10 Great Cities for Young People

cherry blossomFor twenty-somethings, finding the right place to live can be a challenge. The best cities need to offer a combination of employment opportunities and social activities, of course, but they also need to be affordable. After all, the typical college graduate with up to three years of work experience makes $41,900, and that money must go a long way.

With these parameters in mind, we found ten great cities for young adults. These aren't the cheapest places to live but rather cities that offer solid value: low cost of living and reasonable rents relative to paycheck size. There are also plenty of things to do that appeal to the twenty-something crowd and a healthy concentration of twenty-somethings to do them with.

10 Great Cities for Young People
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10 Great Cities for Young People

Metro population: 2,130,151

Residents ages 20-29: 13.3%

Cost-of-living score: 92.7

Monthly rent: $675

Starting salary: $41,800

Find a rental in Cincinnati, Ohio

Money stretches further in the Buckeye State. Cincinnati’s dirt-cheap rents and cost of living make the city hard to ignore for young adults seeking a Midwest alternative to, say, Chicago. Starting salaries are solid, particularly at Fortune 500 companies such as Kroger and Procter & Gamble, and the city expects to add nearly 90,000 jobs by 2016. Among its claims to fame are riverboat cruises, numerous pro and collegiate sports teams, the nation’s largest Oktoberfest, and a signature culinary creation of chili served over spaghetti.

Top selling point: Big-city sports at small-town prices

Biggest drawback: More carbs than culture?

Metro population: 3,349,809

Residents ages 20-29: 14.5%

Cost-of-living score: 116.1

Monthly rent: $942

Starting salary: $46,700

Find a rental in Seattle, Wash.

San Francisco and Silicon Valley can claim many of the biggest names in tech, but travel 14 hours north to find high-paying IT, aerospace and green energy jobs at a fraction of the Bay area living cost. Amazon, which has its headquarters in Seattle, began a hiring spree in March. Boeing, Microsoft and the University of Washington also employ thousands in the region. In the off-hours, Seattleites have their pick of theaters, coffee shops and concert halls. For all that, the rent and groceries remain reasonable: Seattle’s cost of living is 30% lower than San Francisco’s and 23% less than San Jose’s.

Top selling point: Like Silicon Valley, but with better coffee

Biggest drawback: Cloudy 226 days a year

Metro population: 802,484

Residents ages 20-29: 16.3%

Cost-of-living score: 94.1

Monthly rent: $714

Starting salary: $41,400

Find a rental in Baton Rouge, La.

Consider Baton Rouge the cheaper and less congested cousin city of Houston. It boasts thousands of good-paying energy and petrochemical jobs, yet rents are rock-bottom and traffic is tolerable. A major hub of the U.S. oil industry, Baton Rouge has weathered the down economy better than many cities, and it continues to add workers at companies such as ExxonMobil and Dow Chemical, as well as in health care and information technology. While cultural offerings don't compare to those of a larger metropolis, tailgating at LSU football games and exploring Cajun music and cuisine have their charms. Many attractions along the Gulf Coast are within easy day-trip range.

Top selling point: All the hype of Houston without the traffic

Biggest drawback: It's not New Orleans

Metro population: 3,279,833

Residents ages 20-29: 14.1%

Cost-of-living score: 108.1

Monthly rent: $830

Starting salary: $44,400

Find a rental in Minneapolis, Minn.

A magnet for artists, bookworms and other creative types, Minneapolis promises some of the culture of New York without the big-city expense or pretense. Global corporations such as Target, General Mills and Xcel Energy have headquarters here, furnishing good jobs in finance, manufacturing, and professional and technical services. By the city’s count, 160,000 people work downtown. And with three professional sports teams, 6,732 acres of parks and one of the largest live-theater scenes in the country, there are plenty of places for young adults to have fun on a budget. Worth noting: A movie ticket in Minneapolis costs, on average, about 3 dollars less than in Manhattan.

Top selling point: Enough culture to fill a Franzen novel

Biggest drawback: Short summers, long winters

Metro population: 5,582,170

Residents ages 20-29: 14.6%

Cost-of-living score: 144.4

Monthly rent: $1,226

Starting salary: $49,000

Find a rental in Washington, D.C.

Working for Uncle Sam means two things for young adults: big paychecks and job security. The federal government employs roughly 300,000 people in the District of Columbia. It also provides steady work for big-name contractors, trade associations, and lobbying groups. All this explains why unemployment for the D.C. metro area hovers at 6%, two-thirds the national average. While rent and living costs admittedly trend high, young college grads in D.C. can expect to make 17% more than their peers elsewhere. And many up-and-coming neighborhoods in the District offer great culture, relatively affordable housing and good transportation options. Consider Columbia Heights, Shaw-Howard and the newly developed H Street Corridor, all of which brim with bars, restaurants and music venues.

Top selling point: Government jobs galore

Biggest drawback: Nonstop politics can be party poopers

Metro population: 645,613

Residents ages 20-29: 15.1%

Cost-of-living score: 91.8

Monthly rent: $802

Starting salary: $42,300

Find a rental in Colorado Springs, Colo.

For young adults, Colorado Springs offers a tempting combination of good starting salaries in a stable defense- and tech-based economy, plus low rents and living costs. Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin and Atmel rank among the city’s top employers, and large finance, defense and technology companies announced plans to expand this year. Located in the Rocky Mountains, 70 miles south of Denver, Colorado Springs is already well-known to outdoorsy types. The 14,110-foot Pike's Peak sits directly above town, and the city's bicyle-friendly "complete streets" policy makes it ideal for urban cyclists. Plus, groceries and other everyday expenses are less here than in any city on our list.

