What are the best places in the United States to live and work? Every year, U.S. News & World Report sets out to answer that question, ranking the 125 most populous metropolitan areas in the nation to determine which make the best choice for a home.

How do they define "best"? It's impressively scientific. They begin by looking at the job market (i.e., low unemployment) but balance that against average salaries--not only will you get a job there but it will pay well. Then they compare local cost of living with average local incomes to determine whether most people who live in the city can afford to have comfortable lives. This may be why only two of the nation's 10 most expensive cities made the list.

Next, they measure quality of life by looking at the crime rate, the general happiness and well-being of the people in the city, access to high-quality education and health care, and average commute times. Finally, they test the desirability of a location both by surveying people across the country about whether they would like to live there and using Census Bureau data to determine whether people are actually moving there.

Then U.S. News & World Report puts all those numbers together and compares them to rank the 125 most populous urban areas in the nation from best place to live to worst place to live. You can find the full ranking here. These are the top 10: 

1. Austin

Consider Austin if you love live music (it's everywhere), mostly warm weather that gets good and hot in summer, food trucks, and festivals. South by Southwest, Austin City Limits, and the Fun Fun Fun Fest all happen here. Nicknamed "Silicon Hills," it's also a great place to get a job with a high-tech company or startup--or start a company yourself. Google, already a solid presence, recently expanded its Austin footprint.

2. Colorado Springs, Colorado

This quiet, wholesome town puts you near both Denver and the upscale ski resorts of Vail and Aspen, but with more affordable housing and less horrible traffic. Military bases, defense contractors, and colleges provide local employment.

3. Denver

The "Mile-High City" is a great place for outdoor enthusiasts, with the Rocky Mountains within an hour's drive. It's also the epicenter of the legal recreational marijuana industry, since Colorado and Washington legalized recreational pot in 2012. The new legal marijuana industry is creating lots of jobs. Other local employers are the University of Colorado, the University of Denver, and Lockheed Martin.

4. Des Moines

You might not expect the Iowa capital to pop up on a list of best places to live. But it has low unemployment, parks, lakes, bike trails, elegant homes from the 1900s, and downtown lofts. And people in Iowa are just plain nice. Local employment comes from the insurance industry, financial services, logistics, and health care.

5. Fayetteville, Arkansas

Arkansas is another place you might not think of as a best place to live. But the surrounding Ozark Mountains appeal to outdoorsy types and the city has been growing rapidly. Walmart, Tyson Foods, and J.B. Hunt transport services are all based in Fayetteville, offering employment opportunities. The University of Arkansas is another major employer.

6. Portland, Oregon 

This is the place that gave birth to the comedy series Portlandia, so you expect it to be offbeat, and Portland does not disappoint. Food trucks and a youthful culture happy to experiment are part of what make Portland fun, but so is the nearby Pacific Coast and the grand forests and mountains inland. There are many high-tech employers here, most notably Intel. And Nike is headquartered in nearby Beaverton.

7. Huntsville, Alabama

During the 1960s, Huntsville became home to the NASA center where the Saturn V, which took astronauts to the Moon, was designed. NASA is still a major employer in the area, as is the U.S. Army's Redstone Arsenal. The downtown is gentrifying, with an old cotton mill turned to a performing arts center, and a renovated school now home to craft breweries and bars.

8. Washington, D.C.

It's the nation's capital, but local residents say there's more than that to this city. An excellent public transportation system, restaurants, and museums add to quality of life here, as do cherry blossoms that outclass even those in Japan. The federal government and state governments are, needless to say, the area's biggest employers. But the hospitality and financial industries also have a big presence.

9. Minneapolis-St. Paul

It seems Mary Richards of the iconic Mary Tyler Moore Show was onto something. The Twin Cities are a great place to live, with (two) appealing downtowns and a Midwestern feel. Biotech and life sciences are major industries here, and there are retail and manufacturing giants, including 3M.

10. Seattle

The reliably rainy winters are balanced by gorgeous, non-rainy summers, so that the total rainfall in "The Emerald City" is actually lower than in Boston, New York, or Philadelphia. And Seattleites love to be outdoors, on Puget Sound, in the majestic forests, or in the mountains, all of which are near the city. There is lots of high-tech employment, with Amazon, Microsoft, and Zillow all headquartered here or nearby, and Google a sizable presence. But Boeing is actually the area's largest employer. Real estate prices are rising rapidly and may catch up to New York or even San Francisco someday, so now is probably a good time to relocate here.

Published on: Apr 14, 2018
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