America’s 50 Best Cities to Live

September 17, 2014 by 247robert

Americans take into account different factors when choosing where to live. For some, the quality of schools is important. For others, the strength of the local economy or personal safety takes priority.

To determine America’s best cities to live in, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed data on the 550 cities with populations of 65,000 or more as measured by the U.S. Census Bureau. Based on a range of variables, including crime rates, employment growth, educational attainment, and housing affordability, 24/7 Wall St. identified America’s 50 Best Cities to Live.

Click here to see America’s Best Cities to Live.

Click here to read our methodology.

Because of its importance, the labor market was one of the key measures we used to identify the best cities. In order to be considered, a city needed positive employment growth between 2011 and 2013. Seventy cities did not meet this standard. Cities scored well if employment growth was high. Olathe, Kansas, one of the best cities to live in, received considerable marks because it had 14.4% employment growth — one of the best during that time.

In the U.S., the national unemployment rate was 7.4% in 2013, high by historical standards. And in many cities it was much worse. Because unemployment is such an important factor, we also eliminated cities from consideration if their unemployment rates were more than 33% above the 2013 national rate — our cutoff rate was 9.8%. This alone excluded more than 100 cities from consideration.

Of course, the availability of jobs is not enough to make a city worth moving to. For many Americans, safety is also important. According to Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) data, violent crime rates were far higher in metropolitan areas — where the vast majority of Americans live — than in smaller cities and other parts of the country. Roughly half of all cities were excluded because they reported property or violent crime rates that were at least 25% higher than the 2012 national rates.

The vast majority of the nation’s best cities to live in had especially low violent crime rates. In fact, the violent crime rate in 35 of the 50 cities was less than half the national rate of 387 incidents per 100,000 residents in 2012.

For parents, a strong school system also influences the decision of where to live. According to Daren Blomquist, vice president of RealtyTrac, a housing market data site, “quality of education is the number one issue home buyers ask about most.”

In order to compare educational outcomes in each city, we ranked math, language arts and science scores tabulated by Homefacts, a RealtyTrac subsidiary. Seven of the top 10 cities on our list were among the top 10% of large cities nationwide for math achievement and eight were among the top 10% for language arts.

We also measured the availability of amenities, such as restaurants, theaters and fitness clubs. While such factors might seem like an afterthought, Americans spend an average of more than five hours each day on leisure activities, according to the Census Bureau.

“There is still romance in buying a house,” said Blomquist. Features such as access to outdoor activities, beautiful parks and gyms “are the type of amenities that often will set apart certain communities from others.”

Some cities score well because of the number of dining options, as is the case with Evanston, Illinois. The city is part of Cook County, which also includes Chicago. This provides Evanston residents with easy access to nearly 9,000 restaurants and more than 900 bars.

Sports teams can also be a big draw. Bellevue, Washington, which ranked as the second best city to live in, is located near Seattle — home to Major League Baseball’s Seattle Mariners, Major League Soccer’s Seattle Sounders, and the Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks.

Commuting times can also influence where people live. Proximity to larger metro areas makes getting to work faster. In 34 of the best cities, the average commute time was below the national average of 26 minutes. Additionally, in 10 of these cities, residents both walk and take public transportation in greater proportions than the national average rates, both of which reduce traffic and have the potential to make commuting more pleasant.

Most Americans have to make tradeoffs when choosing where they live. Many of the best cities are expensive when judged by the national cost of living, an index that compares the cost of a basket of consumer goods in cities across the U.S. However, cost of living varies widely by region. When the best cities are compared to their state, a majority are no more than 20% more expensive than the state’s average cost of living.

Many of the best cities are located near major cities, as this proximity provides residents with access to good schools while living in safe neighborhoods. It also allows them to enjoy the amenities available in the nearby larger cities.

Perhaps surprisingly, none of America’s largest cities are on this list. There is no New York, Los Angeles, or Houston among the best places to live. Nearly all of the biggest cities in the country by population had crime rates that automatically excluded them from consideration. Additionally, more than half of these cities had poverty rates above 21.1%, or 33% above the national rate, making them ineligible.

50. Westland, Michigan

> Median household income: $43,551
> Unemployment rate, 2013: 5.70%
> Median home value: $83,400
> Violent crime per 100,000 residents: 405.8
> Average commuter travel time: 25.0 minutes

Even as Detroit remains in bankruptcy, some of Wayne County’s other cities are not just solvent but thriving. Westland was able to successfully issue new bonds just months after Detroit initially filed for bankruptcy. Bolstered by a low cost of living, steady employment growth and an unemployment rate of just 5.7% last year, Westland’s economy is fairly strong. When not working, residents can enjoy one of the 2,500 restaurants, more than 250 bars, 61 libraries, or 23 golf courses located in Wayne County.

For those looking to move to Westland, few areas have more affordable homes. Last year, payments on a median-priced home in Wayne County cost just over 7% of the median household income. Westland homes were also relatively inexpensive compared to those across the state, with a median home value of just over $83,000. However, the real estate market did falter between 2011 and 2013, when home values dropped by 11%, more than in many other cities.

Click above for data by category

 

49. Kenosha, Wisconsin

> Median household income: $50,455
> Unemployment rate, 2013: 8.90%
> Median home value: $142,000
> Violent crime per 100,000 residents: 274.0
> Average commuter travel time: 23.3 minutes

Kenosha is located on the shores of Lake Michigan and is part of the Chicago metro area. Kenosha is a relatively affordable place to live, with a cost of living slightly below the rest of the nation. Home prices are also relatively affordable. In 2012, the median home price in Kenosha was $142,000, more than 16% below the rest of the state.

Despite a 3.7% increase in employment between 2011 and 2013, Kenosha’s unemployment rate only fell 1.2 percentage points over the same period, as more people entered the labor force. For transit within the city, residents can use Kenosha’s electric streetcar line. The city’s fleet consists of seven vintage street cars, originally built in 1951 and refurbished for modern use.

Click above for data by category

 

48. Chesapeake, Virginia

> Median household income: $65,562
> Unemployment rate, 2013: 5.70%
> Median home value: $249,300
> Violent crime per 100,000 residents: 368.7
> Average commuter travel time: 25.3 minutes

Chesapeake is one of Virginia’s larger cities, although it is smaller than nearby Norfolk and Virginia Beach. While Chesapeake is still partly rural, some parts are more urbanized. Several large corporations, such as Altec, Canon, and Dollar Tree, are headquartered in the area, and employ many residents.

Residents in the city are also generally well paid, and they are likely to be employed. The median household income in Chesapeake was over $65,000, well above the national median. And the unemployment rate was just 5.7% last year, versus 7.4% nationwide.

