Cicero among 50 most miserable U.S. cities

Only Illinois town to make Business Insider list, based on census data

The Chicago skyline looms in the distance over the BNSF International rail yard in Cicero in a 2000 photo. (Flickr/David Wilson)

The Chicago skyline looms in the distance over the BNSF International rail yard in Cicero in a 2000 photo. (Flickr/David Wilson)

By Ted Cox

Cicero was the only Illinois town to make a business publication’s recent list of the 50 most miserable U.S. cities.

The town just outside Chicago — infamous as the onetime base of operations for gangster Al Capone — placed 16th on the list of “the 50 most miserable U.S. cities” published in late September by Business Insider.

It emphasized the rankings were based on census data comparing 1,000 U.S. cities.

Among the criteria for placing Cicero among the most miserable was its estimated 2018 population of 82,000, down 3.1 percent from the 2010 U.S. Census, a statistic given a 40 percent weight in compiling the data. The median income of $44,000 also found 19.8 percent of the population living in poverty and 22.8 percent without health insurance — all weighted at 10 percent apiece. The median commute time to a job — given 15 percent of the overall weight — was 31.3 minutes. Of the top 16 cities on the list, only Newark, N.J., and Huntington Park, Calif., had a higher commute time.

Gary, Ind., was ranked the most miserable city in the nation.

Cicero, of course, is no stranger to bad publicity. Just last weekend, it was included among the five most corrupt Chicago suburbs, by longtime and established reputation, by Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown. Capone made it his base when things got hot in Chicago in the Roaring ‘20s.

Although now heavily Hispanic, Cicero was the site of one of the worst racial incidents in state history in 1951 when a Chicago Transit Authority bus driver and his family were burned out of the home they had just moved into as the town’s first African-American residents. Gov. Adlai Stevenson had to send in the National Guard. The town did its best to keep African-American residents out well into the mid-’60s.

More recently, Cicero President Betty Loren-Maltese did time in federal prison after she was convicted in 2002 of being involved in a $12 million city insurance scam.

The town’s own website emphasizes that it’s named after the Roman statesman of the First Century B.C., who was a contemporary of Julius Caesar. It also lays claim to technically being the birthplace of Ernest Hemingway, born in the town of Cicero in 1899, before it was divided into Cicero, Berwyn, and Oak Park, which now claims the novelist as a native.

Even that website concedes, however, that “the town of Cicero has a colorful history, which forms a part of the larger stories of the county, state, and nation.”