To identify the best cities to live in, 24/7 Wall St. created a weighted index of 25 measures that fall into one of four categories: affordability, economy, quality of life, and community.
In the affordability category, the ratio of the median home value to the median income — the housing affordability ratio — was given full weight. More affordable cities were ranked higher. Property taxes, which also affect housing affordability, are largely levied at the local level, and cities where residents pay more in property taxes as a percentage of their home value were penalized. Property taxes were given a one-quarter weighting.
In the economy category, the unemployment rate was given a full weight. We used five-year average unemployment due to lack of comparable annual data at local levels. Five-year employment growth was given full weight, and the share of the total working-age population with a job — labor force participation — was given a half weight, favoring areas with greater employment and growing job opportunities.
The quality of life category includes several socioeconomic and health-related measures. The poverty rate was given a full weight, penalizing cities where poverty is more common. The share of the population that struggles to put food on the table due to distance from a grocery store, known as the food insecurity rate, was given full weight. A city’s mortality rate, calculated as the number of people who died while in hospital care per hospital by city, was also given full weight. In cases where city-level data was not available, mortality rates were imputed from county level data.
The drug overdose mortality rate was given a one-half weighting. The hospital readmission rate — the share of those who were released from the hospital and readmitted within 30 days — was given a one-fourth weight. Distance from the center of the city to the nearest hospital was given half weight.
The number of hospitalizations that would have been prevented by regularly-scheduled doctor visits for every 1,000 Medicare enrollees — known as the preventable hospitalization rate — was given half weighting.
Measures used in the community category include the average travel time to work, which was given full weight. The violent crime rate — the total number of rapes, robberies, murders, and aggravated assaults per 100,000 residents per year— was given full weight. So, too, was the property crime rate, which is the total number of burglaries, larcenies, motor vehicle thefts, and incidents of arson per 100,000 residents per year.
The share of commuters either walking, cycling, or taking public transit to work was given half weight. The total number of restaurants, bars, museums, theater companies, movie theaters, libraries, and parks per capita were each given a one-quarter weighting.
To avoid geographic clustering, we only listed the top-ranking city in a given county. Our list includes cities, towns, villages, boroughs, and Census designated places. We did not include places with fewer than 8,000 residents in our analysis.
Median household income, median home value, average travel time to work, poverty rate, population, employment-to-population ratio, median property taxes paid, and average unemployment rate are all five-year estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey for the 2015-2019 period.
The population-adjusted number of entertainment and cultural venues like restaurants and museums comes from the Census Bureau’s County Business Patterns data set and is for 2018.
Violent and property crime rates are from the FBI’s 2019 Uniform Crime Report. Drug overdose mortality rates are from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and are for the years 2016 to 2018. Mortality rates and hospital readmission rates are from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and are as of June 2019. Preventable hospitalizations are from the latest release of County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute joint program.
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