Special Report

America's 50 Best Cities to Live

Source: Thinkstock

10. Raleigh, North Carolina
> Population: 458,862
> Median home value: $242,500
> Poverty rate: 12.1% (bottom 25%)
> Pct. with at least a bachelor’s degree: 50.8% (top 10%)

Raleigh is one of many fast-growing mid-size cities in North Carolina. Over the past 10 years, the population of Raleigh increased by 29.6%, the most of any city in the state other than neighboring Cary, and far more than the 7.1% national population growth rate.

Raleigh is located in the southeastern corner of the Research Triangle, a prospering area with three leading research universities and many high-tech companies. Raleigh itself is home to North Carolina State University and is a 30-minute drive from Duke University and The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. North Carolina has one of the largest brain gains — more college graduates are staying in the state than leaving — in the country. This has contributed to high educational attainment in cities across the state. In Raleigh, 50.8% of adults have at least a bachelor’s degree, far more than the 31.3% national share.

Source: Jon Bilous / Shutterstock.com

9. Columbia, Maryland
> Population: 107,308
> Median home value: $371,400 (top 25%)
> Poverty rate: 6.5% (bottom 10%)
> Pct. with at least a bachelor’s degree: 63.2% (top 10%)

Cities like Columbia are largely the reason Maryland is the wealthiest state in the country. The typical Columbia household earns $107,164 a year — well above the median income nationwide of $57,617. As is the case in many of the best cities in the country, goods and services are considerably more expensive in Columbia than they are on average nationwide. Still, the area’s high incomes are more than enough to offset the high costs.

Columbia residents have access to plenty of cultural amenities and entertainment venues. The city has a higher concentration of restaurants, theatre companies, and movie theatres than is typical nationwide. Like many cities on this list, Columbia’s population is growing rapidly. The city’s population climbed by about 15% in the last 10 years, more than double the U.S. population growth over the same period.

Source: Paul Sableman / Flickr

8. O’Fallon, Missouri
> Population: 86,276
> Median home value: $224,400
> Poverty rate: 3.3% (bottom 10%)
> Pct. with at least a bachelor’s degree: 43.0% (top 25%)

O’Fallon is one of the best places to live in the Midwest and in the country as a whole. That is partially because people living there tend to be relatively affluent. But while places where the population earns higher incomes tend to be more expensive, O’Fallon is relatively affordable. The typical household in O’Fallon earns approximately $85,000 annually. When adjusted for the area’s low cost of living, however, the value of the median household income is closer to $90,000.

Housing in particular is cheap in the city, which is located on the outskirts of the St. Louis metropolitan area. The typical home is worth about $224,000, only slightly more than the national median home value. While in some cities the price of a typical home can be as much as 15 times the median household income, in O’Fallon the median home value is just 2.6 times the annual earnings of the typical household.

Source: Thinkstock

7. Naperville, Illinois
> Population: 148,063
> Median home value: $421,400 (top 25%)
> Poverty rate: 4.1% (bottom 10%)
> Pct. with at least a bachelor’s degree: 69.2% (top 10%)

Naperville is one of the most educated of U.S. cities. Naperville high schoolers test better than students in any city in Illinois other than Arlington Heights, and 69.2% of adults have at least a bachelor’s degree — more than twice the 31.3% of adults nationwide with similar education. Many of the city’s most educated residents likely commute to high-paying jobs in neighboring Chicago. The typical Naperville household earns $116,482 a year, the 12th most of any city nationwide.

Naperville is largely devoid of the violent crime that plagues much of the Chicago metro area. In 2016, there were just 62 violent crimes reported per 100,000 residents in Naperville, far less than the national rate of 386 incidents per 100,000 Americans and among the least of any U.S. city.

Source: Dion Hinchcliffe / Flickr

6. Dale City, Virginia
> Population: 72,073
> Median home value: $297,800 (top 25%)
> Poverty rate: 5.7% (bottom 10%)
> Pct. with at least a bachelor’s degree: 27.8%

Dale City residents have relatively easy access to the entertainment and cultural amenities of nearby Washington D.C. Many likely work in high-paying jobs in and around the nation’s capital. The typical Dale City household earns about $95,600 a year, nearly $40,000 more than is typical nationwide. Just as the area is home to a relatively large share of wealthy residents, very few in Dale City face serious financial hardship. Only 5.7% of the city’s population live in poverty, less than half the U.S. poverty rate of 14.0%.

Housing in the area is slightly more affordable than it is nationwide. While nationwide the typical home costs 3.6 times the U.S. median income, in Dale City the typical area home is worth about 3.1 times the city’s median household income.

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