The Best and Worst Run Cities in America

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5. Virginia Beach, Virginia
> Population: 447,000 (37th largest)
> Credit rating: Aaa, stable
> Violent crime per 100,000: 169 (6th lowest)
> 2012 Unemployment rate: 5.6% (9th lowest)

Virginia Beach’s economy did not have particularly strong growth in 2012, expanding by just 1.9% that year, compared to the 2.5% national growth rate. Still, by most measures, the city had a healthy economy. The unemployment rate was just 5.6% in 2012, compared to a national rate of 8.1%. Median household income in the city was more than $10,000 higher than the national figure of $51,371, and just 8.8% of residents were living in poverty, tied for the third-lowest percentage among the 100 largest U.S. cities. The city was also one of the safest in the country, with a violent crime rate of less than half the national rate.

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4. Lincoln, Nebraska
> Population: 265,000 (67th largest)
> Credit rating: Aaa, stable
> Violent crime per 100,000: 397 (19th lowest)
> 2012 Unemployment rate: 3.4% (the lowest)

By many measures, Lincoln’s economy has emerged from last decade’s recession relatively unscathed. The city’s unemployment rate was just 3.4% in 2012, the lowest among the nation’s 100 largest cities. Between 2008 and 2012, home values remained flat in Lincoln even as they fell nearly 13% nationwide. And more homeowners have been able to afford their mortgage payments. In 2012, just one out of every 811 housing units was in foreclosure, one of the lowest rates among all large U.S. cities. Lincoln is home to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, which is one of the city’s largest employers. As the capital of Nebraska, many jobs in Lincoln are in the public sector.

3. Plano, Texas
> Population: 271,000 (65th largest)
> Credit rating: Aaa
> Violent crime per 100,000: 131 (2nd lowest)
> 2012 Unemployment rate: 6.0% (tied-13th lowest)

More than half of Plano’s adult population had at least a bachelor’s degree last year, one of the best rates in the nation. Plano’s close proximity to Dallas, combined with efficient public transportation, offers residents easy access to jobs in the larger city. More than 12% of Plano workers were employed in the finance industry last year, roughly double the percentage nationwide, and more than nearly all other large cities. Employment in this traditionally high-paying sector could partially explain the relatively wealthy population in Plano. In 2012, the median household income in Plano was $81,475, more than $30,000 higher than the national median. The city is also a safe place to live. There were just 131 violent crimes per 100,000 residents last year, one of the best rates among major cities. Plano’s housing market also remained strong, with just one out of every 255 homes in foreclosure in 2012, better than the vast majority of large cities.

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2. Fremont, California
> Population: 222,000 (91st largest)
> Credit rating: not rated
> Violent crime per 100,000: 140 (3rd lowest)
> 2012 Unemployment rate: 6.5% (24th lowest)

Fremont was the wealthiest large U.S. city last year. It not only had the highest median income, but also the lowest poverty rate. A typical Fremont household earned more than $100,000 in 2012, or nearly double the national income that year. Meanwhile, the poverty rate of 6.7% was less than half the national rate. Home values in the city didn’t escape the housing crisis unscathed, falling by nearly 12% between 2008 and 2012. Last year, however, a typical Fremont home was valued at $582,100, still more expensive than those in the vast majority of large cities. Sharing the San Francisco Bay area with Silicon Valley, Fremont is a hub for tech manufacturing — 17.5% of workers in the city are employed in manufacturing, one of the highest percentages in the nation.

1. Irvine, California
> Population: 230,000 (86th largest)
> Credit rating: not rated
> Violent crime per 100,000: 51 (the lowest)
> 2012 Unemployment rate: 5.7% (tied-10th lowest)

Irvine has a very well-educated population. Last year, 97% of Irvine adults had at least a high school diploma, and more than two-thirds had at least a bachelor’s degree. The city is home of the University of California, Irvine, which is the top local employer. The heavy concentration of well-educated adults has also led to higher incomes. Irvine’s median household income was around $96,000 last year, exceeding that of nearly every other large city. The typical Irvine home cost about $630,400 last year, more than any other large U.S. city except San Francisco. The city was also one of the safest in the nation, with only 51 violent crimes per 100,000 people.