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Relax, you could live in Tacoma

Tacoma goes from 'wired' to 'worst': We're all stressed out

Sean Robinson
Tacoma News Tribune

You thought you were wired, Tacoma. You thought your name was Destiny.

You thought wrong.

Embrace your new title, bestowed by Sperling's Best Places: Stress City, U.S.A.

The dubious honor arrived Friday, when Sperling's, a demographic research firm based in Portland, released its first list of America's most- and least-stressful cities.

Tacoma outpointed edgy juggernauts such as Miami, New York and Las Vegas to reach the winner's circle. At the other end of the spectrum, Albany, N.Y., led the list of America's mellowest outposts, followed by Harrisburg, Pa., and Orange County, Calif. According to Bert Sperling, president of Sperling's, Tacoma's victory hinged on the city's all-around performance in nine statistical categories - unemployment, suicide, alcoholism, divorce rates, violent crime, property crime, commute times, mental health and climate.

"Basically there wasn't one thing that stood out," said Sperling, who called himself the "King of Stress" Friday, as calls from wounded cities poured into his office.

Visitors to Tacoma's Museum of Glass couldn't see the logic Friday. They included a crowd of home-school students from Monroe, led by teacher Julie Martinoli.

Hearing of Tacoma's new rating, she turned to the children gathered around her.

"Have we had a great day or a stressful day?" she asked.

"A great day!" they shouted.

Near the steps leading up from the museum's hot-shop cone, Federal Way resident and business owner Maggie Buckner snorted at the stress rating.

"I come to Tacoma because it eases my stress," she said, describing walks along Ruston Way and her excitement at the city's continuing revitalization.

She wanted to know where the ratings came from. When she learned it was a Portland company, she snorted again.

"There you go," she said, and suggested that Portland residents don't acknowledge the scent of their emissions.

However, Sperling listed Portland sixth among high-stress cities, and noted that the Northwest's recent economic struggles contribute to the ratings.From his vantage point in Portland, he sees Tacoma making strides toward improvement.

"It's coming back," he said. "The revitalization efforts that are going on are paying fruit."

Besides, he added, being No. 1 isn't all bad.

"Just because we live in the most-stressful city or the city that's worst for sleep doesn't necessarily mean that we are condemned by that - we can all take control of our own life. One thing that I've found is that every city is special."

His company performs various city ratings, including Money magazine's annual list of Best Places to Live in America. Tacoma's No. 1 rating on the stress list appears on the company's Web site (, along with a brief explanation:

"Tacoma residents contend with one of the highest divorce rates in the country, as well as one of the highest unemployment rates. It's cloudy in Tacoma much of the time, and the suicide and property crime rates are high. On a brighter note, Tacomans can feel safe from bodily harm thanks to the low violent crime rate."

Unemployment, crime, commute times and suicide carried the most weight in the rating system, Sperling said. Cloudy days and alcohol consumption carried the least. The statistics came from sources such as the U.S. Census and the FBI.

At Sam & Terry's barber shop on Martin Luther King Jr. Way, patrons and employees were surprised by the city's rating.

"Naaah," said owner Sam Daniels, 78, who came to Tacoma in 1958. "I don't think so. I try not to worry about anything."

Neeltae Scott, cutting a customer's hair nearby, nodded in agreement.

"You got to go to the Midwest to be stressed out," he said. "Ain't no stress here."