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.