Special Report

The Best Counties to Live In

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50. Nassau County, New York
> Poverty rate: 5.6%
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 46.0%
> Life expectancy at birth: 82.9 years
> Total population: 1,356,509
> Largest place in county: Hempstead

Nassau County, New York, located on Long Island, ranks among the best counties to live in the United States. Quality of life in Nassau County is due in part to the area’s prosperity. Most households earn over $116,000 a year — the highest median household income of any New York county. Also, only 5.6% of the population live below the poverty line, one of the lowest poverty rates in the state.

The county’s relatively high incomes are due in part to the local educational attainment rate. College-educated adults are less likely to face unemployment, and they earn about 67% more on average workers with no more than a high school diploma. In Nassau County, 46.0% of adults have a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 32.1% of adults nationwide.

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49. Orange County, North Carolina
> Poverty rate: 13.7%
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 59.7%
> Life expectancy at birth: 82.1 years
> Total population: 144,836
> Largest place in county: Chapel Hill

Orange County, North Carolina, located in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area, ranks among the best counties to live in largely due to the high bachelor’s degree attainment rate. Nearly 60% of area adults have a four-year college education or higher. The county’s high educational attainment rates are not surprising as it borders the part of the state known as the Research Triangle, named for the three research universities in the area — North Carolina State, Duke, and University of North Carolina Chapel Hill.

The area is also home to a high concentration of employers in manufacturing, life sciences, and technology, and partially as a result, unemployment is low. As of January, just 4.3% of the labor force were out of work, compared to the national 6.8% jobless rate.

48. Clear Creek County, Colorado
> Poverty rate: 7.8%
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 48.1%
> Life expectancy at birth: 83.9 years
> Total population: 9,495
> Largest place in county: Idaho Springs

Clear Creek County, Colorado, located just west of Denver, ranks among the best places to live largely because of its low poverty rate and high average life expectancy. Just 7.8% of local residents live below the poverty line compared to 13.4% of all Americans, and life expectancy at birth in the county is 83.9 years — about four years longer than the national average.

Americans living below the poverty line are less likely to be able to afford health care and healthy lifestyle options — and the area’s higher life expectancy is due in part to the relative lack of poverty as well as healthy lifestyles. For example, adults in Clear Creek are far less likely to smoke and more likely to exercise than the typical American adult.

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47. King County, Washington
> Poverty rate: 8.9%
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 52.5%
> Life expectancy at birth: 82.4 years
> Total population: 2,195,502
> Largest place in county: Seattle

King County, Washington, which covers Seattle, ranks as one of the best counties to live in the United States largely for its well-educated population. Over half of all area adults have a bachelor’s degree or higher compared to fewer than one third of all American adults.

Higher educational attainment is linked with healthier lifestyles and better health outcomes. In King County, only 8.8% of adults smoke, compared to 17.1% of U.S. adults, and only 22% of adults are obese, compared to 29% of adults nationwide. Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, and obesity is a risk factor for many potentially fatal diseases and conditions. The reduced likelihood of these risk factors likely partially explains the county’s relatively high life expectancy at birth in the county, which at 82.4 years is more than three years above the national average.

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46. DuPage County, Illinois
> Poverty rate: 6.4%
> Adults with a bachelor’s degree: 49.4%
> Life expectancy at birth: 82.4 years
> Total population: 929,060
> Largest place in county: Naperville

Many of the best counties to live in the U.S. are in close proximity to a major city. DuPage County, Illinois, located just west of downtown Chicago, is one of them. DuPage is the best educated county in the state, with 49.4% of adults in DuPage County holding a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to just 32.1% of all adults nationwide.

Higher educational attainment tends to drive up incomes and reduce the likelihood of financial hardship. In DuPage County, just 6.4% of the population live below the poverty line, less than half the 13.4% national poverty rate. Additionally, 14.8% of local households earn at least $200,000 a year, nearly double the 7.7% of households nationwide who do.

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