BUFFALO, N.Y. — The idea became popular in 1976. Jimmy Carter was running against the incumbent president, Gerald Ford, and he wanted to dramatize two problems plaguing the nation's economy.

So Carter came forth with the "misery index," which was calculated by adding the nation's unemployment and inflation rates. The higher the number, the greater the misery. This new index received a great deal of publicity during the fall campaign.

Business First is using a similar concept to measure the economic strength of Western New York's neighborhoods. Our "instability index" is the sum of three percentages: (1) the poverty rate, (2) the housing vacancy rate and (3) the high school dropout rate for adults 18 and older. The higher the number, the greater the instability.  Check out Buffalo Business First's website for a rundown — from least to most stable — of all 79 Western New York ZIPs with populations greater than 5,000.