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The Most Miserable Countries in the World

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miserable countries index

The Most Miserable Countries in the World

Some people believe that happiness comes from within. In the world of economics, however, happiness may be more linked to quantitative factors such as inflation, lending rates, employment levels, and growth in gross domestic product (GDP).

This week’s chart uses data from Steve Hanke of the Cato Institute, and it visualizes the 2019 Misery Index rankings, across 95 countries that report this data on a consistent basis.

The index uses four key economic variables to rank and score countries:

  1. Inflation
  2. Lending rate
  3. Unemployment rate
  4. GDP per capita growth

Here are the Misery Index scores for all 95 countries:

RankCountryContributing FactorMisery Index Score
#1🇻🇪 VenezuelaInflation1,746,439.1
#2🇦🇷 ArgentinaInflation105.6
#3🇮🇷 IranInflation75.7
#4🇧🇷 BrazilLending Rates53.6
#5🇹🇷 TurkeyUnemployment53.3
#6🇳🇬 NigeriaUnemployment43.0
#7🇿🇦 South AfricaUnemployment42.0
#8🇧🇦 Bosnia and HerzegovinaUnemployment38.2
#9🇪🇬 EgyptLending Rates36.8
#10🇺🇦 UkraineLending Rates34.3
#11NicaraguaUnemployment31.3
#12JordanUnemployment30.9
#13UruguayLending Rates27.1
#14HondurasUnemployment26.8
#15MacedoniaUnemployment26.4
#16ArmeniaUnemployment25.1
#17JamaicaLending Rates24.9
#18Saudi ArabiaUnemployment23.5
#19ColombiaLending Rates23.2
#20ParaguayLending Rates22.9
#21GreeceUnemployment22.5
#22AlgeriaUnemployment21.9
#23Costa RicaLending Rates21.7
#24PeruLending Rates21.2
#25AzerbaijanLending Rates21.0
#26Dominican RepublicLending Rates & Unemployment20.3
#27KazakhstanLending Rates20.1
#28BarbadosUnemployment19.7
#29Papua New GuineaLending Rates19.2
#30GeorgiaUnemployment18.8
#31MauritiusLending Rates17.9
#32SerbiaUnemployment17.4
#33GuatemalaLending Rates17.2
#34PakistanLending Rates16.7
#35Sri LankaLending Rates16.0
#36SpainUnemployment15.9
#37RussiaLending Rates15.7
#38MexicoLending Rates15.4
#39IndonesiaLending Rates15.2
#40Trinidad & TobagoLending Rates14.7
#41New ZealandLending Rates14.4
#42ItalyUnemployment13.7
#43MaliUnemployment13.6
#44IndiaLending Rates13.2
#45BangladeshLending Rates12.6
#46AlbaniaLending Rates12.2
#47EcuadorUnemployment12.2
#48El SalvadorUnemployment12.0
#49PhilipinesLending Rates11.8
#50CyprusUnemployment11.7
#51CroatiaUnemployment10.9
#52BoliviaLending Rates10.8
#53CanadaUnemployment10.8
#54PanamaLending Rates10.7
#55FranceUnemployment10.7
#56AustraliaUnemployment10.6
#57KuwaitLending Rates10.5
#58ChileUnemployment10.3
#59EstoniaUnemployment10.3
#60RomaniaLending Rates10.3
#61IcelandLending Rates9.7
#62United KingdomLending Rates9.6
#63BelgiumUnemployment9.3
#64NorwayUnemployment9.3
#65SwedenUnemployment8.8
#66MoldovaLending Rates8.8
#67VietnamLending Rates8.7
#68United StatesLending Rates8.7
#69BulgariaUnemployment8.6
#70FinlandUnemployment8.3
#71Hong KongLending Rates8.3
#72PortugalUnemployment8.2
#73LithuaniaUnemployment7.3
#74SloveniaUnemployment7.2
#75LatviaUnemployment7.0
#76IsraelUnemployment6.8
#77DenmarkUnemployment6.8
#78South KoreaUnemployment6.5
#79PolandUnemployment6.5
#80QatarLending Rates5.8
#81SlovakiaUnemployment5.7
#82GermanyUnemployment5.6
#83MaltaUnemployment5.3
#84SingaporeLending Rates5.2
#85IrelandUnemployment5.1
#86MalaysiaLending Rates5.1
#87Czech RepublicLending Rates5.0
#88NetherlandsUnemployment4.7
#89TaiwanUnemployment4.4
#90SwitzerlandLending Rates4.2
#91ChinaLending Rates4.2
#92AustriaUnemployment3.9
#93JapanUnemployment3.3
#94HungaryUnemployment2.6
#95ThailandLending Rates1.7

To calculate each Misery Index score, a simple formula is used: GDP per capita growth is subtracted from the sum of unemployment, inflation, and bank lending rates.

