Have you ever looked longingly at your neighbor’s backyard and grown envious? If you’ve wished your lawn were just as pretty and just as green as your neighbor’s, then you’ve succumb to “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence” syndrome.

That adage doesn’t apply just to lawns, though. It can apply to pretty much anything in your life. You think your buddy has a better job. You think your cousin has a faster car. You think your best friend has a nicer house.

The “grass is always greener” outlook also can pertain to the city where you live. “If only I lived in Metropolis,” you might think, “my life would be perfect.”

‘Flint Is Disappearing’

Flint Michigan

Flickr/Cat Branchman

Here at LawnStarter, we decided to extend the “grass is always greener” attitude to population-losing U.S. metro areas with at least 300,000 residents. For our “Grass Is Always Greener” Index, we sifted through data related to six yardsticks for assessing a metro area: population growth, economic growth, unemployment rate, time wasted in traffic, personal income growth and weather. In three of those categories, a lower number is worse; in the three other categories, a higher number is worse.

After we raked through the numbers, Flint, MI, appeared at the top of our “Grass Is Always Greener” Index. In other words, Flint — about an hour’s drive northwest of Detroit — performed worst overall when evenly weighting our six ranking factors.

Thanks to automaker General Motors and its thousands of high-paying jobs, Flint basked in economic success for decades. But as GM shifted automotive production from Flint to Mexico and other places, the city’s fortunes plummeted. Today, Flint — where GM got its start in 1908 — is a former shell of itself. It now ranks as one of the major dangerous cities in the U.S.

“Flint is disappearing. Literally,” the Grist.org website observed in 2011.

Moving Forward in Flint

Flint Michigan

Flickr/George Thomas

While plenty of gloom-and-doom remarks like that have been made about Flint, city leaders aren’t deterred. If anything, they’re determined.

Mayor Dayne Walling, who faces a re-election challenge, envisions a robust Flint, buoyed by more than $2.5 billion worth of investments in the local economy since 2009.

“Imagine Flint as a dynamic college town, a center of innovation and entrepreneurship, a top destination for medical sector companies, an international hub for trade and transportation, and a community where residents of all backgrounds share equally in Flint’s economic rebirth,” Walling says on his campaign website.

Of course, that economic rebirth will take some time. In the meantime, Flint tops our “Grass Is Always Greener” Index. From worst to not quite as bad, here are the 14 metro areas that made our list — a list that no local chamber of commerce would want to tout.

1. Flint, MI

Flint Michigan

Flickr/Michigan Municipal League

Population decrease (2010-2014)
Higher number is worse
Decrease: 3.03%
Rank among 14 metro areas: 1

Unemployment rate (July 2015)
Higher number is worse
Rate: 6.8%
Rank among 14 metro areas: 5

Average annual growth rate for metro economy (2014-2021 projected)
Lower number is worse
Rate: 3.3%
Rank among 14 metro areas: 2

Average number of hours wasted in traffic (2014)
Higher number is worse
Hours: 25
Rank among 14 metro areas: 5

Increase in average per-capita personal income (2012-2013)
Lower number is worse
Increase: 1.62%
Rank among 14 metro areas: 9

Number of pleasant weather days per year
Lower number is worse
Days: 53
Rank among 14 metro areas: 7

2. Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, PA

Scranton PA

Flickr/Doug Kerr

Population decrease (2010-2014)
Higher number is worse
Decrease: 0.70%
Rank among 14 metro areas: 5

Unemployment rate (July 2015)
Higher number is worse
Rate: 6.8%
Rank among 14 metro areas: 4

Average annual growth rate for metro economy (2014-2021 projected)
Lower number is worse
Rate: 3.9%
Rank among 14 metro areas: 9

Average number of hours wasted in traffic (2014)
Higher number is worse
Hours: 21
Rank among 14 metro areas: 9

Increase in average per-capita personal income (2012-2013)
Lower number is worse
Increase: 1.28%
Rank among 14 metro areas: 6

Number of pleasant weather days per year
Lower number is worse
Days: 43
Rank among 14 metro areas: 1

3. Huntington, WV

Huntington West Virginia

Flickr/Nicholas Eckhart

Population decrease (2010-2014)
Higher number is worse
Decrease: 0.44%
Rank among 14 metro areas: 7

Unemployment rate (July 2015)
Higher number is worse
Rate: 6.9%
Rank among 14 metro areas: 2

Average annual growth rate for metro economy (2014-2021 projected)
Lower number is worse
Rate: 3.8%
Rank among 14 metro areas: 7

Average number of hours wasted in traffic (2014)
Higher number is worse
Hours: 16
Rank among 14 metro areas: 13

Increase in average per-capita personal income (2012-2013)
Lower number is worse
Increase: 0.73%
Rank among 14 metro areas: 3

