There are lots of ways to compare cities against each other.
To name only a few, you could look at average income, expenses, housing prices, crime rates, the quality of schools, traffic, proximity to professional sports teams, weather, politics, job security and racial diversity. The list goes on and on. With so many different factors to consider, a simple list just isn’t enough information. We decided to cut through the noise using one of the most popular rankings around: Money’s top 50 best places to live in the U.S.
Money combed through hundreds of cities and focused on three main categories: earning potential, the cost of living and quality of life. Researchers focused on racially diverse places with reasonable crime rates and more than 50,000 people. They ranked each city across a variety of different factors, including the weather, high school graduation rates, the length of an average worker’s commute and the ratio of income to home prices.
We wanted to create a simpler visual breaking down the main categories that people care most about, so we concentrated only on median family income, home prices and projected job growth (2017-2022). The resulting visualization lets you quickly compare different locations depending on what matters most to you.
The first piece to consider is the relative size of an average worker’s paycheck. 30 out of the 50 cities boast median family income levels over $100,000, led by Bethesda, MD at $179,478. To keep that in perspective, median household income across the country sits just under $76,000. Places like Bethesda and Brookline are actually suburbs of much larger metro areas, notably New York City, Boston and Washington, DC. In other words, a key ingredient to high wages is proximity to a competitive job market with lots of employers.
But income is only one factor to consider when comparing cities. Home prices provide another critical angle because housing costs are typically the single biggest expense in any family’s budget, and a high salary might not go very far if your mortgage is outrageously expensive. Unfortunately, median home prices for the cities on our list are quite expensive. Brookline, MA tops the charts at an eye-popping $996,550, or about 7 times the median family income for that area. At the opposite end of the spectrum, Rock Hill, SC has the most affordable housing market on our list at just $175,000, roughly 3 times median income. This suggests that workers stand a much better chance totally paying off their mortgages in cities outside the Northeast.
In fact, many of the places with the highest median incomes also have the lowest projected job growth. The top 10 highest median incomes have a combined projected job growth rate of 6.5%, compared with the bottom 10 at 8.0%. After all, why would employers dramatically expand payrolls in already crowded markets with workers expecting high salaries?
All of which goes to say that there are lots of factors that go into ranking cities, and in turn, determining the best place to spend one’s career. If you’re interested in relocating for a job, there’s a lot more to think about than just your baseline salary. Consider a variety of different factors instead, and use our cost of living calculator to paint a complete picture.