Chesapeake’s outdoor amenities — easy access to hiking, biking, and kayaking — may be some of the city’s greatest offerings. With its many nature trails, the Chesapeake Arboretum is a certified Virginia Green Attraction.

Click above for data by category

 

47. St. Charles, Missouri

> Median household income: $52,330
> Unemployment rate, 2013: 5.70%
> Median home value: $171,300
> Violent crime per 100,000 residents: 151.4
> Average commuter travel time: 20.0 minutes

St. Charles is northwest of St. Louis, across the Missouri River. The city includes the St. Charles Historic District, which lies along South Main Street and the city’s riverfront. According to the National Parks Service, St. Charles “served as the final embarkation point of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.”

St. Charles is a relatively safe city. The violent crime rate was just 151 incidents per 100,000 people, less than half the national rate of 387 incidents. The city also has a relatively affordable cost of living relative to other top-rated cities and, as of last year, an unemployment rate of 5.7%. By contrast, the U.S. unemployment rate was 7.4% last year. However, between 2011 and 2013, the city had effectively flat employment growth.

Click above for data by category

 

46. Cape Coral, Florida

> Median household income: $48,619
> Unemployment rate, 2013: 6.90%
> Median home value: $137,100
> Violent crime per 100,000 residents: 143.5
> Average commuter travel time: 27.5 minutes

Cape Coral’s strong employment growth between 2011 and 2013 helped drive the unemployment rate down from 11.1% in 2011 to 6.9% in 2013. Median income in the city was $48,619, below the national level, and incommensurate with the city’s moderately high cost of living. Like the rest of the state, Cape Coral was hit hard by the housing crisis. However, as of last year, payments on a median-priced home in Lee County equaled just 16.6% of a typical household’s income, less than in many other parts of the country.

While Lee County, where Cape Coral is located, has more than 50 golf courses, the city’s biggest attraction may be its network of canals, which is the largest, by mileage, in the world. The city’s canals are extremely well organized. With each waterway marked by signposts, residents and businesses can use the canal network quite easily.

Click above for data by category

 

45. Warwick, Rhode Island

> Median household income: $61,453
> Unemployment rate, 2013: 8.70%
> Median home value: $199,300
> Violent crime per 100,000 residents: 124.0
> Average commuter travel time: 23.9 minutes

Warwick is the second-largest city in Rhode Island and is located south of Providence in Kent County. The city’s violent crime rate was 124 incidents per 100,000 residents, well below the national rate. Home values are generally lower in Warwick than the rest of the state, which makes housing relatively affordable. Between 2011 and 2013, employment remained flat, only growing by 0.3%. Still, the unemployment rate declined by 1.6 percentage points during that time, from 10.3% to 8.7%.

Warwick is also home to T.F. Green Airport, the state’s largest by passenger volume. The airport serves as a major hub between Baltimore and Boston. And Warwick’s proximity to Boston and Providence by road means that there are a number of activities in those cities available to residents as well.

Click above for data by category

 

44. Sioux Falls, South Dakota

> Median household income: $48,261
> Unemployment rate, 2013: 3.50%
> Median home value: $150,100
> Violent crime per 100,000 residents: 398.5
> Average commuter travel time: 16.2 minutes

Sioux Falls is the largest city in South Dakota. Among its attractions are Falls Park, where residents and tourists can visit the city’s namesake falls, and where “an average of 7,400 gallons of water drop 100 feet over the course of the Falls each second,” according to the city’s Convention and Visitor’s Bureau.

Sioux Falls has a strong job market, with steady employment growth and an unemployment rate of just 3.5% last year. Sioux Falls’ cost of living is lower than the nationwide cost of living and also lower than most of the best cities to live in. Housing, too, is not especially expensive relative to other top-rated cities. The median home value in the city was just over $150,000.

South Dakota has no state-level income tax and the state’s sales tax is just 4%, although city residents also pay a 2% local sales tax. Still, the total 6% tax is equal to, or less than, the state sales tax rate alone in half of all states.

Click above for data by category

 

43. Alexandria, Virginia

> Median household income: $81,160
> Unemployment rate, 2013: 4.10%
> Median home value: $501,200
> Violent crime per 100,000 residents: 166.6
> Average commuter travel time: 29.8 minutes

Alexandria is located across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. The city features a waterfront historic district called Old Town and easy rail access to the nation’s capital via the Washington Metro. Roughly 22.7% of the area’s population commuted to work by public transit, one of the highest rates in the nation.

Alexandria also boasts one of the highest rates of college attainment in the U.S. Almost 64% of the city’s population aged 25 and older had at least a bachelor’s degree. The city’s unemployment rate of 4.1% last year was also among the lowest of any large city.

However, it is quite expensive to live in Alexandria, where the median household income was over $81,000, and the median home value exceeded $500,000 — more than double the median for Virginia as a whole.

Click above for data by category

 

42. Clifton, New Jersey

> Median household income: $64,662
> Unemployment rate, 2013: 8.80%
> Median home value: $325,900
> Violent crime per 100,000 residents: 217.3
> Average commuter travel time: 28.5 minutes

Clifton is located in Passaic County, which is part of the New York City metropolitan area. Passaic County offers Clifton residents access to great amenities, including nearly 800 restaurants and 100 bars. The city is also quite safe. It had just 217 violent crimes and 1,865 property crimes per 100,000 residents in 2012 — much lower than the respective national rates of 387 and 2,859

Taxes are one drawback of living in Clifton. The median taxes paid on owner-occupied real estate totaled 2.45% of the median home value, one of the highest rates among cities reviewed. New Jersey residents generally pay higher taxes. Notably, New Jersey’s state sales tax rate of 7% was the second highest of any state.

While living in Clifton is quite expensive compared to the rest of the nation, the cost of living in the city is roughly in line with that of New Jersey as a whole. Clifton also has a far lower cost of living than New York City.

Click above for data by category

 

41. Sterling Heights, Michigan

> Median household income: $57,955
> Unemployment rate, 2013: 7.00%
> Median home value: $129,600
> Violent crime per 100,000 residents: 178.5
> Average commuter travel time: 25.6 minutes

Despite falling by more than 10% between 2010 and 2012, the median home value in Sterling Heights remained 12% above the statewide median. Still, the city is one of the most affordable on this list, with a cost of living below the national average and a good affordability ratio — measured as the percentage of median income required to make payments on a median-priced home in the area.

When residents are not working, they can enjoy one of Macomb County’s 65 fitness centers or 20 golf courses. Additionally, people can enjoy the Automotive Hall of Fame in Dearborn and Detroit’s professional sports teams. Low crime rates and robust employment growth in recent years are also likely to draw some people to Sterling Heights.

