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The dream – working fewer hours, spending more time with your family, and enjoying your life more. For many that seemed elusive until the world turned on its axis two years ago.

Many of us are now looking to smaller cities across the US where they can work from home more, spend less time commuting and even be closer to nature. You can find that balance in many cities across America and to help Capital Bean has compiled a list of the best places for quality of life.

Our Analysis

To come up with the final results we looked through 176 cities across the US. The criteria was that each city had to have over 150,000 residents. We took this data from the 2021 Census Bureau ACS (American Community Survey). We looked at a number of factors – how long it took to commute to work, how long the average person worked, the percentage of income spent on housing and a number of other factors. This is how we calculated the quality of life.

What Did We Learn

Big cities aren’t always the best. All of the cities on our list had less than 280,000 people and so some of the big ones (Chicago or New York) didn’t make the cut. 50% of the cities were capitals!

Working less doesn’t mean that the quality of life is higher. And the reverse is true too. When you look at the top 10 cities with the average shortest work week you have a spread from number eight (Eugene, Oregon) all the way down to 177th (Newark, NJ). However – if you have the longest work weeks you might score as high as fifth (Cary, North Carolina) or as low as 159th (Dallas, Texas). However – the cities that scored high for quality of life all had shorter commute times. Go figure!

More financial opportunities and stability. The top 10 cities in our study tend to show that on average they spend less of their income on rent each month and have lower unemployment and poverty. They also have higher levels of health insurance.

Top Tips For Relocating

The Best Cities For Quality Of Life

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1. Sioux Falls – South Dakota

Fondly known as the Mount Rushmore State, South Dakota has no corporate income tax which probably explains large employers in the state including Wells Fargo and Citi Bank. They both have large offices in Sioux Falls. Sioux Falls sits right near the border with Minnesota and has a low unemployment rate of 2.6% which is a tie for lowest unemployment rate in our top 10. It is also the third most affordable city in the list of 177. Median gross rent is just 27% of an average resident’s monthly income. It has short commutes too at an average of just 16.8 minutes.

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2. Madison – Wisconsin

The Badger State! Madison is the capital and home of the main campus for The University of Wiscnsin. It ranks highly across almost all of our metrics in our analysis and narrowly missed out on the top spot. The population is 258,000 and ranks 9 out of 177 for the percentage of the population with health insurance – 93.4% in total. Unmployment is low at just 3.8% and on average those who worked work an average of 37th per week. This is 20th in our list and average commute time (19.4 minutes) comes in at number 17.

3. Overland Park – Kansas

Overland Park is the largest suburb in the Kansas City area and holds the distinction of having the second lowest poverty rate in the top 10 sitting at 4.4%. It has the second lowest unemployment rate and is the third most affordable city. 32% of take home pay goes to housing. The flip side is that residents in Overland Park tend to work more than in other cities – the average work week sits at just below 40 hours which is 142nd out of 177.

4. Lincoln – Nebraska

Another big university city – Lincoln is home to the U of N Cornhuskers which makes it a big colleage town. It has low unemployment at just 3.6% and we would say it is pretty affordable – gross rent is just 33% of the monthly income. Even though it doesn’t sit at the top of the list for many other factors, it does well in all of them. The city has a population of 280,000 and ranks in the top 35% across the six quality of life metrics that we analyzed. It’s a good city overall and seems to be a great place to live.

5. Cary – North Carolina

Few know this but originally this city in North Carolina was called Bradford’s Ordinary named for a pub half way between Raleigh and Durham. Since 2000 the city has grown 74% to 174,000 which makes it the third largest municipality after Durhan nd Raleigh. Even though it is officially a town! It also has the second best median gross rent as % of income at 25% and a poverty level of just 3%.

6. Boise – Idaho

Boise is the capital of Idaho and sits along the Boise River. It is beautifully located at the base of the Roky Mountains which means residents are constantly outside biking and hiking. This is made even better because residents of Boise have plenty of time to enjoy them. They work 38.1 hours per week and commutes are at the low end of just 18.4 minutes. It has a small population of just 228,057 with median gross rent sitting at just 33% of earnings. This makes it an affordable and fun place to live all year round.

7. Little Rock – Arkansas

Little Rock was directly translated from the French “le petite roche”. Le Petite Roche is the name of the rock in which the city was named after. Little Rock is right on the Arkansas River which stretches 1,469 miles from Colorado, through Kansas, Oklahoma and Arkansas. Little Rock comes 20th in affordability and has a low unemployment rate of just 4%. If you want a short commute then Little Rock is your place. On average the commute takes just 18.1 minutes to get to work – fifth out of 177 cities.

8. Eugene – Oregon

Home of Nike and the main campus of the University of Oregon, it’s no wonder that it has the shortest work week. Everyone who lives there wants to be outside exploring the surrounding areas. The average work week is just 34.7 hours and one of the shortest commutes in our study at just 18 minutes. However it is an expensive place to live. It’s the least affordable across our top 10 cities and 159th least affordable in the full 177 cities tha twe looked at. Rent takes up a whopping 52% of monthly income.

