The most livable cities in the US

Finding the perfect city is difficult. You know you want to live somewhere with plentiful high-paying jobs. But you also want to balance a good job with affordable housing. That ideal scenario will allow you to boost your savings and set you on a clear path for financial independence. But there are other important considerations at play. Many Americans desire to live somewhere walkable where the threat of crime is low. Below we look at these and other factors to rank the most livable cities in America.

To rank the most livable cities in America, SmartAsset took a look at seven factors. Specifically, we looked at walkability, violent crime rate, property crime rate, population density, disposable income, housing cost-burdened rate and unemployment rate. Check out our data and methodology below to see where we got our data and how we put it together to create our final rankings.

Key Findings

  • Phoenix metro area has the right ingredients – Three different cities within the Phoenix metro area cracked the top 10. Gilbert, Chandler and Scottsdale are all very safe cities with good job prospects. Those cities may not be for everyone, though. Each of them leaves something to be desired in walkability.
  • Broad mix of cities – From Arlington on the East Coast to Fremont on the West Coast, this livability study shows that each region has at least a few very livable cities to choose from.

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2018's most livable cities in the U.S.
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2018's most livable cities in the U.S.

1. Arlington, VA

Arlington, Virginia is the most livable city in the country, according to our data. This city has it all. It is reasonably walkable, crime is not a feature in many residents’ lives and opportunities to earn money are abundant. In total, Arlington ranks in the top 20 in all metrics, including ranking in the top 10 in four out of seven metrics.

2. Plano, TX

Plano, Texas is a livable city due to its excellent access to jobs and affordable housing. Census Bureau data reveals that Plano has an unemployment rate of only 2.7% and that the median household can afford the median home with only 18% of its income. That affordable housing means even those on the lower end of the income ladder are not doing too poorly. Only 19% of households here are housing cost-burdened. The one downside to Plano is the likelihood of needing to own a car to get around. Plano ranks below average in walkability.

3. Gilbert, AZ

Although crime is on the decline in the U.S., it can still affect the livability of individual cities. For people who place a high value on low crime rates, Gilbert is a fantastic city to end up in. This city ranks as one of the safest in the country. Finding work here also is not too difficult. Gilbert has an unemployment rate of 3%. Like in Plano, you will need a car to get around Gilbert. This city has a relatively low population density and is not very walkable.

4. Lincoln, NE

Coming in fourth is Lincoln, Nebraska’s capital. This city has an alluring mix of affordable housing and ample work opportunities. The average household here would only need to dedicate 20% of its income to afford the average home, and the unemployment rate in Lincoln is under 4%. Housing is so affordable for locals that only 15% of households spend over 30% of income on housing. That leaves plenty of households here able to save money whether for retirement or to invest with their financial advisor.

5. Boise, ID

Boise claims a top-five spot on the back of its affordable housing and strong economic indicators. The primary concern for many Americans is securing housing they can afford. There is plenty of that to go around in Boise. This city ranks in the top 10 for both of our housing-related metrics. Boise ranks eighth in median housing costs as a percent of household income and also in percent of households that spend at least 30% of their income on housing.

6. (tie) Madison, WI

Mad City, Wisconsin’s capital and home of the University of Wisconsin, shares sixth place. This city is more walkable than some ranked above it. Madison also has the third-lowest unemployment rate in the study. However, the cost of greater access to the city by foot is less affordable housing. This city ranks below 25 in both of our housing-related metrics.

6. (tie) Irving, TX

As mentioned, sixth is a tie between Irving and Madison. The two cities have similar livability profiles, with some slight differences. Irving is slightly safer than Madison. It  ranks 10th for violent crime rate and is also more affordable. Irving ranks in the top 20 for both affordability metrics. However, Irving is less walkable than Madison, and opportunities in Irving are harder to come by. Irving has an unemployment rate of 4.4%, a score that ranks outside the top 20.

8. Chandler, AZ

The second of three Phoenix metro area cities to claim a spot as one of the most livable cities in the country is Chandler, Arizona. This city is mostly safe from crime, ranking in the top 20 for low rates of both violent crime  and property crime. Most households here also earn enough to afford housing comfortably. This city ranks 10th in both housing costs as a percent of household income and percent of households that spend at least 30% of their income on housing.

9. Fremont, CA

Fremont rides high livability scores in violent crime, property crime and unemployment to a top-10 rate. In total, Fremont ranks in the top 20 for three out of the seven metrics. Where potential newcomers to Fremont may want to be wary is the housing costs. The median home costs 22% of the median household’s income, which is not too bad. But 21.3% of households spend at least 30% of their income on housing, which ranks 40th.

10. Scottsdale, AZ

Rounding out the top 10 is Scottsdale, Arizona. This city has lots of opportunity in the form of high-paying jobs and is relatively safe. In housing costs as a percent of income, Scottsdale ranks third best. For unemployment rate, Scottsdale ranks fifth, and in violent crime rate per 100,000 residents, Scottsdale ranks as having the fourth-lowest violent crime rate. However, if you do live here, you will have to have a car. Scottsdale is one of the least walkable cities in the country and is also fairly spread out. That means even the smallest errands will require a drive.

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Data and Methodology

In order to find the most livable cities in the U.S., we analyzed data on 100 of the largest cities in America. Specifically, we looked at data for the following seven factors:

  • Walkability. This is calculated on a 0 to 100 scale. A lower number means the city is less walkable, and a higher number means it’s more walkable. Data comes from walkscore.com
  • Violent crime rate. This is the violent crime rate per 100,000 residents. Data comes from the 2016 and 2015 FBI Uniform Crime Reporting Database.
  • Property crime rate. This is the property crime rate per 100,000 residents. Data comes from the 2016 and 2015 FBI Uniform Crime Reporting Database.
  • Unemployment rate. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2017 1-Year American Community Survey.
  • Population density. Data on city area comes from the 2010 Census Summary File and data on population comes from the Census Bureau’s 2017 1-Year American Community Survey.
  • Housing costs as a percent of income. This is the median individual income minus the median housing costs. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2017 1-Year American Community Survey.
  • Housing-cost-burdened rate. This is the percent of households spending at least 30% of their income on housing. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2017 1-Year American Community Survey.

First, we ranked each city in each metric. Then we found each city’s average ranking. We gave each metric full weight, except population density and housing cost-burdened rate, which we gave a half weight. Then we used the average ranking to create our final score. The city with the best average ranking received a score of 100. The city with the worst average ranking received a 0.

Tips for Maximizing Your Savings Rate

  • Cut back on spending – It may seem obvious, but the easiest way to save more money is to spend less money. One of the biggest money sinkholes for people is housing. If you are a renter, maybe it makes sense to find a roommate to live with to put a dent in your rent. If you are a homeowner, maybe it makes sense to see if you can refinance your mortgage to a lower rate.
  • Use the right savings account – You may not think savings accounts can boost your savings rate. After all the APRs offered by many of the biggest banks are just a rounding error in the grand scheme of things. However, if you switch to an online-only institution like Ally or Synchrony, you can access APRs much higher than those traditional banks may offer.
  • Get an expert’s take – Money is stressful. Managing it is complicated, and ensuring that you are making the right decisions is essential. So instead of putting all that extra stress on yourself, why not get an expert’s take on your financial situation? A financial advisor can tell you if you’re saving too much or too little or if you are overexposed to certain risks, to give just two examples. If you are unsure of where to find a financial advisor, check out SmartAsset’s financial advisor matching tool. It will match you with up to three local financial advisors who fit your investing needs and goals.

Questions about our study? Contact press@smartasset.com. 

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