Top selling point: Live the Rocky Mountain high life

Biggest drawback: Urbanites need not apply

Metro population: 9,461,105

Residents ages 20-29: 14.0%

Cost-of-living score: 114.4

Monthly rent: $882

Starting salary: $44,300

Find a rental in Chicago, Ill.

Chicago added nearly 17,000 jobs last year, gaining jobs even as other big cities such as New York and Los Angeles lost them. That's not the only advantage Chicago holds over its coastal peers. While salaries skew high, as in similar metropolises, living costs remain reasonable by comparison. Rent, for example, runs about 20% less in the Windy City than in the Big Apple. Twentysomethings can expect to earn above-average wages at companies such as AT&T, United Continental and JPMorgan Chase, some of the city's largest private employers. Then they can put that extra take-home pay toward Chicago's storied nightlife and culture, the plethora of professional sports teams and arguably the country's best improv.

Top selling point: Better job growth (and pizza) than New York or Los Angeles

Biggest drawback: It really is windy

Metro population: 568,593

Residents ages 20-29: 17.3%

Cost-of-living score: 108.1

Monthly rent: $804

Starting salary: $41,200

Find a rental in Madison, Wis.

Average paychecks for young adults aren't anything to brag about, but Madison does pride itself on other unparalleled pros: steady job growth, a perennially low unemployment rate and a huge population of twenty-somethings. The Wisconsin capital has added more than 24,500 jobs since 2000, and state officials recently announced plans to add 25,000 more bioscience jobs in the next five years. Madison is also known for its quirky, progressive and hyper-literate urban culture. Satirical stalwart The Onion got its start here in 1988, and the University of Wisconsin, a host of music venues and one of the country's largest farmers' markets call Madison home.

Top selling point: Equal parts idiosyncratic, ascendant and affordable

Biggest drawback: Nearly four feet of snow every winter

Metro population: 5,268,860

Residents ages 20-29: 13.6%

Cost-of-living score: 97.5

Monthly rent: $897

Starting salary: $43,300

Find a rental in Atlanta, Ga.

Atlanta is one of the few major metropolitan areas where young adults can enjoy higher-than-average paychecks, plenty of opportunity at premier corporations, and world-class culture and nightlife — all at a cost of living below the national average. In fact, Atlanta boasts the third-largest number of Fortune 500 companies in the U.S. Outfits such as Home Depot, UPS and Coca-Cola tend to pay well: A young, college-educated Atlantan’s salary tops the national median by $1,400 annually. Hip, eclectic neighborhoods such as Little Five Points and Virginia-Highland keep twenty-somethings busy in the off-work hours.

Top selling point: Southern hospitality sans the expense

Biggest drawback: Unemployment is running higher than average


To assemble our list, we screened for cities with high starting salaries for college grads, using data from Payscale.com. We also looked for a cost-of-living score near or below 100, the national average, as well as affordable monthly rents. (The median U.S. rent, including utilities, is $817.) Finally, we searched for cities where the percentage of residents ages 20 to 29 is near or above the average of 13.8%.

Also on Kiplinger:
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Also see:
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Buy a Decent House for $10,000 or Less
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10 Great Cities for Young People

Location: Kansas City, Kan.
Price: $9,500
Beds/Baths: 2/1
Sq. Ft.: 966

This 966-square-foot gable-roofed box offers two bedrooms and one bathroom. Also part of the deal is a "very functional kitchen," according to the description. It "really wouldn't take much to get this home move-in ready." View the listing -- which has 11 photos -- here.  

Location: Garfield Heights, Ohio
Price: $9,900
Beds/Baths: 3/1
Sq. Ft.: N/A

You get three bedrooms, one bathroom, a covered porch -- even an attic dormer. This modest foursquare, built in 1920, is more put-together than you'd think for the price.

Location: Birmingham, Ala.
Price: $9,000
Beds/Baths: 2/1
Sq. Ft.: N/A

Two bedrooms, one bathroom and a patch of lawn in Birmingham, Ala., for $9,000. For more photos and details, see the listing

Location: South Bend, Ind. 
Price: $10,000
Beds/Baths: 3/2
Sq. Ft.: 2,000

The facade -- which includes a covered brick porch -- is presentable and the space, at 2,000 square feet, is generous. So how the heck does this home in South Bend, Ind., cost only 10 large? Well, the interior could use some work, as the listing photos show. But the other specs on this house still make it quite a deal. 

Location: Cincinnati, Ohio
Price: $9,000
Beds/Baths: 3/2
Sq. Ft.: 1,689

Cincinnati is another city that ranks high on the sub-$10,000 inventory list. This modest midcentury dwelling clocks in at 1,689 square feet, with three bedrooms and two baths. 

Location: Birmingham, Ala.  
Price: $8,500
Beds/Baths: 3/1
Sq Ft: N/A

This foreclosed three-bedroom in Birmingham is going for $8,500. The interior looks surprisingly clean and well-finished

Location: Montgomery, Ala. 
Price: $9,900
Beds/Baths: 3/1
Sq. Ft.: 1,301

Pay only $9,900 and you get three bedrooms, one bathroom and 1,301 total square feet for this puppy. Behind its light-blue exterior things are perfectly passable

Location: Boise, Idaho
Price: $7,500
Beds/Baths: 2/2
Sq. Ft.: 915

Another foreclosure, this condo asks only $7,500 but gives you two bedrooms, two bathrooms and your very own carport. We're looking at a measly $8 per square foot!

Location: Detroit, Mich.
Price: $9,900
Beds/Baths: 4/2
Sq Ft: 1,036

Built in 1935, this home is running for a price that belongs in the era of its style's heyday. 

See the listing

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