Which of these factors are driving scores in some of the more “miserable” countries? Which countries rank low on the list, and why?

The Highest Misery Index Scores

Two Latin American countries, Venezuela and Argentina, rank near the top of Hanke’s index.

1. Vexation in Venezuela

Venezuela holds the title of the most “miserable” country in the world for the fourth consecutive year in a row. According to the United Nations, four million Venezuelans have left the country since its economic crisis began in 2014.

Turmoil in Venezuela has been further fueled by skyrocketing hyperinflation. Citizens struggle to afford basic items such as food, toiletries, and medicine. The Cafe Con Leche Index was created specifically to monitor the rapidly changing inflation rates in Venezuela.

Not only does Venezuela have the highest score in the Misery Index, but its score has also seen a dramatic increase over the past year as the crisis has accelerated.

2. Argentina’s History of Volatility

Argentina is the second most “miserable” country, which comes as no surprise given the country’s history of economic crises.

The 2018 Argentine monetary crisis caused a severe devaluation of the peso. The downfall forced the President, Mauricio Macri, to request a loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

To put things in perspective, this is the 22nd lending arrangement between Argentina and the IMF. Only six countries have had more commitments to the international organization, including Haiti (27) and Colombia (25).

The Lowest Misery Index Scores

The two countries with the lowest scores in the index have one thing in common: extremely low rates of unemployment.

1. Why Thailand is the Land of Smiles

Thailand takes the prize as the least “miserable” country in the world on the index. The country’s unemployment rate has been remarkably low for years, ranging between 0.4% and 1.2% since 2011. This is the result of the country’s unique structural factors. The “informal” sectors—such as street vendors or taxi drivers—absorb people who become unemployed in the “formal” sector.

Public infrastructure investments by the Thai government continue to attract both private domestic and foreign investments, bolstering the country’s GDP alongside tourism and exports.

2. Hungary’s Prime Minister Sets the Score

Hungary is the second least “miserable” country in the world according to the index.

In 2010, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán implemented a workfare program which diverted menial tasks to thousands of job seekers. Over the same period that the program ran, the national unemployment rate fell from 11.4% to 3.8%.

Orbán won a controversial fourth term in 2018, possibly in part due to promises to protect the country’s sovereignty against the European Union. Despite accusations of populism and even authoritarian tendencies, the Prime Minister still commands a strong following in Hungary.

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Chart of the Week

At Risk: The Geography of America’s Senior Population

The U.S. senior population is much more vulnerable to COVID-19. Which states and cities have the most people in this at-risk age group?

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U.S. Senior Population

At Risk: The U.S. Senior Population

The U.S. now has the largest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases globally, and modelling predicts that the country could see about 100,000 to 200,000 total deaths. Unfortunately, adults aged 65 or older—about 16% of the U.S. population—are at much higher risk of both severe illness and death.

Today’s chart uses U.S. Census Bureau data to map the percentage of the population that is 65 years or older by state. It also outlines the urban areas that are most heavily skewed towards this older age group.

Proportion of Seniors by State

Below is the full breakdown of the U.S. senior population by state, using the latest available data from 2018.

Maine tops the list with 20.6% of its population comprising adults age 65 or older. At the other end of the scale, Utah’s seniors make up only 11.1% of its population.

