Sunday, January 11, 2004

Tacoma earns top spot as most stressed city
Cloudy days, unemployment, divorce rate contributed

Associated Press

TACOMA -- After years of marketing itself as "America's No. 1 Wired City," Tacoma has earned itself a new, more dubious distinction: "America's Most Stressed-Out City."

In a survey based on divorces, suicides and other factors, the industrialized port city of 195,000 people topped the list, followed by Miami, then New Orleans, Las Vegas, New York City and Portland, Ore.

"Basically there wasn't one thing that stood out," said Bert Sperling, CEO of Fast Forward Inc., which produces
the BestPlaces Web site out of Portland, Ore.

BestPlaces is a ranking firm that conducted the survey, evaluating cities' performance in eight "stress index" categories: unemployment rate, divorce rate, commute time, crimes, suicide rate, alcohol consumption, self-reported "poor mental health" and cloudy days.

The city's divorce rate falls in the 95th percentile, with 12.4 percent of adults divorced. Its suicide rate is in the 92nd percentile. And its unemployment rate, which was 7.7 percent last fall when the data was collected, was well above the survey's average rate of 5.8 percent.

"It's cloudy in Tacoma much of the time, and the suicide and property crime rates are high," according to Sperling's Web site. "On a brighter note, Tacomans can feel safe from bodily harm thanks to the low violent crime rate."

Last year, Tacoma garnered national attention as the place where Washington, D.C.-area sniper John Allen Muhammad lived and whose police chief David Brame fatally shot his wife and killed himself.

Massage therapist Daisy Jo Compton said she notices the effects of stress in Tacoma every day in clients' knotted muscles. Before she begins kneading the tension away, she asks clients to rate their stress level that day on a scale of one to 10.

"People are between six and nine," she said.

"That's pretty high for a daily level."

Seattle, which shares Tacoma's cloudy days, high unemployment and trying commutes, was ranked No. 11 because of its lower rates of divorce, suicide and crime.

Tying for the least stressful cities -- where people stay married, employed and out of traffic -- were the tri-city areas Albany-Schenectady-Troy in New York and Harrisburg-Lebanon-Carlisle in Pennsylvania.

Sperling offered some consolation for Tacomans: "You were just the worst out of the 100 biggest cities. There are a lot of smaller places that are more stressful."


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