Special Report

America's 50 Best Cities to Live


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.

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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.

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