RankState65+, % of Population65+, Total Population
1Maine20.6%276,069
2Florida20.5%4,358,784
3West Virginia20.0%361,216
4Vermont19.8%123,875
5Montana18.8%200,239
6Delaware18.7%180,756
7Hawaii18.4%261,467
8Pensylvannia18.2%2,332,369
9New Hampshire18.1%245,156
10South Carolina17.7%899,754
11Oregon17.6%739,611
12Arizona17.6%1,259,103
13New Mexico17.6%368,480
14Rhode Island17.3%182,645
15Conneticut17.2%613,147
16Michigan17.2%1,720,453
17Ohio17.1%1,996,163
18Iowa17.0%537,818
19Wisconsin17.0%986,483
20Alabama17.0%829,663
21Missouri16.9%1,035,074
22Arkansas16.8%507,676
23Wyoming16.7%96,557
24South Dakota16.6%146,358
25Massachusetts16.5%1,137,541
26Kentucky16.4%731,392
27New York16.4%3,212,065
28Tennesse16.3%1,104,797
29North Carolina16.3%1,688,574
30New Jersey16.1%1,438,289
31Idaho15.9%279,441
32Kansas15.9%462,191
34Mississipi15.9%474,423
33Minnesota15.8%888,634
36Nebraska15.8%303,998
35Indiana15.7%1,051,146
37Nevada15.7%475,120
38Oklahoma15.7%619,601
39Illinois15.6%1,990,548
40Louisiana15.5%720,610
42Virginia15.5%1,318,225
41Maryland15.4%931,041
43Washington15.4%1,163,987
44North Dakota15.3%116,433
45California14.3%5,667,337
46Colorado14.2%807,855
47Georgia13.8%1,456,428
48Texas12.5%3,599,599
49Alaska11.9%88,000
50Utah11.1%351,297

Notably, Florida has the second highest percentage and number of seniors nationwide. Its governor just announced the state’s stay-at-home order on April 1st, after taking criticism for refusing to do so earlier.

New York, the current global hot spot of COVID-19, is close to the national average with 16.4% of its population aged 65 or older. However, with over 3.2 million seniors, the sheer volume of individuals needing hospitalization has already put a strain on the state’s healthcare system. Governor Andrew Cuomo says the state will run out of its current supply of ventilators in less than a week.

The Most Vulnerable Urban Areas

On a local level, which places have the highest proportion of seniors? Based on all urban areas* with a population of 250,000 or more, here’s how the top 50 looks:

RankUrban Area65+, % of Population65+, Total Population
1Bonita Springs, FL38.2%135,286
2Sarasota–Bradenton, FL33.2%242,613
3Barnstable Town, MA29.4%74,614
4Palm Coast–Daytona Beach–Port Orange, FL28.3%110,355
5Myrtle Beach–Socastee, SC–NC27.3%74,783
6Cape Coral, FL27.0%175,483
7Indio–Cathedral City, CA26.0%95,054
8Port St. Lucie, FL25.6%110,883
9Palm Bay–Melbourne, FL22.9%114,347
10Youngstown, OH–PA21.0%78,739
11Asheville, NC20.9%65,540
12Pittsburgh, PA19.6%335,546
13Canton, OH19.6%54,214
14Scranton, PA19.1%71,876
15Mission Viejo–Lake Forest–San Clemente, CA19.0%115,891
16Tampa–St. Petersburg, FL18.9%516,269
17Tucson, AZ18.8%165,399
18Lancaster, PA18.5%77,538
19Cleveland, OH18.4%324,707
20Miami, FL18.3%1,117,926
21Buffalo, NY18.1%168,121
22Dayton, OH18.0%130,722
23Harrisburg, PA18.0%83,201
24Wilmington, NC17.8%45,457
25Urban Honolulu, HI17.7%148,045
26Akron, OH17.6%99,010
27New Haven, CT17.6%97,888
28Rochester, NY17.5%125,516
29Peoria, IL17.5%44,722
30Allentown, PA–NJ17.4%119,508
31Concord, CA17.4%115,460
32Chattanooga, TN–GA17.4%69,098
33Flint, MI17.2%59,525
34Santa Rosa, CA17.1%55,094
35Lakeland, FL17.1%51,107
36Davenport, IA–IL17.1%48,387
37Providence, RI–MA17.0%204,148
38Rockford, IL16.9%48,370
39Springfield, MA–CT16.8%105,694
40Knoxville, TN16.8%101,332
41Albany–Schenectady, NY16.8%100,756
42Albuquerque, NM16.7%126,081
43Hartford, CT16.6%153,367
44Toledo, OH–MI16.6%82,480
45Pensacola, FL–AL16.6%62,216
46Bridgeport–Stamford, CT–NY16.5%156,035
47Syracuse, NY16.4%66,818
48Detroit, MI16.2%608,427
49St. Louis, MO–IL16.2%347,537
50Trenton, NJ16.2%47,803

*Urban areas consist of a downtown core and adjacent territories

With 6 areas in the top 10, Florida is quite vulnerable at the local level as well. Other states with multiple areas on the list include Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York.