Click above for data by category

 

40. West Jordan, Utah

> Median household income: $65,936
> Unemployment rate, 2013: 4.00%
> Median home value: $201,500
> Violent crime per 100,000 residents: 185.8
> Average commuter travel time: 24.5 minutes

West Jordan lies just south of Salt Lake City and is the fourth largest city in Utah. Residents have easy access to four ski resorts — Alta, Brighton, Snowbird, and Solitude — within Salt Lake County alone. They also have easy access to professional sports teams, such as the NBA’s Utah Jazz and Major League Soccer’s Real Salt Lake.

In recent years, West Jordan has had a robust job market. Total employment rose by more than 9% in just two years through 2013, and the unemployment rate in the city was just 4% last year. By both measures, West Jordan was among the top-rated cities in the U.S. Further, the overall cost of living in the city is low relative to other top cities.

Click above for data by category

 

39. Layton, Utah

> Median household income: $66,439
> Unemployment rate, 2013: 4.40%
> Median home value: $196,600
> Violent crime per 100,000 residents: 121.0
> Average commuter travel time: 22.6 minutes

Just east of the Great Salt Lake, Layton sits at the base of a scenic mountain region. Thurston Peak, a 9,700 foot mountain in the Wasatch range, offers great access to hiking, biking, and camping. In the winter, residents can easily ski this range by traveling a short distance to Snowbasin.

Even with these amenities, living in Layton is quite affordable. The city’s cost of living is roughly in line with the national average, while home prices are lower than in many other top-rated cities. Additionally, Layton is very safe. The city reported 84 violent crimes in 2012, one of the lowest violent crime rates of any city reviewed.

One concern for some residents in Layton may be a lack of nightlife and access to other activities. The area had among the lowest concentrations of bars and restaurants in the nation.

Click above for data by category

 

38. Rio Rancho, New Mexico

> Median household income: $60,512
> Unemployment rate, 2013: 7.20%
> Median home value: $169,200
> Violent crime per 100,000 residents: 225.8
> Average commuter travel time: 31.1 minutes

Rio Rancho is located north of Albuquerque, across the Rio Grande river. The city’s violent and property crime rates were well below the national benchmarks. Rio Rancho also has a relatively low cost of living compared to other top-ranked cities. Its schools are among the best scoring in the nation in math, science and language arts, and perform exceptionally well compared to their in-state peers.

Year-round golfing and community events, such as the annual Taste of Rio Rancho food fair and Pork & BBQ State Championships, also add appeal.

Of course, the city is not perfect. The average commute time in Rio Rancho was just over half an hour, among the longest commute times in the U.S. Additionally, less than 2% of residents regularly commuted to work by either public transportation or walking, an extremely low figure compared to other U.S. cities.

Click above for data by category

 

37. Virginia Beach, Virginia

> Median household income: $61,626
> Unemployment rate, 2013: 5.30%
> Median home value: $259,500
> Violent crime per 100,000 residents: 169.4
> Average commuter travel time: 22.6 minutes

Virginia Beach is the largest city in the Commonwealth of Virginia, with more than 440,000 residents. Low crime and low unemployment are among its most attractive features. In 2012, the city reported just 169 violent crimes per 100,000 people, lower than most cities. Last year, just over 5% of the workforce was unemployed, versus 7.4% nationwide.

The U.S. military has a large presence in Virginia Beach, with the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Navy, and Marine Corps all maintaining facilities in the metro area, according to the Virginia Beach Department of Economic Development. The military is also a major employer in the city and surrounding area. The Naval Air Station Oceana, including its Dam Neck Annex, has more than 10,000 military personnel and employs more than 5,000 civilians.

Click above for data by category

 

36. Cranston, Rhode Island

> Median household income: $58,992
> Unemployment rate, 2013: 9.50%
> Median home value: $205,900
> Violent crime per 100,000 residents: 161.9
> Average commuter travel time: 22.0 minutes

Cranston is located in Providence County and is the third-largest city in Rhode Island. While the city’s poverty rate was just 9.2%, well below the national rate, and a relatively high percentage of its school-age residents attend private schools, Cranston has had some of the highest unemployment rates in the country. Just under 30% of residents had at least a bachelor’s degree in 2012, slightly above the national rate of 29.1% but below many of the cities on this list.

With a median income of nearly $59,000, higher than the median statewide income, Cranston residents are relatively well off. And the population has plenty of leisure activities to choose from. There were 166 places to get a drink, and 39 libraries in Providence County. The city touts its 3.5 miles of shoreline along the Providence River, located where the river broadens into Narragansett Bay. Cranston’s multiple nationally-recognized historic districts and low crime rates also make it an attractive place to live.

Click above for data by category

 

35. Norman, Oklahoma

> Median household income: $49,210
> Unemployment rate, 2013: 4.20%
> Median home value: $154,700
> Violent crime per 100,000 residents: 151.8
> Average commuter travel time: 22.3 minutes

None of the best cities to live in have a lower cost of living than Norman. And Norman is not just a cheap place to live, it is also a good city for job seekers, in large part due to a very low unemployment rate of just 4.2% last year.

The local housing market has also been relatively strong in recent years, with home values rising 5% between 2010 and 2012. The city also had a very low violent crime rate, with just 152 such crimes per 100,000 residents, well below the national rate of 387 violent crimes per 100,000 people.

Norman is the third-largest city in Oklahoma, with more than 115,000 residents. It is also home to the University of Oklahoma, whose Norman campus has roughly 22,000 students. Norman is also just a short drive from Oklahoma City.

Click above for data by category

 

34. Broken Arrow, Oklahoma

> Median household income: $61,917
> Unemployment rate, 2013: 4.30%
> Median home value: $151,500
> Violent crime per 100,000 residents: 153.9
> Average commuter travel time: 20.3 minutes

Broken Arrow is the largest suburb of Tulsa, and Oklahoma’s fourth-largest city, with a population of more than 100,000. Buying a home in Tulsa County, in which a substantial portion of Broken Arrow is located, is also relatively inexpensive, with a typical home payment costing just 16% of the county’s median income.

In addition to a relatively low cost of living, Broken Arrow also offers residents a strong job market. Employment rose by more than 5% between 2011 and 2013, while the city’s unemployment rate was just 4.3% last year. The city also continues to expand its downtown arts and entertainment neighborhood, called the Rose District, “to provide a pedestrian-friendly space to better accommodate events with fewer traffic lanes, wider sidewalks, midblock crossing and comprehensive landscaping,” according to the city’s Chamber of Commerce.

