Best Places To Live In The US 2020: Cities And States Ranked
Rachel Burris14-Minute Read
May 18, 2021
When it comes to choosing where to settle down, it’s crucial that you do your due diligence – and that means considering more than just a city’s affordability. To determine where you should live, you’re also going to want to learn about the crime rate, education system, health care system and transportation in each locale.
Sure, you’re going to be highly interested in each place’s cost of living, unemployment rate and average salary. However, you’ll still want to know how happy people are living there and how common it is for people to move into and out of the area.
To give you some ideas for your next move, this article will list the best places to live in the U.S. by both state and city, taking into account the statistics and ranking factors used by U.S. News & World Report.
10 Best States To Live In The US
If you’re interested in moving, you may not be ready to decide on a specific location. Each state across the nation has its own flavor and feel, which is why your first step in finding a new home should be to get a general sense of the 10 best states to live in the U.S.
Before you review the statistics for each state, take a look at the national averages.
- Population: 328,239,523
- Median Household Income: $60,293
- Unemployment Rate: 11.1%
- Average Commute: 26.6 minutes
- Population: 7,614,893
- Median Household Income: $70,116
- Unemployment Rate: 9.8%
- Average Commute: 27.6 minutes
Among the top factors that cause an area to be considered one of the best places to live is the availability of good jobs, and Washington provides its citizens with a lot of opportunity. The state is not only known for its robust agricultural production but also home to 12 Fortune 500 companies, especially around the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue area. Resident corporate bigwigs include Amazon, Microsoft, Costco, Boeing, Starbucks and Alaska Airlines. Although households tend to make only 16% more than the national average, they benefit from the fact that Washington is one of the few places that doesn’t have a state income tax. If you’re interested in relocating to Washington, where you can be surrounded by sparkling blue waters and eco-friendly initiatives, check out the state’s home listings and housing trends.
2. New Hampshire
- Population: 1,359,711
- Median Household Income: $74,057
- Unemployment Rate: 11.8%
- Average Commute: 27.3 minutes
New Hampshire is a quaint New England state, with a breathtaking backdrop to provide residents with pleasurable pastimes all year round. The beaches and lakes are enjoyed throughout the summer, while the mountains allow for skiing in the winter and hiking in the fall and spring. According to research conducted by SafeHome.org, the state is the safest place to raise children, given its low incidents of child abuse, homicides, school shootings and poverty. Financially speaking, New Hampshire has its pros and cons. Although the state has the second-highest median household income on this list and New Hampshirites make nearly 23% more than the average American, its minimum wage is the same as the Federal minimum of $7.25. That being said, New Hampshire doesn’t impose state sales taxes, nor does it tax earned income; however, the state does tax investment income.
- Population: 5,639,632
- Median Household Income: $68,411
- Unemployment Rate: 8.6%
- Average Commute: 23.5 minutes
With its long winters and frigid conditions, Minnesota may not be the ideal place for the faint of heart. During the winter, the average temperature is 8° Fahrenheit in the northern region, which also sees an average snowfall of over 70 inches a year. Yet, Minnesotans know how to make the most of the ice and are responsible for producing the most NHL players of any state in the country. When the weather finally warms up, Minnesota has 11,842 lakes to enjoy – even though the state is known as “The Land of 10,000 Lakes.” As a result, it’s not surprising that there are about 15 boat registrations for every 100 Minnesotans, meaning this aquatic locale has the largest number of recreational boats per capita in the U.S. The state is also home to the Mall of America and 16 Fortune 500 companies, including UnitedHealth Group, Target, Best Buy, 3M, General Mills and Land O’Lakes.
- Population: 3,205,958
- Median Household Income: $68,374
- Unemployment Rate: 5.1%
- Average Commute: 21.7 minutes
Utah is home to five national parks and a number of world-class ski resorts, including Park City, which is the country’s largest, having over 7,300 skiable acres. The state gets almost 550 inches of snowfall every year and is said to possess some of the best powder in the U.S. Utah’s taxes are generally on the lower end with a flat state income tax of 5%, sales taxes that hover around the national average and property taxes that are below the majority of states in the country. While the state doesn’t have estate taxes, it does tax Social Security benefits and any withdrawals made from retirement accounts. If you’re concerned about your ability to land a new job in the current climate, Utah may be the place for you, as its unemployment rate of 5.1% is now the second lowest in the country.
