25. Fort Collins, Colorado
> Median household income: $51,343
> Unemployment rate, 2013: 5.30%
> Median home value: $248,800
> Violent crime per 100,000 residents: 262.8
> Average commuter travel time: 18.8 minutes
Roughly an hour north of Denver, Fort Collins is home to Colorado State University, which has more than 26,000 on-campus students as well as thousands of employees and faculty members. Fort Collins offers residents far more than just a major research university. The city also had low crime rates, low unemployment, and strong-performing schools.
Residents also benefit from favorable taxes. Colorado has a relatively low income tax rate of just 4.6%, as well as a state sales tax rate of just 2.9%, although this rises to 7.35% when local sales taxes are included. Area homeowners paid a median of just $1,686 in real estate taxes, the equivalent of just 0.7% of the median home value, one of the lower rates in the nation.
24. Waukesha, Wisconsin
> Median household income: $54,615
> Unemployment rate, 2013: 7.40%
> Median home value: $196,700
> Violent crime per 100,000 residents: 150.6
> Average commuter travel time: 22.0 minutes
For those who don’t mind the cold, Waukesha is a great place to live. The city’s location on the Fox River helps provide ample green space, hundreds of acres of parks, and scenic views. Additionally, Waukesha is among the safest cities and is very affordable. Still, temperatures can be as low as -15 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter.
The city’s infrastructure is very friendly to commuters. Nearly 4% of residents commute by walking in Waukesha — a relatively high proportion — and 10 bus routes help connect the city’s various neighborhoods. A number of bike paths also run through the city.
23. Olathe, Kansas
> Median household income: $76,836
> Unemployment rate, 2013: 4.60%
> Median home value: $191,300
> Violent crime per 100,000 residents: 148.6
> Average commuter travel time: 21.6 minutes
The local economy in Olathe has made large strides in recent years. Total employment rose by 14.4% between 2011 and last year, the largest increase among all cities reviewed. The unemployment rate in the city was just 4.6% last year, among the lower rates nationwide. Residents also earned considerably more than other Kansans. A typical household earned nearly $77,000, versus a statewide median household income of just over $50,000.
In addition to high incomes, Olathe offers affordable housing. Johnson County residents required slightly more than 15% of a typical income to afford a median-priced home last year, one of the lowest rates among the nations best cities to live in. But while Olathe is relatively inexpensive compared to many of the other best cities to live in, the cost of living is far higher than in Kansas overall.
22. Meridian, Idaho
> Median household income: $64,596
> Unemployment rate, 2013: 5.10%
> Median home value: $178,100
> Violent crime per 100,000 residents: 119.1
> Average commuter travel time: 24.5 minutes
Fewer than one in 10 Meridian residents lived in poverty in 2012, better than the nearly 16% of Americans who lived in poverty nationwide. The city’s job market may help explain low poverty levels. Between 2011 and 2013, total employment grew by 9%, one of the fastest growth rates in the nation, helping to lower the unemployment rate to 5.1% last year.
The city’s crime rates are also very low. In 2012, incidents of violent and property crime were 69% and 44% below national rates, respectively. The city and surrounding county also have four zoos, eight movie theaters, and nearly 750 restaurants for residents to enjoy. Meridian’s Parks and Recreation Department sponsors a number of activities each year, including summer movie nights, a fun run, a block party, and Christmas festivities.
21. Beaverton, Oregon
> Median household income: $51,801
> Unemployment rate, 2013: 6.20%
> Median home value: $268,200
> Violent crime per 100,000 residents: 152.8
> Average commuter travel time: 24.9 minutes
Beaverton is a very attractive place to live. Residents have access to excellent hiking trails, and with a relatively low crime rate, Beaverton is a safe place to live and commute by foot. More than 5% of residents walked to work in 2012, among the higher rates nationwide.
A typical household in Beaverton earned just under $52,000 in 2012, roughly in line with the nationwide median household income. Compared to incomes, the area’s real estate market is not particularly affordable. Last year, payments on a median-priced home in Washington County cost 24% of a typical household’s income, among the higher rates nationwide. The cost of living in Beaverton was also substantially higher than in most of America.