Click above for data by category

 

33. Quincy, Massachusetts

> Median household income: $58,051
> Unemployment rate, 2013: 6.40%
> Median home value: $341,900
> Violent crime per 100,000 residents: 427.8
> Average commuter travel time: 33.4 minutes

Quincy was the birthplace of two presidents, John Adams and John Quincy Adams. The city is just a short distance from Boston, and many residents commute into the city for work. Nearly 21% of residents commuted by public transit, one of the highest rates in the nation.

Quincy had one of the nation’s lowest rates of property crime, with less than 1,700 incidents per 100,000 people, well below a national rate of more than 2,900 incidents. There were also no murders in Quincy in 2012. The city is somewhat of an outlier among the top-rated cities because its median income was $58,501, well below that of the state as a whole. However, Quincy has a lower cost of living than other Boston suburbs, such as Cambridge and Newton, and is less expensive than living in Boston itself.

Click above for data by category

 

32. Nashua, New Hampshire

> Median household income: $64,359
> Unemployment rate, 2013: 5.90%
> Median home value: $230,400
> Violent crime per 100,000 residents: 234.8
> Average commuter travel time: 24.7 minutes

Nashua’s unemployment rate was 5.9% in 2013, well below the national rate of 7.4%. Low unemployment is partly due to the 1.8% expansion in total employment between 2011 and 2013.

Additionally, city residents are well educated. More than 43% of adults over 25 had at least a college degree, and local students considerably outperformed other students in the state. The region’s well-educated populace seems to have access to high-paying jobs, as a typical household in Nashua earned well above the national median in 2012.

Nashua’s winter and summer temperatures are relatively moderate for the Northeast, ranging from 20 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter to 80 degrees in the summer. More moderate temperatures allow residents to take advantage of outdoor activities, like Hillsborough County’s 16 golf courses, two nature parks, and ski resort.

Click above for data by category

 

31. Longmont, Colorado

> Median household income: $58,789
> Unemployment rate, 2013: 6.00%
> Median home value: $249,600
> Violent crime per 100,000 residents: 211.4
> Average commuter travel time: 21.9 minutes

Longmont, located in Boulder County, has a number of attractive qualities. Residents have easy access to hiking and biking trails, as well as to several large craft breweries — including Left Hand Brewery and Oskar Blues — that are based in the city. Residents can also go skiing in the area, at Eldora Mountain Resort, or travel to a number of top ski destinations just a few hours from Longmont.

While homes in Boulder County were less affordable as of 2013 than they had been in previous years, Longmont is hardly an expensive place to live. The city’s cost of living is only slightly higher than that of the U.S. overall. Also, the median real estate taxes on a home in Longmont amounted to just over 0.6% of the median home value in 2012, among the lowest rates in the U.S.

Click above for data by category

 

30. Orem, Utah

> Median household income: $52,747
> Unemployment rate, 2013: 4.30%
> Median home value: $187,500
> Violent crime per 100,000 residents: 44.6
> Average commuter travel time: 17.2 minutes

Orem is one of the safest cities in the U.S. In 2012, there were just 41 violent crimes in the city, a rate of just 44.6 per 100,0000 people. For comparison, that year there were roughly 387 violent crimes per 100,000 people nationwide.

Job growth has been exceptionally strong in Orem in recent years. Between 2011 and 2013, total employment in Orem rose by 9.5%, among the fastest rates in the nation. Unemployment was quite low as well. Just 4.3% of workers were unemployed in 2013.

More broadly, the Provo-Orem metro area economy has grown relatively rapidly in recent years, even as the U.S. has struggled with slow growth. IHS Global Insight forecasts that the area will be among the fastest-growing economies in the nation through the rest of the decade. Orem is also one of the less expensive top cities to live in, with a cost of living roughly on-par with the U.S. overall.

Click above for data by category

 

29. Madison, Wisconsin

> Median household income: $51,180
> Unemployment rate, 2013: 4.60%
> Median home value: $206,600
> Violent crime per 100,000 residents: 377.7
> Average commuter travel time: 19.0 minutes

Madison’s economy appears to be on a strong footing. It had one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country last year, and moderate employment growth between 2011 and 2013. After declining 5.3% between 2010 and 2012, Madison’s median home value was nearly $207,000, still more than 25% higher than the state median.

One area where the city performs poorly is property crime. As of 2012, Madison’s property crime rate was much higher than the rest of the nation. The city’s poverty rate is also quite high. Nearly 20% of residents lived in poverty in 2012, compared to roughly 15.9% of people nationally, although this figure may be distorted by college students living off-campus.

The two lakes adjacent to Madison give the city an appealing, natural backdrop. Residents can take advantage of any number of the area’s golf courses and marinas. Additionally, the University of Wisconsin-Madison often hosts events that are open to the public.

Click above for data by category

 

28. Hoover, Alabama

> Median household income: $70,583
> Unemployment rate, 2013: 3.80%
> Median home value: $251,300
> Violent crime per 100,000 residents: 104.5
> Average commuter travel time: 24.4 minutes

Hoover is located roughly 10 miles outside of Birmingham. The city ranked among the safest in the U.S., with a violent crime rate of just 104.5 incidents per 100,000 people. Also, just 5.7% of people in Hoover lived below the poverty line, versus 15.9% nationally.

While the typical household earned more than $70,000 — far higher than the national median — the cost of living was in line with national averages. The unemployment rate was only 3.8% in 2013, lower than in all but eight cities reviewed.

Hoover also offers residents many amenities. In addition to eight museums, nine theater companies and more than 20 golf courses in Jefferson County, the city has many natural parks and community playgrounds. The Birmingham Zoo is also a short distance away.

Click above for data by category

 

27. Henderson, Nevada

> Median household income: $61,404
> Unemployment rate, 2013: 9.40%
> Median home value: $186,500
> Violent crime per 100,000 residents: 168.9
> Average commuter travel time: 22.9 minutes

Henderson is located south of Las Vegas in Nevada’s Clark County. Given the city’s proximity to the Las Vegas Strip and to many bars, restaurants, golf courses, and theater companies, residents have numerous entertainment options.

While it is the second-largest city by population, Henderson claims to be “the largest full-service city in the state of Nevada, providing residents all the essential services – ambulance, fire suppression, police, sewer and water services.” The city also features exceptionally strong schools, which considerably outperform their peers in the state.

However, Henderson has also been affected by Nevada’s major housing downturn. The median home value in the city declined 16.8% between 2010 and 2012, from $224,200 to $186,500. As of last year, Henderson’s unemployment rate was 9.4%, two percentage points above the national rate and among the higher rates in the U.S.

