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.
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.
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.
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.
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.