed in WW II.


Uppity snooty enivornmental liberal  idiots cause the city to build nothing while old buildings they save crumbled and open spaces are filled with garbage and rats.

Jan 9, 2012 2:53PM
I lived in Madison for ten years of my life, then LA and I find most cities are behind on education...educatio​n is now what is needed most in LA and on West coast... Education is the heart of it all. To many taught in to many languages right now, need English as base, with secondary as chosen, takes five years just to assimilate to US from other systems. America is falling behind, we need less bond issues and more leadership. 
Jan 9, 2012 1:44PM
Without a doubt, the WORST run city in the US is Birmingham, Alabama, but B'ham is probably not big enough to qualify for the poll.  It is the model of corruption by which ALL of its suburbs are managed.  The record-setting bankruptcy of Jefferson County is primarily the result of BIRMINGHAM!
Jan 9, 2012 2:05PM
Detroit certainly has its problems, but the "worst managed" title is misleading.  It replaced its crooked, incarcerated mayor with a successful businessman, Dave Bing, who took on a job that he didn't need the money or aggravation for, and is making hard decisions in the right direction.  He won't solve all of Detroit's problems, but he is both honest and competent.
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