- Population: 623,989
- Median Household Income: $60,076
- Unemployment Rate: 9.4%
- Average Commute: 22.9 minutes
Vermont has the second-smallest population of all the states in the nation. However, what Vermont lacks in people they make up in some of the U.S.’s most delicious exports. The state’s forests produce the purest maple syrup and more of it than any other part of the country. In 2019, Vermont produced 49% of the nation’s maple syrup, which was valued at approximately $58 million. Yet, it’s dairy farming that’s the real money maker for the Green Mountain State. Last year alone, Vermont produced 2.7 billion pounds of milk, which amounts to nearly $518 million worth. With such productive bovines, it’s no wonder that the state is famous for Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream. The factory is still in Waterbury, though the creative duo sold the company to Unilever for $326 million back in 2001.
- Population: 6,045,680
- Median Household Income: $81,868
- Unemployment Rate: 8%
- Average Commute: 32.9 minutes
If money is a driving force in your move, Maryland may be the place for you. With households tending to earn about 36% more than the national average, Maryland has the highest median household income of all the states on this list. It’s also home to 7.87% of the country’s millionaires, making it the state with the highest percentage of millionaires in the U.S. Yet, it seems that Marylanders may have to travel a little farther away from home to make the big bucks. With their 33-minute commutes, those in Maryland have to travel longer than residents of almost any other state in the country. Perhaps it’s the state’s proximity to the nation’s capital and the plethora of federal agencies that make citizens’ commutes such a hassle. To see whether this state is right for you, check out Maryland’s home listings and housing trends.
- Population: 8,535,519
- Median Household Income: $71,564
- Unemployment Rate: 8.4%
- Average Commute: 28.4 minutes
You may have heard the famed slogan, “Virginia is for Lovers.” The Virginia State Travel Service released the cheeky ad in 1969, on the tails of the Summer of Love, hoping to encourage a new generation to visit the historical state. The campaign ended up generating $800 million for the tourism industry. In 2018, tourists spent $26.7 billion visiting the state, $3.6 billion of which went to subsidize Virginia’s jobs and public programs. Virginia has the 12th highest population in the country and has been ranked the top state for business. Virginia’s ranking was primarily driven by the state’s highly educated workforce, abundance of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) workers, strong school system and business-friendly regulatory laws.
- Population: 6,892,503
- Median Household Income: $77,378
- Unemployment Rate: 17.4%
- Average Commute: 29.7 minutes
Although Massachusetts is currently experiencing the highest unemployment rate in the country, the state’s health care and education systems still make it one of the best places to live. The state’s health care is so accessible and affordable for its citizens that Obama even used it as a model to create the Affordable Care Act. Thanks to its nearly universal coverage, 96.5% of Massachusettsans are insured. Massachusetts is also known to have the greatest public school system in the country. Students consistently rank above the national average in reading and math scores, and according to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the high school dropout rate has remained below 2% for the last 5 years. If this state sounds like a place you want to call home, check out Massachusetts’s home listings and housing trends.
- Population: 1,934,408
- Median Household Income: $59,116
- Unemployment Rate: 6.7%
- Average Commute: 18.6 minutes
With a land area of 76,824 square miles, Nebraska has one of the lowest population densities in the country. There are only 25 people per square mile. Nebraska’s median household income is slightly under the national average, but its average commute time is 8 minutes shorter. So, one could say that Nebraskans are able to work closer to home for just $1,000 less each year. Nebraska has a highly active agriculture industry, which contributed over $21 billion to the state’s economy in 2018. With 19,000 cattle ranches across the state, beef is the most profitable commodity, earning around $7.2 billion in cash receipts each year. Furthermore, Nebraska’s export business stimulates growth for adjacent industries in the local area. From the $6.8 billion produced in agricultural exports in 2018, the state generated $8.7 billion in transportation, financing, warehousing and production.
- Population: 5,758,736
- Median Household Income: $68,811
- Unemployment Rate: 10.5%
- Average Commute: 25.5 minutes
With a peak elevation of 14,440 feet, Colorado may not be the state with the highest elevation, but it has the greatest mean of any state in the country. The state’s unusually high altitude translates into more vertical feet, greater snow, longer seasons and generally better skiing. The environment also causes ski resorts in the state to have some of the most challenging terrain. Therefore, it makes sense that Colorado’s ski and snowboarding industry generates approximately $4.8 billion a year, creating around 46,000 jobs in the recreation, hospitality, retail and food-service industries. Being one of the first states to legalize marijuana, Colorado also sees a generous return from Mary Jane. In 2019, Colorado sold nearly $1.75 billion of medical and recreational marijuana, generating over $302 million in taxes, licenses and fee revenue.
10 Best Cities To Live In The US
If you’re looking for a specific city to put down roots, it’s beneficial to more carefully examine certain data points. You want to compare residents’ typical income to the city’s home prices and monthly rents, so you have a clear sense of what percentage of each paycheck will be eaten up by your housing costs. You should also ensure the city’s industries are appropriate for your skills, its amenities reflect your interests and its size resonates with your notion of home.