Number of pleasant weather days per year
Lower number is worse
Days: 51
Rank among 14 metro areas: 3

4. Youngstown, OH

Youngstown OH

Flickr/Steve Bott

Population decrease (2010-2014)
Higher number is worse
Decrease: 2.22%
Rank among 14 metro areas: 2

Unemployment rate (July 2015)
Higher number is worse
Rate: 6.1%
Rank among 14 metro areas: 8

Average annual growth rate for metro economy (2014-2021 projected)
Lower number is worse
Rate: 3.1%
Rank among 14 metro areas: 1

Average number of hours wasted in traffic (2014)
Higher number is worse
Hours: 20
Rank among 14 metro areas: 10

Increase in average per-capita personal income (2012-2013)
Lower number is worse
Increase: 1.59%
Rank among 14 metro areas: 9

Number of pleasant weather days per year
Lower number is worse
Days: 57
Rank among 14 metro areas: 8

5. Kingsport, TN

Kingsport TN

Flickr/J. Stephen Conn

Population decrease (2010-2014)
Higher number is worse
Decrease: 0.47%
Rank among 14 metro areas: 6

Unemployment rate (July 2015)
Higher number is worse
Rate: 6.3%
Rank among 14 metro areas: 7

Average annual growth rate for metro economy (2014-2021 projected)
Lower number is worse
Rate: 3.9%
Rank among 14 metro areas: 8

Average number of hours wasted in traffic (2014)
Higher number is worse
Hours: 15
Rank among 14 metro areas: 14

Increase in average per-capita personal income (2012-2013)
Lower number is worse
Increase: 0.34%
Rank among 14 metro areas: 1

Number of pleasant weather days per year
Lower number is worse
Days: 52
Rank among 14 metro areas: 5

6. Syracuse, NY

Syracuse NY

Flickr/Zhu

Population decrease (2010-2014)
Higher number is worse
Decrease: 0.17%
Rank among 14 metro areas: 10

Unemployment rate (July 2015)
Higher number is worse
Rate: 5.6%
Rank among 14 metro areas: 12

Average annual growth rate for metro economy (2014-2021 projected)
Lower number is worse
Rate: 3.4%
Rank among 14 metro areas: 3

Average number of hours wasted in traffic (2014)
Higher number is worse
Hours: 22
Rank among 14 metro areas: 8

Increase in average per-capita personal income (2012-2013)
Lower number is worse
Increase: 0.60%
Rank among 14 metro areas: 2

Number of pleasant weather days per year
Lower number is worse
Days: 53
Rank among 14 metro areas: 6

7. Montgomery, AL

Montgomery Alabama

Flickr/Robert Warner

Population decrease (2010-2014)
Higher number is worse
Decrease: 0.37%
Rank among 14 metro areas: 8

Unemployment rate (July 2015)
Higher number is worse
Rate: 6.6%
Rank among 14 metro areas: 5

Average annual growth rate for metro economy (2014-2021 projected)
Lower number is worse
Rate: 4.1%
Rank among 14 metro areas: 12

Average number of hours wasted in traffic (2014)
Higher number is worse
Hours: 24
Rank among 14 metro areas: 6

Increase in average per-capita personal income (2012-2013)
Lower number is worse
Increase: 1.9%
Rank among 14 metro areas: 12

Number of pleasant weather days per year
Lower number is worse
Days: 51
Rank among 14 metro areas: 4

8. New Haven, CT

New Haven CT

Flickr/Alexander Rabb

Population decrease (2010-2014)

Higher number is worse
Decrease: 0.14%
Rank among 14 metro areas: 12

Unemployment rate (July 2015)
Higher number is worse
Rate: 5.8%
Rank among 14 metro areas: 10

Average annual growth rate for metro economy (2014-2021 projected)
Lower number is worse
Rate: 4%
Rank among 14 metro areas: 11

Average number of hours wasted in traffic (2014)
Higher number is worse
Hours: 40
Rank among 14 metro areas: 1

Increase in average per-capita personal income (2012-2013)
Lower number is worse
Increase: 1.1%
Rank among 14 metro areas: 5

Number of pleasant weather days per year
Lower number is worse
Days: 59
Rank among 14 metro areas: 9

9. Rockford, IL

Rockford Illinois

Flickr/Alexander Rabb

Population decrease (2010-2014)
Higher number is worse
Decrease: 2.01%
Rank among 14 metro areas: 3

Unemployment rate (July 2015)
Higher number is worse
Rate: 7.1%
Rank among 14 metro areas: 1

Average annual growth rate for metro economy (2014-2021 projected)
Lower number is worse
Rate: 4.4%
Rank among 14 metro areas: 14

Average number of hours wasted in traffic (2014)
Higher number is worse
Hours: 23
Rank among 14 metro areas: 7

