Compared to the rest of the world, the United States has a relatively high standard of living. Still, in a country home to over 328 million people spanning nearly 3.8 million square miles, standards of living vary considerably from place to place — and some parts of the country stand out as examples of the high level of prosperity that is achievable in the United States.
While there are countless factors — many of them subjective — that can contribute to or detract from quality of life, there are a few key objective measures that can reveal a great deal about a given area. The United Nations Development Programme identified some of these measures and with them created the Human Development Index, a tool to better gauge and compare quality of life at a national level.
Inspired by the HDI, 24/7 Wall St. created an index consisting of three measures — poverty, life expectancy at birth, and bachelor’s degree attainment — to identify the best U.S. counties to live in. Our list also includes independent cities that do not fall within the boundaries of a county or county equivalent.
The three measures used to create this list are closely related to each other. People living in poverty are often less able to afford health care or healthy lifestyles, both of which can have serious health repercussions. Similarly, higher educational attainment has been shown to improve health outcomes and reduce the likelihood of unemployment and financial hardship. Both low poverty rates and high educational attainment rates are often common in parts of the U.S. with high life expectancy at birth.
Many of the best counties to live in either encompass, or are within commuting distance to, a major urban area. Densely-populated cities — like New York, San Francisco, and Washington D.C. — tend to have a high concentration of jobs, which draws in educated workers and reduces the likelihood of financial hardship. In all but a handful of counties on this list, the January 2021 unemployment rate was below the comparable 6.8% national rate. Here is a look at the American cities that added jobs during the pandemic.
There are also a handful of counties on this list that are not within commuting distance of a major city but in relatively remote areas that are popular destinations for outdoor recreation. By some measures, these places, which include several counties in the Colorado Rockies, have some of the healthiest populations in the United States. Here is a look at the 25 best cities for active people.