Special Report

Best County to Live in Every State

Source: Rivers Langley; SaveRivers / Wikimedia Commons

Alabama: Shelby County
> 5-yr. population change: +6.9% (state: +1.5%)
> Poverty rate: 8.3% (state: 18.0%)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 42.2% (state: 24.5%)
> Life expectancy: 79.5 years (state: 75.7 years)

In Shelby County, 42.2% of adults have a bachelor’s degree or higher, well above the 24.5% bachelor’s degree attainment rate across Alabama as a whole. Incomes tend to rise with educational attainment, and in Shelby County, just 8.3% of the population lives below the poverty line, less than half the 18.0% state poverty rate. Additionally, with a median annual household income of $74,063, Shelby is the richest county in the state.

Like most counties on this list, Shelby County is growing rapidly. In the last five years, the county’s population grew by 6.9%, more than quadruple Alabama’s 1.5% population growth over that time.

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Alaska: Juneau City and Borough
> 5-yr. population change: +2.5% (state: +3.9%)
> Poverty rate: 7.4% (state: 10.2%)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 40.3% (state: 29.0%)
> Life expectancy: 80.3 years (state: 78.4 years)

The Juneau Borough is coterminous with the city of the same name, Alaska’s state capital. Juneau is the only borough or county equivalent in the state where more than 40% of adults have a bachelor’s degree. Joblessness is also less of a problem in Juneau than it is statewide. Only 4.6% of workers in the city are out of a job, well below the 6.5% state unemployment rate.

Due in part to both a well-educated population and a relatively strong job market, serious financial hardship is not as common in Juneau as it is in the state as a whole. Just 7.4% of the local population lives below the poverty line, compared to 10.2% of Alaskans.

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Source: Zeb Micelli / Wikimedia Commons

Arizona: Maricopa County
> 5-yr. population change: +8.2% (state: +6.2%)
> Poverty rate: 15.7% (state: 17.0%)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 31.4% (state: 28.4%)
> Life expectancy: 80.1 years (state: 79.6 years)

Maricopa County includes the city of Phoenix. The most populous county in Arizona, it is also one of the fastest growing. The county is now home to 4.2 million people, an 8.2% increase from five years prior. Over the same period, Arizona’s population grew by 6.2%. The county’s rapid growth may be driven in part by the strong job market and relatively high paying jobs in the country. Just 3.7% of Maricopa County’s labor force is unemployed, the lowest unemployment rate in the state. Additionally, with a median household income of $58,580 a year, it is the richest county in the state.

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Arkansas: Benton County
> 5-yr. population change: +13.4% (state: +2.1%)
> Poverty rate: 10.5% (state: 18.1%)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 31.7% (state: 22.0%)
> Life expectancy: 79.4 years (state: 76.2 years)

Benton County is located in the northwestern corner of Arkansas, just north of Fayetteville. By far the fastest growing county in the state, the Benton’s population grew by 13.4% in the last five years, more than six times the state’s 2.1% population growth. Benton County residents are more likely to have a college education and less likely to live in poverty than the typical Arkansas resident.

As is often the case in counties on this list, Benton County is not a cheap place to live relative to the rest of the state. With a median home price of $193,647, according to the National Association of Realtors, Benton ranks as the county with the most expensive housing market in the state.

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California: Marin County
> 5-yr. population change: +3.2% (state: +4.4%)
> Poverty rate: 8.1% (state: 15.1%)
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 57.5% (state: 32.6%)
> Life expectancy: 83.8 years (state: 80.8 years)

Marin County is located on the other side of the Golden Gate bridge from San Francisco. It is one of only a few dozen counties nationwide where more than 50% of adults have a bachelor’s degree. Higher-paying jobs often require at least a college diploma, and in Marin County, most households have an income over $100,000 a year.

High-income, highly educated populations typically report better health outcomes. With a life expectancy of 83.8 years, three years longer than life expectancy in California and nearly five years above life expectancy nationwide, Marin County ranks as the healthiest county in the state.

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