Opinion: Duluth ‘least-stressed city’ in the nation? not so fast

Photo by Alex Ganeev. 

Photo by Alex Ganeev. 

In 2014, Duluth was named “Best town in America” by Outside Magazine. With all of the outdoor activities people can partake in year-round, Duluth was definitely a fitting candidate. After this title, it wasn’t much of a surprise when Duluth was named the “Fittest City” by the makers of the Fitbit fitness monitor earlier in 2017.


However, Duluth recently received a ranking that made me raise an eyebrow: “Least-Stressed City in America.”


This ranking was carried out by smartasset.com, and they judged cities based on nine factors: average hours residents work per week, average commute times, percent of residents who are getting sufficient physical activity, density of entertainment establishments, unemployment rate, bankruptcy rate, housing costs as a percent of income, average amount of sleep per night and the divorce rate. Smartasset pointed out a few of these factors about Duluth on their website.


“Duluth took the top spot for the least-stressed city in America, jumping up from third in last year’s study. One of the benefits of working in Duluth is the relatively short work weeks. The average work week in Duluth is 35 hours, a slight increase from last year.”
“If you worked less what sort of things might you do? Sleep more? That is exactly what Duluth residents seem to do. The average resident here comes pretty close to getting the recommended eight hours per night, sleeping an average of 7.2 hours per night. That’s the fifth-most in the country. If this has convinced you to move to Duluth, be aware that the income taxes in Minnesota are high.”


While the reasons for ranking Duluth least-stressed seem valid on the surface, there are some glaring ways in which the city may not be the right choice for the top of this list.


So, with the sentiment that Duluth is starting to get a little full of itself, here are some factors that were not taken into account with the highly subjective label of “least-stressed city in America.”



Few things are more jarring than running over an unseen Duluth pothole. Every summer, it feels like driving to any location is a practice in evasive driving. The varying weather conditions -- freezing and unfreezing that occurs in the winter in particular -- greatly contribute to rough road conditions. The city’s infamous 2012 summer flood made matters even worse.

In a 2015 National Citizens survey, 91 percent of Duluth residents surveyed lacked confidence in the city’s streets. The Pavement Condition Index (PCI), an industry rating to determine pavement conditions on a scale of 1-100, gave Duluth a 36. Safe to say, that is a failing grade.



Not a lover of cold weather? Don’t live in Duluth. Don’t get me wrong, June through October is usually beautiful. But when over half of the year consists of potentially freezing temperatures, making sure the car starts up in the morning is a constant concern.



The total sales tax in Duluth is the largest in Minnesota at 8.375 percent. As mentioned by smartasset, Minnesota’s progressive income tax rate is among the highest in the nation. I think it would be easy to argue that higher tax levels correlate to greater financial stress.



According to 2015 census data, 21.5 percent of individuals in Duluth are below the poverty level. One potential flaw to this statistic is that the survey does include off-campus college students, but not students who live in on-campus dorms or apartments.

Even though the census includes off-campus students, that number seems pretty high. There is also a noticeable disparity in income between the major regions of Duluth (East, West and Central Hillside). College students shouldn’t be ignored either, because if we are giving the title of “least stressed” city in America, shouldn’t students who live there year-round be included as well? Being a full-time student on top of making barely enough money to afford food and rent is pretty stressful, if you ask me.


I have lived in Duluth my whole life and love the city. But at the same time, I think it’s important to understand that Duluth has its fair share of faults. Perhaps granting cities titles such as “least stressed” should be saved for personal opinion.

VoicesKevin Ott