Before you review the statistics for each city, let’s take another look at the national averages.
- Population: 328,239,523
- Median Household Income: $60,293
- Median Home Price: $311,927
- Median Monthly Rent: $985
- Unemployment Rate: 11.1%
- Cost Of A Half-Gallon Of Milk: $1.93
- Average Commute: 26.6 minutes
1. Austin, Texas
- Population: 978,908
- Median Household Income: $67,462
- Median Home Price: $336,787
- Median Monthly Rent: $1,478
- Unemployment Rate: 7.3%
- Cost Of A Half-Gallon Of Milk: $1.78
- Average Commute: 24.3 minutes
Austin is the 11th most populated city in the U.S. for a reason: it’s filled with vibrancy. With over 250 options for live performances, Austin has more music venues per capita than any other place in the U.S. It’s no wonder that the city’s often regarded as the “Live Music Capital of the World.” In Austin, if you have the money to purchase a home, you should do so. There is far more value in buying than renting, as median home prices are just 8% higher than the national average while monthly rent is a whopping 50% higher.
2. Denver, Colorado
- Population: 727,211
- Median Household Income: $63,793
- Median Home Price: $529,115
- Median Monthly Rent: $1,516
- Unemployment Rate: 11.9%
- Cost Of A Half-Gallon Of Milk: $1.72
- Average Commute: 25.4 minutes
Denver is a fabulous mix of urban amenities and natural beauty. The Mile High City has become so popular in the last decade that its population has grown by 19.5%. In fact, 63% of the population growth is attributed to newcomers moving to the city from other parts of the country or world. While the increase in interest has certainly enhanced the city’s vibrancy, it has also caused the traffic to worsen and housing to become far less affordable. Housing costs have close to doubled, and now the median home price is 70% above the national average, and the median monthly rent is 54% above.
3. Colorado Springs, Colorado
- Population: 478,221
- Median Household Income: $61,324
- Median Home Price: $349,912
- Median Monthly Rent: $1,294
- Unemployment Rate: 10.2%
- Cost Of A Half-Gallon Of Milk: $1.47
- Average Commute: 22.3 minutes
If you feel you’ve been priced out of Denver but still want to live in a place with panoramic mountain views and 300 days of sunshine, Colorado Springs is the place for you. Not only will you save a quarter on milk, but purchasing a home will likely cost you 34% less and renting will be 15% cheaper than in Denver. It may have a quainter, more suburban feel, but it’s just an hour away from the Mile High City and two and a half hours away from the Vail Ski Resort. Increased demand is expected in Colorado Springs, and new construction is already underway.
4. Fayetteville, Arkansas
- Population: 87,590
- Median Household Income: $42,101
- Median Home Price: $269,500
- Median Monthly Rent: $710
- Unemployment Rate: 6.3%
- Cost Of A Half-Gallon Of Milk: $1.33
- Average Commute: 19.1 minutes
Not far from the birthplace of Walmart, Fayetteville is a small city as far as the population goes, but its residents are known for greeting each other with a warm hello each morning. Filled with state parks, walking trails and green spaces meant for all ages, the city is an outdoorsy, clean place. According to the American Lung Association’s national air quality report, Fayetteville is one of the cleanest cities in the country for ozone and short-term particle pollution. Although the typical Fayetteville household brings in 30% less than the average American household, their home prices and rents are also lower by around 14% and 28%, respectively.
5. Des Moines, Iowa
- Population: 214,237
- Median Household Income: $52,251
- Median Home Price: $327,695
- Median Monthly Rent: $686
- Unemployment Rate: 8.8%
- Cost Of A Half-Gallon Of Milk: $2.12
- Average Commute: 19 minutes
Over the last two decades, Des Moines has become a lively area. The Iowa capital has the friendliness of a small town, and its big-city amenities are growing by the day. Although the city’s median household income is 13% below the national average, the median monthly rent of $686 is significantly below it as well, being 30% lower. Residents of Des Moines typically only spend 19 minutes commuting to work, meaning they spend 74% less time traveling back and forth than the average American. Therefore, you may make $8,000 less in Des Moines, but you’ll save two and a half hours each month commuting to work and pay $3,588 less in rent each year.
6. Minneapolis, Minnesota
- Population: 429,606
- Median Household Income: $58,993
- Median Home Price: $370,012
- Median Monthly Rent: $1,179
- Unemployment Rate: 9.1%
- Cost Of A Half-Gallon Of Milk: $2.57
- Average Commute: 23.1 minutes
Minneapolis benefits from having a bustling city with warm, Midwestern vibes. Sure, the city may hit freezing temperatures throughout the winter, but the downtown area’s Skyway System is there to keep you warm as you pop in and out of the city’s plentiful shops. The series of enclosed bridges span 9 miles across the city. Housing costs are about 20% higher than the national average, so buying a home or renting will cost you slightly more in Minneapolis. But if you’re an artist, there’s good news. Minneapolis offers both tax credits and city loans to local artists to make lofts around the city more affordable.
