Special Report

The Best and Worst Run Cities in America

The Best-Run Cities in America

10. Raleigh, NC
> Population: 424,000 (40th largest)
> Credit rating: Aaa, stable
> Violent crime per 100,000: 423 (25th lowest)
> 2012 Unemployment rate: 6.9% (30th lowest)

Located in the north-central part of North Carolina, Raleigh is the state’s second-largest city. Along with Chapel Hill and Durham, it makes up what is known as the Research Triangle. Because the area is a research and academic center, many of the city’s job are high-skill scientific and academic positions. Largely as a result, Raleigh has an educated and relatively prosperous population. As of 2012, 46.8% of Raleigh’s adults had at least a bachelor’s degree, much higher than the national rate of less than 30%. Raleigh’s unemployment rate was 6.9% in 2012, compared to a national rate of 8.1% that year, and the city’s poverty rate was lower than most of the nation’s largest cities. Like many of the best-run cities, Raleigh’s credit is rated a perfect Aaa by Moody’s.

9. Chesapeake, Virginia
> Population: 228,000 (87th largest)
> Credit rating: Aa1
> Violent crime per 100,000: 369 (15th lowest)
> 2012 Unemployment rate: 6.0% (tied-13th lowest)

Chesapeake residents are relatively wealthy. The area’s median household income of $65,562 last year was well above the national median — despite many in the area working in retail, an industry which has many low wage jobs. More than 15% of the jobs in Chesapeake were in retail as of 2012, more than any large U.S. city except for Stockton, California. According to Moody’s, the city has a diverse economy and tax base, both of which Moody’s considers favorably, although it noted that the city’s tax base had shrunk in recent years. The city also had low unemployment and a high rate of health insurance coverage last year.

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8. Austin, Texas
> Population: 843,000 (11th largest)
> Credit rating: Aaa, stable
> Violent crime per 100,000: 409 (22nd lowest)
> 2012 Unemployment rate: 5.4% (6th lowest)

Austin is located in one of the nation’s fastest-growing metropolitan areas. Last year, the Austin-Round Rock-San Marcos economy grew by 6.5%, compared to a 2.5% uptick nationally. IHS Global Insight, an international information company, estimates the city will continue to grow at a relatively rapid clip. Austin also has the highest available credit rating (Aaa) from Moody’s, which notes that the city is a “large, diverse and regionally important economy.” Jobs are also readily available in Austin. The city’s average unemployment rate was just 5.4% in 2012, among the lowest for any major city and far better than the nation’s 8.1% unemployment rate that year. Austin’s median home value also rose by nearly 6% between 2008 and 2012, one of the largest increases among all large cities.

7. Seattle, Washington
> Population: 635,000 (22nd largest)
> Credit rating: Aaa, stable
> Violent crime per 100,000: 598 (44th lowest)
> 2012 Unemployment rate: 6.4% (tied-20th lowest)

Nearly 94% of Seattle adults had a high school diploma in 2012, while just 6.4% of the city’s workforce was unemployed, both considerably better than the respective national rates. The city’s 2012 median household income of $64,473 was also quite high. The Seattle area’s economy has been quite strong in recent years, growing 3.3% in 2011 and 4.6% in 2012, better than most other metro areas. A number of major companies, including Costco, Microsoft, Amazon, and Starbucks are based in or near the city. The metropolitan area is also a major hub of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) jobs, according to the Brookings Institution. Having workers qualified for STEM jobs can attract employers and promote economic growth.

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6. Scottsdale, Arizona
> Population: 224,000 (89th largest)
> Credit rating: Aaa, stable
> Violent crime per 100,000: 147 (4th lowest)
> 2012 Unemployment rate: 5.7% (tied-10th lowest)

Scottsdale has some of the wealthiest residents of any large U.S. city. A typical household in the area made $72,102 last year, about $20,000 more than the national median income. Residents are well off by several other measures as well. As of last year, more than 95% of adults had a high school diploma, 10 percentage points better than the national rate. Additionally, poverty and crime rates are among the lowest, compared with other large cities. The city’s credit is rated Aaa by Moody’s. The agency lists the city’s wealth and strong fiscal management as reasons for its perfect rating. Like many Arizona cities, Scottsdale was hit hard by the housing crisis. Home prices fell by 23% between 2008 and 2012, compared to a 12.9% decline nationally. However, Scottsdale’s foreclosure rate was considerably better than those of Phoenix, Tucson, and many other major cities in the Southwest.

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