To create MONEY’s Best Places to Live ranking, we looked only at places with populations of 50,000 or greater. We eliminated any place that had more than double the national crime risk, less than 85% of its state’s median household income, or a lack of ethnic diversity. This gave us 583 places.
We then collected more than 135,000 different data points to narrow the list. We considered data on each place’s economic health, cost of living, diversity, public education, income, crime, ease of living, and amenities, all provided by research partner Witlytic. MONEY teamed up with realtor.com to leverage its knowledge of housing markets throughout the country. We put the greatest weight on economic health, public school performance, and local amenities; housing, cost of living, and diversity were also critical components.
Finally, reporters researched each spot, interviewing residents, checking out neighborhoods and searching for the kinds of intangible factors that aren’t revealed by statistics. To ensure a geographically diverse set, we limited the Best Places to Live list to no more than two places per state and one per county. In the top 15, we allowed only one place per state.
Rankings derived from more than 70 separate types of data, in the following categories:
• Economy — based on local unemployment rate, historical job growth, projected job growth and the level of employment opportunities available, among other factors.
• Cost of living — based on tax burden, insurance costs, commuting costs, medical spending, utility and home expenses.
• Diversity — based on racial makeup, racial integration, and economic diversity within a place’s population.
• Education — based on math and reading test scores and local and county level high school graduation rates.
• Income — based on historical median household income, projected household income, a comparison between local and state median household income and change between current and historical household income.
• Housing — based on realtor.com Housing Affordability Index and Housing Growth Index at city level, plus other realtor.com housing statistics available at realtor.com/research.
• Crime — based on property and violent crime risk as well as homicide and drug overdose rates.
• Amenities — based on number of doctors and hospitals in the area as well as number of leisure activities in the town and surrounding area, including bars, restaurants, museums, sports complexes, and green spaces.
• Ease of living — based on commute times, weather, and other factors.
Witlytic, realtor.com, Synergos Technologies, Federal Aviation Administration, OpenFlights, the EPA, CarInsurance.com, Infogroup, Brewers Association, Recreation.gov, POI Factory, the Council for Community and Economic Research, Economic Innovation Group, U.S. Department of Education, Kaiser Family Foundation, SchoolDigger, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Moody’s Analytics, U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, MCH Data, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Internal Revenue Service, American Alliance of Museums, League of American Orchestras, ATTOM Data Solutions, Sale-tax.com, Whitebook of Ski Areas, Mountain Vertical, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, American Winery Guide, Association of Zoos and Aquariums, Kiplinger, state tax departments, Tax Foundation, U.S. Geological Survey, American Community Survey, U.S. Census Bureau, University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, and U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Infogroup’s human-verified business database consisting of over 16 million records across the U.S. was utilized in MONEY’s evaluation of the volume and quality of resources available to communities. Infogroup’s data consists of rich attributes such as business profiles, openings, closings, images, social URLs, lat/longs and much more.