7. San Francisco, California
- Population: 881,549
- Median Household Income: $104,552
- Median Home Price: $1,344,190
- Median Monthly Rent: $4,323
- Unemployment Rate: 12.5%
- Cost Of A Half-Gallon Of Milk: $2.65
- Average Commute: 33.3 minutes
There’s no doubt that San Francisco is a highly desirable city to live in. The only question is whether you can actually afford it. With a cost of living 101.7% above the national average, San Fran was ranked the second most expensive city in the U.S. in 2019. The Bay Area has become a tech hub, which has impacted the city’s median household income for the better, but housing costs for the worse. San Franciscans tend to earn 73% more than the average American, but they end up spending 331% more to purchase a home and 338% more to rent an apartment. If you think you can cut it in San Fran, check out the homes currently for sale.
8. Raleigh, North Carolina
- Population: 474,069
- Median Household Income: $63,891
- Median Home Price: $287,839
- Median Monthly Rent: $1,342
- Unemployment Rate: 7.2%
- Cost Of Half-Gallon Of Milk: $1.99
- Average Commute: 23.7 minutes
As the state capital of North Carolina and the home of a slew of universities, Raleigh is filled with opportunity. The city is also a top employer of STEM jobs, as major companies like Red Hat, IBM and Cisco Systems employ thousands of residents. However, as opportunity has grown, so have housing prices, especially for renters. Over the last decade, home prices have increased by just 6%, while monthly rents have risen by 93%. Compared to the rest of the country, it’s 8% cheaper to purchase a home in Raleigh, but it’s 36% more expensive to rent in the city. To see just how affordable homeownership is in Raleigh, check out the homes currently on the market.
9. Seattle, Washington
- Population: 753,675
- Median Household Income: $85,562
- Median Home Price: $813,020
- Median Monthly Rent: $2,642
- Unemployment Rate: 9.7%
- Cost Of A Half-Gallon Of Milk: $1.99
- Average Commute: 27.8 minutes
Amazon has made Seattle one of the fastest-growing cities in the country. Wages in the city have increased over the last decade, and now, the median household income is about 42% higher than the national average. The higher wages are in large part due to the fact that Seattle is the most educated city in the nation. Nearly 63% of Seattleites have achieved a bachelor’s degree or higher. Yet, living expenses in Seattle are not cheap, especially housing. Both the city’s median home price and monthly rent are above the national average by about 61% and 68%, respectively.
10. Madison, Wisconsin
- Population: 259,680
- Median Household Income: $62,906
- Median Home Price: $409,967
- Median Monthly Rent: $1,103
- Unemployment Rate: 7.2%
- Cost Of A Half-Gallon Of Milk: $2.12
- Average Commute: 19.4 minutes
As the home of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison can feel like a big college town. Yet, there’s far more to the city than academic buildings and college students. Wisconsin’s capital boasts the largest producer-only farmers’ market in the country, award-winning restaurants and great employment opportunities in information technology, health care and advanced manufacturing. Recently, Moody’s Analytics listed Madison as one of the U.S. cities most likely to bounce back from the COVID-19-related recession. The key factors in this determination were the relatively low population density, the high educational attainment of its residents and the significant percentage of jobs that require a college degree. Given Madison’s likelihood to rebound, you may want to check out homes currently available in the city.
The Bottom Line
When you’re looking to relocate to a different state or city, it’s crucial to look at the numbers. Your quality of life will depend on the area’s affordability, economy, education, health care and opportunity. Yet, the place’s climate, local amenities, growth and reputation are also important factors to consider.
Each person is different, and therefore, each will be inclined toward different states and cities across the country. To find the place that speaks to you, it’s crucial that you do your research. Read everything you can about the location you’re interested in, try to speak to locals about their experiences and don’t forget to visit.
*A number of the statistics in each listing were sourced from the U.S. Census Bureau, including 2019 population estimates, 2018 median household incomes and 2014 – 2018 mean travel time to work for those 16 and older. The St. Louis Federal Reserve was used for data on the seasonally adjusted unemployment rates for June 2020. All information presented about median home price, median monthly rent and the cost of a half-gallon of milk comes from the Council for Community and Economic Research and reflects 2019 Q2 prices. For select cities, 2009 Q2 housing prices from the C2ER were also referenced for comparison.
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