Compared to the rest of the world, the United States has a relatively high standard of living. Still, in a country home to over 328 million people spanning nearly 3.8 million square miles, standards of living vary considerably from place to place. Some parts of the country stand out as examples of the high level of prosperity that is achievable in the United States.
Many of the best counties to live in either encompass or are within commuting distance to a major urban area. Densely populated cities, like New York, San Francisco and Washington, tend to have a high concentration of jobs that draws in educated workers and reduces the likelihood of financial hardship. In all but a handful of counties on the list of the best counties to live in, the January 2021 unemployment rate was below the comparable 6.8% national rate.
A handful of counties on the list are not within commuting distance of a major city but in relatively remote areas that are popular destinations for outdoor recreation. By some measures, these places, which include several counties in the Colorado Rockies, have some of the healthiest populations in the United States.
San Miguel County, Colorado, is America’s best county to live in. Here are some of its key numbers:
> Poverty rate: 11.3%
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 59.4%
> Life expectancy at birth: 100+ years
> Total population: 8,049
> Largest place in county: Telluride
Many counties in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain region that are popular destinations for outdoor recreation rank among the best places to live. San Miguel County, home to the Telluride ski resort, is one of them. These places tend to have healthy populations, and in San Miguel County, the average life expectancy at birth is estimated to be over 100 years. It is important to note, however, that average life expectancies are calculated estimates and that some margin of error should be expected.
Higher educational attainment is linked with better health outcomes and healthier lifestyles, and 59.4% of adults in San Miguel County have a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to just 32.1% of adults nationwide. Only 15.2% of adults in the county lead completely sedentary lifestyles, compared to 23.3% of U.S. adults. Also, only 18.8% of adults are obese, compared to 29.0% of adults nationwide.
Our methodology: Data on average life expectancy at birth came from the 2020 County Health Rankings, a joint program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, and are based on mortality data from the years 2016 to 2018.
Supplemental data on population, income and median home value are five-year estimates from the American Community Survey. Data on unemployment in January 2021 came from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and is not seasonally adjusted. Data on the number of annual drug deaths per 100,000 residents came from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and is for the years 2015 to 2019.