The 9 worst-run cities in the US

From managing public transit to deciding whether to raise taxes, running a city is a huge responsibility.

As more Americans move to metropolitan areas, cities are getting larger. (In 26 metropolitan areas, populations grew by more than 10% from 2010 to 2016.) The job of the city official is to balance the needs of these growing populations against their operating budget.

Some cities are doing a better job at this than others, according to a 2017 report by WalletHub. The personal finance site looked at the 150 largest US cities across six key categories: financial stability, education, health, safety, economy, and infrastructure. It then measured those dimensions using 33 metrics, like economic mobility and average commute time, and assigned each city a "Quality of Services" score.

Finally, WalletHub divided these scores by the cities' total budget per capita to compile the ranking. The goal was to see how well each city spends its public funds, measured against residents' quality of life.

The cities that received the lowest scores are below (with the "worst-run city" displayed at #1)​​​​​:

9 'worst-run' cities in the US
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9 'worst-run' cities in the US

9. Chattanooga, Tennessee

Quality of Services rank: 94

Total budget per capita rank: 146

(A higher rank means the city has more money to spend per resident but lower quality public services, compared to the other cities in the study.) 

Photo credit: Getty

8. Flint, Michigan

Quality of Services rank: 145

Total budget per capita rank: 129

Photo credit: Getty

7. Oakland, California

Quality of Services rank: 79

Total budget per capita rank: 147

Photo credit: Getty

6. Hartford, Connecticut

Quality of Services rank: 141

Total budget per capita rank: 137

Photo credit: Getty

5. Cleveland, Ohio

Quality of Services rank: 146

Total budget per capita rank: 133

Photo credit: Getty

4. San Francisco, California

Quality of Services rank: 29

Total budget per capita rank: 149

Photo credit: Getty

3. New York, New York

Quality of Services rank: 34

Total budget per capita rank: 148

Photo credit: Getty

2. Detroit, Michigan

Quality of Services rank: 150

Total budget per capita rank: 90

Photo credit: Getty

1. Washington, DC

Quality of Services rank: 102

Total budget per capita rank: 150

Photo credit: Getty


According to WalletHub's study, the nation's capital is the "worst-run" city in the US. Compared to the other cities, Washington, DC has the highest budget per capita and a relatively low quality of services score.

However, it's important to note that the ranking could be skewed. As local radio station WAMU points out, Washington, DC is a city that carries out county and state-level functions. Under WalletHub's methodology, it would appear that the city is spending a lot of money that doesn't improve the lives of its residents.

Other researchers say the reality is more complicated than that.

"Spending per capita is not a great metric, because it abstracts differences in places, costs of providing services, and the inputs they have to work with. Some places just happen to have more low-income kids or elderly people or more roads to maintain. There's the endowments you start with and what you choose to do with them," Tracy Gordon, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute's State and Local Finance Initiative, told WAMU.

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