WalletHub Says California Has the 23 Worst Small Cities in America

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Residents of the small city of Bell (pop. 35,477), wracked by scandalous government behavior that drained their treasury and embarrassed them nationally, have had good reason to feel like life doesn’t get any worse than that.

WalletHub agrees, rating the Los Angeles County town last among 1,268 small cities surveyed nationally, based on 22 criteria. The cities have between 25,000 and 100,000 residents. Not only did Bell barely beat out neighbor Huntington Park for the final spot, California towns occupied the last 23 places on the list.

Many of them were in the industrial, low-income areas southeast of the city of Los Angeles. In fact, the bottom seven are all neighbors, only interrupted by Watsonville (1,261), in the Monterey Bay area and Kern County’s Delano (1,260).

Of 206 California cities on the list, 179 are in the bottom half. California’s top-rated city is Los Gatos (109), followed by Los Altos (122), Manhattan Beach (179), Walnut Creek (231) and Palo Alto (236). Beverly Hills shows up at 325, not too far ahead of Folsom (415).

Apparently having too many jewelry stores is as bad as having a prison in your midst. WalletHub’s methodology, such as it is, relies on four categories of equal 25-point weight: Affordability, Economic Health, Education & Health and Quality of Life. That last one uses 10 separate criteria, including commute time, number of restaurants, percentage of millennial newcomers, crime and number of bars.

The average score for all 1,268 cities is 44.1 out of 100. The California average is 38.9. Princeton, New Jersey, is an overwhelming No. 1 overall, on the strength of being #1 in economic health and #7 in education & health. Princeton is not affordable (ranked 1,141), but the rich people living around Princeton University probably don’t care about that. Bell is nearly last in every category.

As usual, high-priced California gets massacred on affordability. Only seven cities in the state are in the top half, compared to 198 that are not. One hundred are in top half of the list of economic health, compared to 106 that aren’t. Only 25 cities are in the first half for education & health and 96 make the cut for quality of life.

WalletHub might have some biases built into their formula. The introduction to the story extols the virtue of small-town America and describes it thusly: “Not everyone craves the bright lights and crowded spaces of the big city. For those who are a bit more claustrophobic, appreciate fewer degrees of separation and want more bang for their buck, small-city life is hard to beat.”

But many of the cities on the list are not quiet, bucolic communities. They are urban hellholes of poverty, hosting people of color, and largely abandoned by wealthier neighbors who strive mightily to pretend they don’t exist.

California Cities—The Best

Rank City Score
109 Los Gatos 51.32
122 Los Altos 50.94
179 Manhattan Beach 49.96
231 Walnut Creek 49.29
236 Palo Alto 49.20
270 Menlo Park 48.79
280 Saratoga 48.61
325 Beverly Hills 47.73
415 Folsom 46.61
443 Encinitas 46.23


. . . and Worst 23

1246 Hemet 32.65
1247 Merced 32.63
1248 Los Banos 32.61
1249 Montebello 32.55
1250 Soledad 32.35
1251 Desert Hot Springs 32.32
1252 Bellflower 32.31
1253 Wasco 32.24
1254 Rosemead 31.87
1255 National City 31.55
1256 Hawthorne 31.21
1257 Baldwin Park 30.82
1258 Perris 30.73
1259 Paramount 30.65
1260 Delano 30.09
1261 Watsonville 29.50
1262 South Gate 29.12
1263 Maywood 29.06
1264 Lynwood 29.00
1265 Compton 28.63
1266 Bell Gardens 27.76
1267 Huntington Park 27.59
1268 Bell 26.78



–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

2015’s Best & Worst Small Cities in America (by Richie Bernardo, WalletHub)

Small California Cities Rank Poorly in Health, Quality of Life Measures (California Healthline)

All 20 "Worst Small Cities in America" in California (by Chriss W. Street, Breitbart)

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