Increase in average per-capita personal income (2012-2013)
Lower number is worse
Increase: 2%
Rank among 14 metro areas: 13

Number of pleasant weather days per year
Lower number is worse
Days: 60
Rank among 14 metro areas: 10

10. Hickory, NC

Hickory North Carolina

The Inline Group

Population decrease (2010-2014)
Higher number is worse
Decrease: 0.71%
Rank among 14 metro areas: 4

Unemployment rate (July 2015)
Higher number is worse
Rate: 6.3%
Rank among 14 metro areas: 6

Average annual growth rate for metro economy (2014-2021 projected)
Lower number is worse
Rate: 4.2%
Rank among 14 metro areas: 13

Average number of hours wasted in traffic (2014)
Higher number is worse
Hours: 19
Rank among 14 metro areas: 11

Increase in average per-capita personal income (2012-2013)
Lower number is worse
Increase: 0.90%
Rank among 14 metro areas: 4

Number of pleasant weather days per year
Lower number is worse
Days: 78
Rank among 14 metro areas: 14

11. Pittsburgh, PA

Pittsburgh PA

Flickr/Mr.TinDC

Population decrease (2010-2014)
Higher number is worse
Decrease: 0.013%
Rank among 14 metro areas: 14

Unemployment rate (July 2015)
Higher number is worse
Rate: 5.8%
Rank among 14 metro areas: 9

Average annual growth rate for metro economy (2014-2021 projected)
Lower number is worse
Rate: 4%
Rank among 14 metro areas: 10

Average number of hours wasted in traffic (2014)
Higher number is worse
Hours: 39
Rank among 14 metro areas: 2

Increase in average per-capita personal income (2012-2013)
Lower number is worse
Increase: 1.60%
Rank among 14 metro areas: 7

Number of pleasant weather days per year
Lower number is worse
Days: 64
Rank among 14 metro areas: 11

12. Toledo, OH

Toledo OH

Flickr/C Hanchey

Population decrease (2010-2014)
Higher number is worse
Decrease: 0.42%
Rank among 14 metro areas: 9

Unemployment rate (July 2015)
Higher number is worse
Rate: 5%
Rank among 14 metro areas: 14

Average annual growth rate for metro economy (2014-2021 projected)
Lower number is worse
Rate: 4.4%
Rank among 14 metro areas: 14

Average number of hours wasted in traffic (2014)
Higher number is worse
Hours: 38
Rank among 14 metro areas: 4

Increase in average per-capita personal income (2012-2013)
Lower number is worse
Increase: 1.8%
Rank among 14 metro areas: 11

Number of pleasant weather days per year
Lower number is worse
Days: 64
Rank among 14 metro areas: 12

13. Canton, OH

Canton OH

Flickr/Jon Dawson

Population decrease (2010-2014)
Higher number is worse
Decrease: 0.12%
Rank among 14 metro areas: 11

Unemployment rate (July 2015)
Higher number is worse
Rate: 5.2%
Rank among 14 metro areas: 13

Average annual growth rate for metro economy (2014-2021 projected)
Lower number is worse
Rate: 3.6%
Rank among 14 metro areas: 4

Average number of hours wasted in traffic (2014)
Higher number is worse
Number: 16
Rank among 14 metro areas: 12

Increase in average per-capita personal income (2012-2013)
Lower number is worse
Increase: 3%
Rank among 14 metro areas: 14

Number of pleasant weather days per year
Lower number is worse
Days: 50
Rank among 14 metro areas: 2

14. Cleveland, OH

Cleveland OH

Flickr/Canadian Pacific

Population decrease (2010-2014)
Higher number is worse
Decrease: 0.66%
Rank among 14 metro areas: 13

Unemployment rate (July 2015)
Higher number is worse
Rate: 5.6%
Rank among 14 metro areas: 11

Average annual growth rate for metro economy (2014-2021 projected)
Lower number is worse
Rate: 3.7%
Rank among 14 metro areas: 6

Average number of hours wasted in traffic (2014)
Higher number is worse
Hours: 38
Rank among 14 metro areas: 3

Increase in average per-capita personal income (2012-2013)
Lower number is worse
Increase: 1.8%
Rank among 14 metro areas: 10

Number of pleasant weather days per year
Lower number is worse
Days: 65
Rank among 14 metro areas: 13

Data sources

factfinder.census.gov/faces/nav/jsf/pages/index.xhtml
www.bls.gov/web/metro/laummtrk.htm
usmayors.org/metroeconomies/0615/report.pdf
mobility.tamu.edu/ums/
lwd.state.nj.us/labor/lpa/industry/incpov/msa_pci.xls
www.kellegous.com/j/2014/02/03/pleasant-places/

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