By Sid Lipsey
Next time you drive into one of these cities, here's one distinction you won't find on a road sign: "Welcome to Tampa: One of the Most Roach-Infested Cities in the Country."
The Census Bureau's American Housing Survey, conducted every two years, includes data on toilet breakdowns, heating problems, electrical failures and other issues reported in residences in major U.S. cities. But it also includes a little-known, and extremely icky, stat: the number of pest sightings in American homes.
As much fun as it is to imagine the Census Bureau taking an official mouse count in New York City (imagine how small the written questionnaire would have to be?), it doesn't quite work like that. The Census Bureau simply tallies the number of pests — rats, mice, roaches and a category designated as "unknown" — reported in occupied housing units.
What makes some cities more rodent-infested than others? Anything from warm weather and moisture, which tends to attract roaches, to new construction, which tends to send rats scurrying about, can be big factors.
The Seattle Times' FYI Guy took a look at the just-released data from 2013 as well as data from 2011 to rank 50-plus of the biggest U.S. metro areas by various infestations. Here's his top 20 most infested cities:
20. Tucson, Arizona
Tucson is Arizona's sole representative on the overall top 20, with 24 percent of the city's 372,800 surveyed units reporting some form of unwelcome guest. Roaches made up the bulk of Tucson's pest problem; they made appearances in 19.1 percent of surveyed residences. Rats were found in just .7 percent of residences and mice in just 3.7 percent. On the bright side, Tucson's top 20 showing is one area where it can claim victory over its larger neighbor; Phoenix just missed the top 20, coming in at No. 24.
19. Fort Worth, Texas
Pests definitely are messing with Texas; five Texas cities appear in the top 20 pest list. Fort Worth is the first of them, with 24.8 percent of residences reporting a pest. The most likely culprits here were roaches, who took up residence in 17.8 percent of homes here. Its rat tally (1.8 percent) places Fort Worth in the top 20 of top rat towns (No. 12). But its 4.3 percent mouse tally isn't good for any better than No. 40 on the mouse list.
18. Jacksonville, Florida
Like Texas, Florida also placed multiple cities on the top 20 pest list; four in all. The Florida tally gets started in Jacksonville, where 24.9 percent of surveyed units reported some form of pest. Roaches made up 22.5 percent of Jacksonville's pest reports, placing Jacksonville on an unlucky No. 13 on the roach list. Its .9 percent rat tally placed the city at No. 25 on the rats list, but apparently mice don't like it here; Jacksonville tied for 54th place on the list of most popular mouse residences.
17. Los Angeles, California
California may be the nation's most populous state, but its pest population doesn't reflect that. Just one California city cracked the top 20: L.A., which had 25.1 percent of units reporting pest sightings. Like most, but not all, cities in the top 20, roaches were L.A.'s most popular pest at 17.8 percent. But rats played a big role, too: 2.4 percent of housing units reported rats, rocketing L.A. to a tie for 3rd place on the rats list. Insert joke about Hollywood agents here.
16. Washington, D.C.
While you're at it, you can make another joke about politicians and pests here. Our nation's capital had 27.3 percent of units reporting some form of unelected infestation. Roaches (11 percent) weren't as big a problem here as another rodent: mice, which were reported in 14.8 percent of households (that's good for No. 6 on the mouse list).
15. Charlotte, North Carolina
Good thing for Charlotte, hornets aren't counted on the pest tally. The home of the NBA's Charlotte Hornets had 28% of housing units reporting pests, mostly roaches (17.1%) Charlotte is also near the top for its mouse population (No. 21) but its rat population puts it at second-to-last, No. 53, on that list. Maybe rats don't like hornets?
14. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Must be all those pieces of meat Philly residents drop from their cheesesteaks. Pests were found in 29 percent of Philadelphia housing units. Here, mice were the most-dominant pest by far, at a jaw-dropping 19.7 percent. That makes Philly the No. 1 most mouse-infested city in the survey.
13. Las Vegas, Nevada
Who knew the most oft-reported pest in Vegas isn't the loudmouth drunk trying to chat you up while you're trying to concentrate at the blackjack table? Pests were reported in 30.7 percent of units, with almost all of that tally coming from roaches (which were reported in 28.8 percent of homes, making Vegas No. 7 on the roach list). With that many roaches, let's hope a group of eleven of them doesn't decide to organize and rob a casino.
12. Dallas, Texas
The second Texas city in the top 20 list, Dallas, reported pests in 32.1 percent of occupied homes. Roaches were reported in 25 percent of homes, good for No. 12 in that tally.
11. Atlanta, Georgia
Atlanta just missed the top 10 on the overall pest list, with 32.9 percent of Atlanta households reporting sightings. Fortunately (or unfortunately) for the A-T-L, it did place No. 10 on the roach list, with 27.2 percent of units reporting the little critters.
10. Orlando, Florida
Florida's second city in the top 20 had 33.6 percent of households reporting pests, with 30.3 percent reporting roaches. Orlando placed near the bottom (No. 52) in households reporting a mouse, which is weird because we can think of at least one Orlando spot that's dominated by a gigantic one...
9. Miami, Florida
All the New York transplants in South Florida would be upset to learn that Miami's 34.7 percent pest infestation rate puts the city just one spot below the city they fled (Spoiler Alert: New York City is next up on the list). Miami's roach problem is especially bad here, with 30.4 percent reporting sightings. That makes Miami the No. 4 choice of roaches nationwide. As for “Miami Mice,” only 2% of units reported mice here, putting Miami in 49th place on the mouse list.
8. New York, New York
35.4 percent of New York City households reported seeing pests. And just like what you’d see on a typical NYC subway track, it’s a battle between roaches vs. mice. Roaches were found in 18.7 percent of homes while mice were represented in 13.9 percent.
7. Austin, Texas
Because even pests love great music and great food, Austin, Texas cracks the top 10 Pest Destination list: 35.6 percent of Austin households reported pests. The city also ranks No. 8 in rat invasions (which, by the way, would be a cool name for an Austin-based band).
6. San Antonio, Texas
It’s known for being the home of the Alamo, but San Antonio also is home to more than a few pests; 36.8 percent of housing units reported pests here. Its 27.9 percent roach rate is good enough to place San Antonio No. 9 on the roach list.
5. Memphis, Tennessee
Maybe pests are Elvis Presley fans, too. Memphis, where fans of the rock idol flock to Elvis’ home, cracks the top 5, with a 39.8 percent pest problem. Memphis’ pest population is pretty well-balanced: Memphis places in the top 20 for rats (No. 5), mice (No. 17), and roaches (No. 11).
4. Tampa, Florida
The top Florida city on the list, Tampa boasts a 40.9 percent pest rate. Nationally, Tampa is tops in roaches, with 37.6 percent of housing units reporting the bug problem.
3. Houston, Texas
Houston is the top Texas city on the list, with 41.2 percent of housing units reporting pests. Like Tampa, Houston makes the list on the strength of its sizeable roach population, with 34 percent of homes reporting a roach sighting, placing it No. 3 on the roach list.
2. Birmingham, Alabama
If there were a Pest Olympics, Birmingham would take the silver. The Alabama city had an impressive 42 percent reported pest rate. It also notched second place in a strange category: highest percentage of “unknown” pests, where respondents didn’t know exactly what they saw.
1. New Orleans, Louisiana
With the hot and humid weather, the old buildings and the delicious food and drink for which New Orleans is known, is it any surprise that N’awlins is tops on the pest list, with 40.9 percent pest rate? New Orleans also placed tops in rats and a not-too-shabby second place, behind Tampa, in the roach category.
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