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.
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.
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.
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.
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.