A Top (and Bottom) 1 Percent List — Best (and Most Challenging) Small Cities in America

Big cities are becoming more challenging for residents to call home due to escalating living and housing costs, and in some, an eroding quality of life.  A recent study by Clovered of more than 1,000 people found that Affordability was the most powerful influence on homebuying.  As a result, growth in many smaller suburban cities is escalating as these locales offer more attractive benefits such as reduced commuting time, lower crime and other quality of life attributes — in addition to lower costs.

For those seeking smaller cities, some locales make more sense than others in an economic and quality of life framework.    To identify the best, WalletHub examined and compared 1,268 cities in the U.S. having a  population ranging from 25,000 to 100,000 using 42 key indicators of livability.  Analysis was based on the city itself and excluded cities in the surrounding Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA).  Primary dimensions included Affordability, Economic Health, Education & Health, Quality of Life and Safety.   Scoring was as follows:

Affordability – 20 Points (each 4.0 points)

  • Median Annual Household  Income
  • Cost of Living
  • Homeownership Rate
  • Housing Costs (composite index of Median Household Cost/Median Annual Household Income and Median Annual Gross Rent/Median Annual Household Income)
  • Median Annual Property Taxes

Economic Health – 20 Points (each 2.00 points)

  • Population Growth
  • Income Growth
  • Job Growth
  • Unemployment Rate
  • Percent of Population Living Below Poverty Level
  • Debt per Median Earnings
  • Foreclosure Rate
  • Percent of People With Bankruptcy in Prior 12 Months
  • Median Credit Score

Education & Health – 20 Points (each 2.00 points)

  • Quality of Public School System     WalletHub’s Best & Worst School Systems ranks
  • High School Graduation Rate
  • Percent of Population Aged 25 and Up With a High School Diploma or Higher
  • Percent of Population with Insurance
  • Premature death Rate      Average Years of Potential Life Lost rate
  • Percent of Adults in Poor or Fair Health
  • Percent of Live Births with Low Birthweight
  • Percent of Obese Adults
  • Percent of Physically Inactive Adults
  • Limited Access to Healthy foods  Percent of Population that is low income and does not live close to a grocery store

Quality of Life – 20 Points (each 1.25 points unless noted)

  • Average Commute Time (Minutes)
  • Percent of Population that Walks to Work
  • Average Number of Hours Worked Per Week
  • Number of Attractions  –   2.50 points
  • Restaurants per Capita
  • Bars per Capita
  • Clubs per Capita
  • Coffee Shops per Capita
  • Movie Theaters per Capita
  • Museums per Capita
  • Performing Art Centers per Capita
  • Fitness Centers per Capita
  • Bike Rental Facilities per Capita
  • Parks per Capita
  • Department Store per Capita

Safety – 20 Points

  • Violent-Crime Rate   8.00 points
  • Property Crime Rate  8.00 points
  • Motor Vehicle Crash Deaths per Capita  4.00 points

The findings for the best, top-1 percent (the 99th percentile) of small cities in which to reside are in the following table, predicated on the data and methodology selected.

As always, with winners comes losers.  The next table shows the bottom 1 percent of the most challenged small cities in which to live.

To read the entire study from WalletHub click https://wallethub.com/edu/best-worst-small-cities-to-live-in/16581/

Click here for a PDF detailing the finding for all 1,200+ cities is attached.

This is an extensive list.   College Station (home to Texas A&M University), for example, ranked 1,120 out of the 1,200+ small cities in Affordability, but scored 181st best in Economic Health and 131st best in Quality of Life.   As always, there is no One-Size-Fits All, but likely each city fits some people well.

As with other studies, changes in data, methodology or weightings would change the results.


Leave a Reply