Click above for data by category

 

26. Centennial, Colorado

> Median household income: $88,598
> Unemployment rate, 2013: 6.30%
> Median home value: $305,700
> Violent crime per 100,000 residents: 150.9
> Average commuter travel time: 24.7 minutes

Located a short drive south of Denver, Centennial is a family-friendly suburb of the Mile High City. The area boasts one of the lowest property crime rates of cities reviewed and very strong schools. Most notably, students in the area test very highly in science and math relative to the state and the nation.

The city offers many award-winning parks and outdoor spaces that are well connected by bike routes and walkways. The Centennial Center is a popular 11-acre park featuring playgrounds and open spaces. Residents also have relatively easy access to all of the amenities Denver has to offer, including a number of major league sports teams.

Click above for data by category

 

25. Fort Collins, Colorado

> Median household income: $51,343
> Unemployment rate, 2013: 5.30%
> Median home value: $248,800
> Violent crime per 100,000 residents: 262.8
> Average commuter travel time: 18.8 minutes

Roughly an hour north of Denver, Fort Collins is home to Colorado State University, which has more than 26,000 on-campus students as well as thousands of employees and faculty members. Fort Collins offers residents far more than just a major research university. The city also had low crime rates, low unemployment, and strong-performing schools.

Residents also benefit from favorable taxes. Colorado has a relatively low income tax rate of just 4.6%, as well as a state sales tax rate of just 2.9%, although this rises to 7.35% when local sales taxes are included. Area homeowners paid a median of just $1,686 in real estate taxes, the equivalent of just 0.7% of the median home value, one of the lower rates in the nation.

Click above for data by category

 

24. Waukesha, Wisconsin

> Median household income: $54,615
> Unemployment rate, 2013: 7.40%
> Median home value: $196,700
> Violent crime per 100,000 residents: 150.6
> Average commuter travel time: 22.0 minutes

For those who don’t mind the cold, Waukesha is a great place to live. The city’s location on the Fox River helps provide ample green space, hundreds of acres of parks, and scenic views. Additionally, Waukesha is among the safest cities and is very affordable. Still, temperatures can be as low as -15 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter.

The city’s infrastructure is very friendly to commuters. Nearly 4% of residents commute by walking in Waukesha — a relatively high proportion — and 10 bus routes help connect the city’s various neighborhoods. A number of bike paths also run through the city.

Click above for data by category

 

23. Olathe, Kansas

> Median household income: $76,836
> Unemployment rate, 2013: 4.60%
> Median home value: $191,300
> Violent crime per 100,000 residents: 148.6
> Average commuter travel time: 21.6 minutes

The local economy in Olathe has made large strides in recent years. Total employment rose by 14.4% between 2011 and last year, the largest increase among all cities reviewed. The unemployment rate in the city was just 4.6% last year, among the lower rates nationwide. Residents also earned considerably more than other Kansans. A typical household earned nearly $77,000, versus a statewide median household income of just over $50,000.

In addition to high incomes, Olathe offers affordable housing. Johnson County residents required slightly more than 15% of a typical income to afford a median-priced home last year, one of the lowest rates among the nations best cities to live in. But while Olathe is relatively inexpensive compared to many of the other best cities to live in, the cost of living is far higher than in Kansas overall.

Click above for data by category

 

22. Meridian, Idaho

> Median household income: $64,596
> Unemployment rate, 2013: 5.10%
> Median home value: $178,100
> Violent crime per 100,000 residents: 119.1
> Average commuter travel time: 24.5 minutes

Fewer than one in 10 Meridian residents lived in poverty in 2012, better than the nearly 16% of Americans who lived in poverty nationwide. The city’s job market may help explain low poverty levels. Between 2011 and 2013, total employment grew by 9%, one of the fastest growth rates in the nation, helping to lower the unemployment rate to 5.1% last year.

The city’s crime rates are also very low. In 2012, incidents of violent and property crime were 69% and 44% below national rates, respectively. The city and surrounding county also have four zoos, eight movie theaters, and nearly 750 restaurants for residents to enjoy. Meridian’s Parks and Recreation Department sponsors a number of activities each year, including summer movie nights, a fun run, a block party, and Christmas festivities.

Click above for data by category

 

21. Beaverton, Oregon

> Median household income: $51,801
> Unemployment rate, 2013: 6.20%
> Median home value: $268,200
> Violent crime per 100,000 residents: 152.8
> Average commuter travel time: 24.9 minutes

Beaverton is a very attractive place to live. Residents have access to excellent hiking trails, and with a relatively low crime rate, Beaverton is a safe place to live and commute by foot. More than 5% of residents walked to work in 2012, among the higher rates nationwide.

A typical household in Beaverton earned just under $52,000 in 2012, roughly in line with the nationwide median household income. Compared to incomes, the area’s real estate market is not particularly affordable. Last year, payments on a median-priced home in Washington County cost 24% of a typical household’s income, among the higher rates nationwide. The cost of living in Beaverton was also substantially higher than in most of America.

Click above for data by category

 

20. Gilbert, Arizona

> Median household income: $79,916
> Unemployment rate, 2013: 5.20%
> Median home value: $209,300
> Violent crime per 100,000 residents: 95.7
> Average commuter travel time: 27.5 minutes

Less than 100 violent crimes were committed per 100,000 people in Gilbert in 2012, among the lowest crime rates in the nation. In addition to a relatively safe community, Gilbert residents have access to high-quality schools. Students outperformed their statewide peers in math, language arts, and science.

Gilbert has an impressive number of outdoor leisure activities available to residents. Maricopa County boasts nearly 140 golf courses, more than in any other county. Gilbert residents can also enjoy more than 5,600 restaurants in Maricopa County, which has a number of larger cities, including Phoenix, Mesa, and Scottsdale. Gilbert is also home to the Riparian Preserve, a 100-acre wildlife preserve with over 4.5 miles of trails and nearly 300 bird species.

Click above for data by category

 

19. Naperville, Illinois

> Median household income: $109,533
> Unemployment rate, 2013: 7.20%
> Median home value: $361,800
> Violent crime per 100,000 residents: 83.3
> Average commuter travel time: 33.2 minutes

Naperville, which sits along the DuPage river, is a suburb 30 miles outside of Chicago. The downtown area offers a number of charming restaurants and shops along the city’s nearly two-mile long riverwalk.

Adult Naperville residents are well educated. More than 65% had completed at least a bachelor’s degree, among the best attainment rates nationwide. Students also outperformed their statewide peers in math, language arts, and science standardized tests.

The median household income in Naperville was nearly $110,000 in 2012, among the highest levels nationwide. Given the city’s wealth, the cost of real estate was also quite high. Although home values in Naperville fell more than 8% between 2010 and 2012 — one of the largest declines — a typical home was still worth more than $360,000, much more than the state median of $170,600.