The Senior Population of Current U.S. Hotspots

To determine the vulnerability of current COVID-19 hotspots, we compared U.S. counties with a high number of cases per capita against their percentage of seniors.

Counties at the bottom left have low readings on both metrics. Conversely, counties in the top right have a dangerous combination: a high concentration of cases and vulnerable seniors.

senior population vs covid-19 outbreak

Multiple counties in New York occupy the top right quadrant, with Yonkers being the worst off. Los Angeles county, which has a similar population to all counties in New York City, has fewer cases and a smaller proportion of seniors.

To date, outbreaks have been mostly focused in urban areas where populations tend to be younger. However, as COVID-19 begins infiltrating rural areas, healthcare systems will need to contend with both older age groups and fewer resources.

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Chart of the Week

Global Shutdown: Visualizing Commuter Activity in the World’s Cities

Amid the COVID-19 crisis, cities are dramatically slowing down. Today’s chart demonstrates the impact of lockdowns on commuter activity worldwide.

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Staying Put: The COVID-19 Commuter Decline

Every day, millions of people worldwide rely on public transport networks to get around. But in times of crisis, bustling cities with high volumes of commuter traffic can come to a dramatic halt.

Today’s chart breaks down daily data from Citymapper’s Mobility Index, according to trips planned on the transport app across 41 select cities.

The results paint a unique picture of how social distancing and lockdown measures are impacting commuter and economic activity in major urban hubs.

Cities With the Biggest Drops in Activity

As the government response to the COVID-19 pandemic intensifies and people are urged to stay home, transit activity is dropping everywhere.

However, some areas are seeing more of a reduction in activity than others. Where has activity declined the most over the month?

RankCityCountry04-Mar11-Mar18-Mar25-MarTotal Change (%)
#1Vienna🇦🇹 Austria128%92%9%6%-122%
#2Lisbon🇵🇹 Portugal128%108%24%12%-116%
#3Istanbul🇹🇷 Turkey117%103%20%10%-107%
#4Barcelona🇪🇸 Spain105%86%6%4%-101%
#5Brussels🇧🇪 Belgium107%96%15%7%-100%
#6São Paolo🇧🇷 Brazil112%113%33%12%-100%
#7New York City🇺🇸 USA104%85%17%7%-97%
#8Madrid🇪🇸 Spain100%65%5%4%-96%
#9Los Angeles🇺🇸 USA108%81%23%13%-95%
#10Melbourne🇦🇺 Australia113%110%53%20%-93%

*Note: Data measures the % of city moving compared to 100% baseline.

Overall, Vienna and Lisbon are the cities with the biggest average drop in commuter activity over the past few weeks. This decline in mobility is correlated with a spike in the proportion of COVID-19 cases in the population:

  • Austria
    March 4: 2.6 per million
    March 25: 586 per million
  • Portugal
    March 4: 0.4 per million
    March 25: 232 per million

That said, not every city is seeing a precipitous decline in activity — let’s look at those next.

Standing Still, or On Guard

Cities that saw lower decreases in commuter activity over recent weeks can generally be slotted into three categories:

  1. Cities that were already on or near shutdown (Seoul, Milan)
  2. Cities that have so far avoided major impacts from the virus (St. Petersburg)
  3. Cities that successfully mitigated spread (Singapore)

Here are the 10 cities on the list that saw the lowest changes in activity:

RankCityCountry04-Mar11-Mar18-Mar25-MarTotal Change (%)
#1Seoul 🇰🇷 South Korea48%43%41%37%-11%
#2Hong Kong🇭🇰 China (SAR)50%52%48%37%-13%
#3Singapore🇸🇬 Singapore90%88%79%62%-28%
#4Milan🇮🇹 Italy43%10%5%3%-40%
#5Tokyo🇯🇵 Japan63%54%42%21%-42%
#6St Petersburg🇷🇺 Russia114%114%85%69%-45%
#7Moscow🇷🇺 Russia112%113%75%54%-58%
#8Rhine-Ruhr🇩🇪 Germany75%72%28%15%-60%
#9Stockholm🇸🇪 Sweden97%83%34%32%-65%
#10Lyon🇫🇷 France75%97%6%4%-71%

*Note: Data measures the % of city moving compared to 100% baseline.

