Depending on the state, the city ranking as most livable can have far different conditions than the best city in another state. In some of the less prosperous parts of the country, the best rated large cities may actually have worse living conditions, job prospects, and amenities than in the typical American city. Bethlehem, Pennsylvania compares unfavorably to the nation by a number of measures, but makes the list because other cities in the state report even worse outcomes and living conditions.
Educated populations are more resilient to economic downturns as a college education tends to lead to greater job opportunities and higher-paying jobs. Partially as a result, 39 of the 50 cities on this list are home to a larger share of college-educated adults than the 31.3% share of adults nationwide.
Just as solid employment figures can create a virtuous cycle of prosperity in U.S. cities, the presence of violent crime can be detrimental to a city’s livability, undermining growth. With only a handful of exceptions, the violent crime rate in every city on this list for which data is available is lower than the U.S. rate as a whole. In Johns Creek, for example, the best city to live in Georgia and the fourth best city to live in overall, there were only 14 violent crimes for every 100,000 residents in 2016 — a fraction of the U.S. violent crime rate of 386 incidents per 100,000 people.
Desirable, vibrant communities are often expensive — prohibitively so for most Americans. Indeed, the cost of goods and services is substantially higher than the average cost nationwide in about 21 of the cities on this list. However, higher incomes offset the higher cost of living in many of these. As a result, in 29 of the cities on this list housing is more affordable than the nation as a whole, as measured by median household income as a percentage of the typical cost of a home. What is clear
A major contributing factor to a given city’s livability is the presence of cultural amenities and entertainment venues. The majority of cities on this list have a greater concentration of restaurants and eateries or cultural amenities such as museums or theaters than is typical nationwide. Further, most of the best cities have relatively easy access to similar attractions in nearby major cities such as Denver, Minneapolis, New York, and Washington D.C.
Not surprisingly, the cities on this list are attractive to growing families and new residents. Well over half of the best cities have reported faster population growth over the last five years than the nation as a whole.
To determine the best city to live in each state, 24/7 Wall St. considered the 550 cities with populations of more than 65,000 residents in 2015. When no cities had populations of at least 65,000 in a given state, we considered all cities in the state with populations of 40,000 and more. Data were collected in nine major categories: crime, demography, economy, education, environment, health, housing, infrastructure, and leisure.
Within each category, specific measures contributed to a city’s overall category score.
Population figures are from the Census Bureau’s 2016 American Community Survey (ACS). The crime category consists of both violent and property crime rates from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s 2016 Uniform Crime Report. High crime rates have the potential to make a city less livable. As a result, cities with crime rates lower than the national rates were rewarded, while cities with higher crime rates were penalized.
The economy category includes a city’s 2016 annual unemployment rate and employment growth from 2014-2016, both from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. We also considered the poverty rate in this category. Cities were penalized for having poverty rates above the national rate of 14.0%. Median household incomes were also considered. Cities were penalized if cost of living-adjusted incomes were less than $44,000 or more than $112,000 a year, roughly 80% to 200% of a typical household’s income nationwide. Poverty rates and median household income came from the 2016 ACS. Cost of living data came from property and real estate data provider ATTOM Data Solutions.
As a proxy for school system strength, we considered high school standardized test scores relative to state scores from ATTOM Data Solutions. Test score data are for 2015 or the most recently available year. Additionally, the education category included the percentage of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree from the ACS, as well as the number of colleges and universities in a city per 100,000 residents from the Department of Education. Both measures are as of 2015.
Whereas other measures in the weather index are specific to an individual city, many metrics in this category refer to the county in which the city is located because weather is likely similar, if not the same, in these two geographies. In this category, we included the air quality index to assess the levels of a variety of pollutants on a given year. Additionally, we considered an index measuring natural disaster risk, as well as average monthly rainfall. All data in this category came from ATTOM Data Solutions.