Click above for data by category

 

18. Charleston, South Carolina

> Median household income: $49,266
> Unemployment rate, 2013: 5.60%
> Median home value: $251,600
> Violent crime per 100,000 residents: 239.0
> Average commuter travel time: 21.0 minutes

Charleston is famous for its remarkable architecture and vibrant history. Charleston’s Fort Sumter was the site of the first military conflict between the Union and Confederacy. Charleston is also among the nation’s best cities to live in.

Charleston has above-average public schools, as measured by test scores, as well as numerous colleges, including The Citadel, College of Charleston, and the Medical University of South Carolina.

For homeowners, Charleston also offers low real estate taxes, with a median tax bill of just 0.57% of the median home value in 2012. However, home payments generally remained fairly expensive. Last year, Charleston County residents had to spend 29% of the median household income to afford payments on a median-priced home.

Click above for data by category

 

17. Richardson, Texas

> Median household income: $71,082
> Unemployment rate, 2013: 5.60%
> Median home value: $184,700
> Violent crime per 100,000 residents: 165.6
> Average commuter travel time: 24.4 minutes

Richardson is a suburb of Dallas that offers easy access to roads, as well as rail and bus services via Dallas Area Rapid Transit. The city is also home to such large companies as AT&T, Verizon Communications, Cisco Systems, and Fujitsu Network Communications. As many of the companies are telecom-related, the area is referred to as the Telecom Corridor.

Richardson’s job market is quite strong. Employment in the city rose by 4% between 2011 and 2013, and just 5.6% of the workforce was unemployed last year, both among the better rates nationwide. Area schools also performed quite well compared to the rest of the state. Dallas County residents enjoy access to thousands of restaurants, numerous museums, as well as professional sports teams such as the NHL’s Dallas Stars and the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks.

Click above for data by category

 

16. Missouri City, Texas

> Median household income: $84,511
> Unemployment rate, 2013: 5.90%
> Median home value: $163,000
> Violent crime per 100,000 residents: 121.4
> Average commuter travel time: 29.5 minutes

Missouri City, a suburb of Houston, is one of the most crime-free cities in the country. Median income was $84,511 in 2012, nearly 67% higher than the state’s median income. While cities with high median incomes are often less affordable, the cost of living in Missouri City is only slightly higher than the living cost nationally, and the median home value was just $163,000.

Economically, the city does very well. Missouri City had an unemployment rate of 5.9% in 2013, versus a 7.4% national rate. Additionally, employment grew 3.3% between 2011 and 2013, which likely contributed to only 3.9% of Missouri City residents living below the poverty line. Missouri City is located in one of the most vibrant counties in the nation. Harris County has been studied by Rice University’s Houston Area Survey for over 30 years, in part because it “clearly exemplifies the trends that are rapidly refashioning the social and political landscape across all of urban America.”

Click above for data by category

 

15. Weston, Florida

> Median household income: $83,696
> Unemployment rate, 2013: 4.90%
> Median home value: $363,800
> Violent crime per 100,000 residents: 91.9
> Average commuter travel time: 31.6 minutes

With less than 70,000 people, Weston is small compared to other best cities to live in. Residents are among the wealthiest not just in Florida but the entire country. Median home values were nearly $364,000 in 2012, among the highest nationwide. Residents can likely afford the high prices, as a typical household earned more than $83,000 that year, also among the higher figures in the nation.

Because Broward County, where Weston is located, borders the ocean, residents have plenty of access to related leisure activities. Located just a few miles from the shore line, there were 78 marinas in Broward County, more than nearly any other county. There were also 158 sports and fitness centers in the county. Weston borders the Florida Everglades, a wetland ecosystem that has been designated a World Heritage Site.

Click above for data by category

 

14. Edmond, Oklahoma

> Median household income: $70,199
> Unemployment rate, 2013: 3.90%
> Median home value: $197,700
> Violent crime per 100,000 residents: 101.8
> Average commuter travel time: 20.0 minutes

Edmond is a suburb 14.5 miles outside of Oklahoma City, and is home to nearly 85,000 people. The city scored well in all categories. One of Edmond’s most attractive features is a strong job market. Only 3.9% of Edmond’s workforce was unemployed in 2013, one of lowest unemployment rate among cities reviewed. Between 2011 and 2013, total employment rose by over 5%, more than most cities.

To the city’s east is Arcadia Lake, a reservoir created in 1984 to limit flooding and provide a stable source of water for the city. Residents can also enjoy the lake’s beauty and recreation opportunities, even in an urban setting. The lake and surrounding area offer activities like camping, swimming, water skiing, boating, and equestrian trails.

Click above for data by category

 

13. New Rochelle, New York

> Median household income: $66,656
> Unemployment rate, 2013: 6.90%
> Median home value: $549,800
> Violent crime per 100,000 residents: 232.0
> Average commuter travel time: 29.9 minutes

New Rochelle is nestled within Westchester County and is just a short train ride — or drive — from New York City. Nearly 18% of the population commutes by public transit, and an additional 8% walk, both among the highest percentages in the U.S. Additionally, residents benefit from the city’s beautiful coastline along the Long Island Sound.

One of the most attractive aspects of the city may be its access to amenities. Westchester County has 47 golf clubs. The county also has many restaurants and drinking establishments. However, New Rochelle is pricy. The cost of living in the city is among the highest nationwide. Additionally, the median home value was nearly $550,000, among the most expensive reviewed.

Click above for data by category

 

12. Carmel, Indiana

> Median household income: $104,433
> Unemployment rate, 2013: 5.00%
> Median home value: $285,400
> Violent crime per 100,000 residents: 13.4
> Average commuter travel time: 24.1 minutes

Located a short drive from Indianapolis, Carmel is an extremely safe suburban community offering a strong educational system and many employment opportunities. Carmel has the fifth-lowest property crime rate and the lowest violent crime rate of cities reviewed.

The city also offers an affordable standard of living. While the typical Carmel household earned double the national median household income, the cost of living is relatively low.

Local neighborhoods and residential areas are efficiently connected by commuter routes. Currently, more than 80 roundabouts have taken the place of traffic lights and four-way stops, improving residents’ driving experience. In the city center, Carmel offers numerous attractions. Notably, the Arts and Design District boasts restaurants, shops, and galleries. Carmel also maintains more than 500 acres of park land and miles of dedicated bike routes.