St. Petersburg is still seeing commuter activity at 69% of normal levels as of March 25th, as the proportion of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Russia remains low, at roughly 3.4 per million.

Milan has the lowest activity of any city at 3%, and has been in shutdown for most of the month.

Although Singapore’s total COVID-19 cases grew from 18.8 to 95.4 per million, it still has 62% commuter activity. Interestingly, Singapore is one of the few countries that has been able to properly control and manage its COVID-19 outbreak.

Biggest Weekly Declines

As the month progressed, various cities showed stark one-week declines in commuter activity based on official healthcare recommendations and growing case numbers.

After a government lockdown announced on March 9, Rome experienced the sharpest decline of -75% commuter activity in the week from March 4 to March 11. Currently, there is only 5% activity compared to usual, similar to Milan.

In the second week of March, COVID-19 cases in France jumped fourfold, from 27.3 per million to 118.4 per million people. As a result, Lyon saw a whopping -91% drop in commuter activity—going from 97% on March 11 to 6% on March 18.

Over the past week, as cases in Australia reached 95 per million, Sydney and Melbourne exhibited the highest average declines at -36% and -33% in commuter activity respectively.

Full List of 41 Cities

Here’s the full list of cities, courtesy of Citymapper.

City, CountryMarch 4March 11March 18March 25Total Change (%)
Vienna, Austria128%92%9%6%-122%
Lisbon, Portugal128%108%24%12%-116%
Istanbul, Turkey117%103%20%10%-107%
Barcelona, Spain105%86%6%4%-101%
Brussels, Belgium107%96%15%7%-100%
São Paulo, Brazil112%113%33%12%-100%
New York City, U.S.104%85%17%7%-97%
Madrid, Spain100%65%5%4%-96%
Los Angeles, U.S.108%81%23%13%-95%
Melbourne, Australia113%110%53%20%-93%
Amsterdam, Netherlands98%86%13%6%-92%
Washington DC, U.S.97%82%15%6%-91%
San Francisco, U.S.96%65%9%6%-90%
Boston, U.S.97%77%16%7%-90%
Chicago, U.S.97%92%16%7%-90%
Montréal, Canada103%104%31%14%-89%
Paris, France95%89%8%6%-89%
London, UK100%91%36%12%-88%
Manchester, UK100%91%42%13%-87%
Sydney, Australia106%99%56%20%-86%
Mexico City, Mexico109%110%53%23%-86%
Rome, Italy91%16%6%5%-86%
Copenhagen, Denmark97%80%11%11%-86%
Berlin, Germany93%86%26%12%-81%
Birmingham, UK99%91%45%18%-81%
Toronto, Canada97%91%32%19%-78%
Vancouver, Canada94%89%38%16%-78%
Philadelphia, U.S.89%85%22%13%-76%
Monaco, Monaco81%50%12%7%-74%
Hamburg, Germany85%72%20%12%-73%
Seattle, U.S.80%51%19%8%-72%
Lyon, France75%97%6%4%-71%
Stockholm, Sweden97%83%34%32%-65%
Rhine-Ruhr, Germany75%72%28%15%-60%
Moscow, Russia112%113%75%54%-58%
St Petersburg, Russia114%114%85%69%-45%
Tokyo, Japan63%54%42%21%-42%
Milan, Italy43%10%5%3%-40%
Singapore, Singapore90%88%79%62%-28%
Hong Kong, Hong Kong50%52%48%37%-13%
Seoul, South Korea48%43%41%37%-11%

*Note: Data measures the % of city moving compared to 100% baseline.

The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting everything from the stock market to the environment. With cities actively working to keep populations in isolation and healthy during this time, it may take a while before commuter activity returns to normal.

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