Click above for data by category

 

11. Boca Raton, Florida

> Median household income: $67,612
> Unemployment rate, 2013: 5.60%
> Median home value: $346,500
> Violent crime per 100,000 residents: 189.6
> Average commuter travel time: 21.0 minutes

Just east of the Everglades in southern Florida, Boca Raton is a coastal city of more than 86,000 residents. There is no shortage of things to do in the city. Like many Florida communities, golf courses are in abundant supply — there are three within the city and more than 80 within Palm Beach County. Additionally, its long coastline and more than 30 marinas offer many opportunities for boating, fishing, swimming, and sunbathing. Off the water, residents can enjoy extensive shopping and easily commute using the county’s Palm Tran transit system.

One concern in Boca Raton is crime. The city had a higher rate of property crimes than the national average in 2012. However, there were only 190 violent crimes per 100,000 residents, lower than the national rate. Additionally, the area is expensive. In fact, most cities reviewed were less expensive than Boca Raton.

Click above for data by category

 

10. Johns Creek, Georgia

> Median household income: $100,478
> Unemployment rate, 2013: 6.50%
> Median home value: $337,900
> Violent crime per 100,000 residents: 53.7
> Average commuter travel time: 30.3 minutes

Johns Creek residents are substantially better off than most Americans, with the median city household making more than $100,000. By comparison, the typical American household earned $51,371 in 2012, while the median household income in Georgia was just over $47,000. Area homes are also among the most costly in the country. The median home value was $337,900.

While Johns Creek is one of just a few cities reviewed without a single college, area adults are very well educated. Nearly 65% had completed at least a bachelor’s degree as of 2012, one of the highest attainment rates nationwide. One of the few downsides to living in the city is commuting. The average commute time for residents was over half an hour, more than in most cities.

Click above for data by category

 

9. Flower Mound, Texas

> Median household income: $113,683
> Unemployment rate, 2013: 5.30%
> Median home value: $277,900
> Violent crime per 100,000 residents: 30.9
> Average commuter travel time: 25.9 minutes

Flower Mound is among the smaller cities reviewed, with just over 68,000 residents as of 2012. Demand for homes in the area has grown dramatically in recent years, as evidenced by home prices rising 8.5% between 2010 and 2012, among the largest increases. Violent crimes are also extremely rare in the town. There were just over 30 incidents per 100,000 people in 2013, lower than in all but two other cities reviewed.

Residents are among the wealthiest in America, with a typical household earning $113,683 in 2012. Residents are well educated, and students performed above average on standardized tests. Residents can also enjoy over 2,800 restaurants and 14 museums in Tarrant County, as well as Dallas Cowboys football games in nearby Arlington.

Click above for data by category

 

8. Cary, North Carolina

> Median household income: $86,151
> Unemployment rate, 2013: 4.80%
> Median home value: $298,200
> Violent crime per 100,000 residents: 81.6
> Average commuter travel time: 22.1 minutes

A typical home in Cary is worth nearly $300,000, roughly double the statewide median home value. While Cary’s real estate market is relatively expensive, taxes are quite low, equal to less than 1% of typical home values.

Nearby Raleigh, which is much larger, tends to be a more popular destination among state residents. Downtown Cary, however, is developing rapidly. In recent years, Cary has attracted high numbers of new businesses and young entrepreneurs. With the unemployment rate at less than 5% last year, the local economy seems to be doing well. According to IHS Global Insight, the Raleigh-Cary metro area is expected to be among the fastest-growing economies in the U.S.

Click above for data by category

 

7. Troy, Michigan

> Median household income: $81,800
> Unemployment rate, 2013: 7.00%
> Median home value: $203,400
> Violent crime per 100,000 residents: 73.6
> Average commuter travel time: 23.5 minutes

Like most of the best cities to live, Troy has very well educated residents. A majority of adults had completed at least a bachelor’s degree, versus a national rate of less than 30%. And while Michigan students performed below the U.S. average on standardized tests, Troy students scored far higher in math, language arts, and science than those outside the city.

Last month, Troy Mayor Dane Slater declared a state of emergency in response to flooding, making more resources available to disaster victims. The local community seems well equipped to control the damage and assist those in need. For example, Oakland County recently formed multi-agency resource centers to more efficiently handle the relief process.

Click above for data by category

 

6. Irvine, California

> Median household income: $96,278
> Unemployment rate, 2013: 4.70%
> Median home value: $630,400
> Violent crime per 100,000 residents: 50.6
> Average commuter travel time: 25.9 minutes

With excellent schools and exceptionally low crime rates, Irvine is a very attractive place. Irvine students performed better than the vast majority of California secondary school children in math, language arts, and science standardized tests. And there were just 50.6 violent crimes per 100,000 residents in 2012, one of the lowest rates among cities nationwide.

A typical home in Irvine was valued at more than $630,000, among the higher median home values in the country, and considerably higher than the nearly $350,000 value of a typical California home. The city’s population is also quite wealthy, with a median household income of more than $96,000 in 2012. Orange County real estate has some of the least affordable housing. County residents had to spend 42% of the median income to afford payments on a typical home in the area as of last year.

Click above for data by category

 

5. Evanston, Illinois

> Median household income: $68,169
> Unemployment rate, 2013: 7.20%
> Median home value: $360,900
> Violent crime per 100,000 residents: 304.7
> Average commuter travel time: 28.4 minutes

More than two-thirds of adults living in Evanston had completed at least a bachelor’s degree, among the highest educational attainment rates in the nation. Younger Evanston residents seem to be on track to get a good education as well. Secondary school students performed above average on math and language arts standardized tests in 2013. Additionally, Northwestern University, one of the nation’s top universities, is based in Evanston.

In addition to a well-educated populace, Evanston residents have plenty of entertainment options available to them. Cook County, which includes Chicago, had 49 museums and 192 libraries as of 2012. There were also nearly 9,000 restaurants and more than 900 bars — more than any other county in the nation.

Click above for data by category

 

4. Pleasanton, California

> Median household income: $112,665
> Unemployment rate, 2013: 3.70%
> Median home value: $694,300
> Violent crime per 100,000 residents: 68.2
> Average commuter travel time: 28.9 minutes

Like many of the best cities to live in, Pleasanton is relatively safe. There were less than 70 violent crimes per 100,000 residents in 2012, among the lowest rates nationwide. A typical household earned more than $112,000, more than all but a handful of U.S. cities. And the unemployment rate in Pleasanton was just 3.7% last year, also among the lowest rates nationwide.

Local students have access to a high-quality education. Secondary school children performed well above the state average in math, language arts, and science last year.

While median income was among the highest in the country, cost of living was also expensive. Property values in Pleasanton were among the highest in the nation. A typical home in the area was valued at nearly $695,000, more than all but six other cities reviewed.

Click above for data by category

 

3. Mountain View, California

> Median household income: $91,422
> Unemployment rate, 2013: 5.00%
> Median home value: $749,000
> Violent crime per 100,000 residents: 204.1
> Average commuter travel time: 20.4 minutes

Mountain View scores well across many important measures. The city had low crime rates, strong-performing schools, a highly educated population, and a healthy job market. Mountain View is home to several large high-tech companies. It is also part of Santa Clara County, which includes other well-known technology centers such as Cupertino, Palo Alto, and Sunnyvale.

The county also offers access to numerous amenities, including more than 3,500 restaurants and 216 gyms and fitness centers as of 2012. As of 2012, Santa Clara County had more than 3,500 restaurants and 216 gyms and fitness centers. Additionally, as of this year, residents can also watch the San Francisco 49ers at their new stadium in Santa Clara.

However, the cost of living in Mountain View — and California, more generally — is also quite high. Mountain View homes had a median value of nearly $750,000 in 2012, among the highest in the nation and more than double the statewide median. Residents also have to pay California’s relatively high taxes. In addition to the 7.5% California sales tax, Santa Clara has an additional 1.25% sales tax. State income tax rates are also quite high.

Click above for data by category

 

2. Bellevue, Washington

> Median household income: $91,449
> Unemployment rate, 2013: 4.70%
> Median home value: $507,600
> Violent crime per 100,000 residents: 127.8
> Average commuter travel time: 22.6 minutes

Located across Lake Washington from Seattle, Bellevue has a very well educated population. More than 64% of adult residents had a college degree, among the highest rates in the nation. Younger residents also benefit from excellent schools that scored extremely well in math.

Bellevue is also economically vibrant, with 5% employment growth between 2011 and 2013, as well as just a 4.7% unemployment rate last year. Large employers T-Mobile USA and Expedia are both headquartered in the city, while other major employers include Boeing, Microsoft, and Nordstrom.

However, Bellevue also falls on the higher end of the spectrum for cost of living. Homes are expensive, with a median home value of over half a million dollars in 2012, higher than the vast majority of U.S. cities. And while Washington has no state income tax, it has a sales tax of 6.5%, among the highest in the United States. Combined with the local and transit taxes, Bellevue residents pay an effective sales tax of 9.5% on purchases.

Click above for data by category

 

1. Newton, Massachusetts

> Median household income: $125,642
> Unemployment rate, 2013: 4.80%
> Median home value: $689,900
> Violent crime per 100,000 residents: 87.6
> Average commuter travel time: 26.4 minutes

A suburb of Boston, Newton is 24/7 Wall St.’s best city to live in. Crime rates were just a fraction of national figures in 2012. And while total employment rose only 0.5% between 2011 and 2013, the city’s unemployment rate remained below 5% during the same period.

Students have access to excellent schools. While nearly half of all school-age residents attended private schools, test scores in Newton’s public schools were far better than public schools across the state. Additionally, more than three-quarters of residents 25 and over had a bachelor’s degree, the second-highest rate in the country. Residents of Middlesex County, where Newton is located, can take advantage of 49 golf courses, nearly 3,000 restaurants, 24 museums and three ski resorts in their free time.

Living in Newton costs more than living in most of the United States, and more than most places in Massachusetts for that matter. This may explain may explain why it had the highest median income of any large city, at over $125,000.

Click above for data by category

METHODOLOGY

To determine the best cities to live in, 24/7 Wall St. identified the 550 cities that the U.S. Census Bureau reported as having more than 65,000 residents in 2012. Data were collected in seven major categories: crime, economy, education, housing, environment, leisure, and infrastructure.

Within each category, specific data points contributed to category ranking. For example, the economy category included median household income, cost of living, employment growth between 2011 and 2013, and the 2013 unemployment rate. We then used a formula to weight each category and convert each category rank to a meta rank ranging from 0-100. Crime, economy, education, and housing received full weights, while environment, leisure, and infrastructure received half weights.

 

Crime statistics are from the Federal Bureau of Investigations and include violent crime per 100,000 residents and property crime per 100,000 residents, as well as more granular crime breakdowns within those categories. All crime statistics are from 2012.

Median household income and poverty rate data are from the Census Bureau’s 2012 American Community Survey. Cities with median household incomes less than 90% of the state median income were given a lower score. Additionally, cities that had median incomes exceeding 150% of the state median were also penalized for imposing high-income barriers on potential residents.

From the Bureau of Labor Statistics, we used data on employment growth and unemployment between 2011 and 2013. Homefacts, a home area research site and a subsidiary of RealtyTrac, provided a cost of living index that compared how much money a standardized basket of consumer goods costs in cities around the United States.

Data on educational attainment and the portion of the population enrolled in private schools are from the Census Bureau. Educational attainment indicates how many people 25-years-old and over have at least a bachelor’s degree.

Homefacts provided data on the average test scores of schools within each city. Scores by subject — math, language arts, and science — were also provided. To account for regional differences in schools and teacher quality, as well as test difficulty, city test scores were indexed to state scores.

Median home value and real estate tax data were from the Census Bureau. RealtyTrac provided data on annual affordability ratios. Affordability ratios indicate the percentage of a median income needed to make payments on a median-priced home in 2013. As with median income, cities with median home values more than 10% below and more than 25% above state median home value were penalized.

Also from Homefacts, we considered air quality data and developed an index to reflect the extent to which cities have the necessary components of “good air,” as defined by the Environmental Protection Agency. We aggregated temperature data from Homefacts to get average temperatures for winter and summer months. To reward more temperate climates, cities were given lower scores the more their temperatures deviated from national seasonal averages.

Data on leisure activities come from the Census Bureau’s North American Industry Classification System and show the number of establishments, by county, for each leisure activity. These include: restaurants, bars, libraries, golf courses, fitness and recreation centers, marinas, museums, nature parks, ski resorts, sports teams, dinner theaters, zoos, and movie theaters.

Data on airports, hospitals, and commute times are also from the Census Bureau. Commuting data is considered in the infrastructure category because it reflects the degree to which people in these cities use public transportation or drive their own cars. The average time people spent commuting was also considered as a proxy for infrastructure efficiency.

Cities were excluded if either property or violent crime rates exceeded national rates by more than 25% because they were deemed unsafe. Additionally, cities where the 2013 unemployment rate was more than 33% above the national rate of 7.4% were not considered. Poverty rates more than 33% above the national benchmark also disqualified cities from the list. Cities with negative employment growth between 2011-2013 were also excluded.

If one racial group made up more than 90% of the city’s population, the city was deemed ineligible. Lastly, to control for county and state size, only one city was allowed per county and only three cities were considered from each state.