9. Scottsdale – Arizona

Scottsdale is located just 19 minutes outside of Phoenix which makes it an attractive suburb whether you work in Scottsdale or commute to Phoenix. Unemployment is low – just 3.5% of people are unemployed and it has also has a good ratio of rent paid to gross income (32%). Residents tend to work longer though with the averag work week just shy of 40 hours per week – 155th in our study.

10. Des Moines – Iowa

Des Moines becomes a political circus every four years with the caucuses come to town but apart from that it ranks 16th in affordability in all of our cities. Iowa’s capital has a high % (93%) of residents having health insurance and has a short work week at just 37.8 hours. Avoid the caucuses and Des Moines is a great place to live.

2. Madison – Wisconsin

The Badger State! Madison is the capital and home of the main campus for The University of Wiscnsin. It ranks highly across almost all of our metrics in our analysis and narrowly missed out on the top spot. The population is 258,000 and ranks 9 out of 177 for the percentage of the population with health insurance – 93.4% in total. Unmployment is low at just 3.8% and on average those who worked work an average of 37th per week. This is 20th in our list and average commute time (19.4 minutes) comes in at number 17.

Quality Of Life Data Set

Top 10

Rank City, state Population Average weekly hours worked Average travel time to work in minutes Median gross rent as a percentage of monthly income Percentage of population with health insurance coverage Percentage of residents whose income in past 12 months was below poverty level Unemployment rate
1 Sioux Falls, South Dakota 174350 39.7 16.8 27% 92% 5% 3%
2 Madison, Wisconsin 252557 37 19.4 39% 96% 7% 4%
3 Overland Park, Kansas 188955 39.5 20 32% 95% 4% 4%
4 Lincoln, Nebraska 280369 37.5 18.9 33% 92% 7% 4%
5 Cary, North Carolina 164007 40.3 23.6 25% 93% 3% 4%
6 Boise, Idaho 223152 38.1 18.4 33% 91% 9% 5%
7 Little Rock, Arkansas 198546 38.9 18.1 32% 92% 12% 4%
8 Eugene, Oregon 166581 34.7 18 52% 94% 10% 8%
9 Scottsdale, Arizona 246646 39.9 22.9 32% 94% 6% 4%
10 Des Moines, Iowa 215328 37.8 18.4 32% 93% 13% 6%

Rankings 11 - 176

11 Tempe, Arizona 182499 36.8 20.9 44% 92% 10% 5%
12 Lexington-Fayette, Kentucky 318449 37.7 21.1 34% 93% 11% 6%
13 Minneapolis, Minnesota 413645 37.3 22.4 35% 94% 12% 6%
14 Huntsville, Alabama 196225 37.8 19.7 31% 91% 14% 5%
15 Spokane, Washington 215964 37.5 21.4 36% 94% 12% 6%
16 St. Paul, Minnesota 302403 36.8 24.4 35% 94% 13% 6%
17 Omaha, Nebraska 446956 38.5 18.9 32% 89% 10% 5%
18 Honolulu, Hawaii 351769 38.5 23 47% 97% 7% 4%
19 Louisville-Jefferson County, Kentucky 616261 38.8 22.5 30% 96% 11% 6%
20 Fort Collins, Colorado 164196 36.4 19.8 57% 93% 5% 6%
21 Albuquerque, New Mexico 559270 38 21.5 32% 93% 14% 5%
22 Raleigh, North Carolina 458862 38.6 23.2 34% 91% 8% 5%
23 Chandler, Arizona 247459 40 24.4 35% 95% 6% 4%
24 Grand Rapids, Michigan 196458 37 19.1 41% 93% 14% 6%
25 Fremont, California 233145 38.8 33.9 42% 98% 2% 3%
26 Worcester, Massachusetts 184509 37.2 24.7 38% 97% 14% 6%
27 Salt Lake City, Utah 193776 38.5 20.1 35% 88% 11% 3%
28 Sunnyvale, California 152762 39.9 24.2 39% 97% 5% 5%
29 Elk Grove, California 169780 38.2 30.1 43% 98% 6% 4%
30 Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 303624 37.6 24 34% 96% 13% 7%
31 Irvine, California 266117 37.7 24.7 50% 97% 6% 6%
32 Salem, Oregon 167421 37.3 22.1 42% 92% 9% 6%
33 Fort Wayne, Indiana 261342 38.3 21.2 29% 92% 14% 6%
34 Frisco, Texas 163631 41.2 30.6 24% 96% 4% 4%
35 Anchorage, Alaska 298192 40 18 38% 89% 4% 5%
36 Seattle, Washington 704358 39 27.7 37% 96% 6% 5%
37 Lakewood, Colorado 154368 38.5 26.5 42% 92% 5% 4%
38 Colorado Springs, Colorado 465084 38.9 21.5 38% 93% 9% 6%
39 Portland, Oregon 639635 37.6 27.4 39% 94% 9% 5%
40 Reno, Nevada 245251 38.1 19.9 38% 90% 10% 6%
41 Lubbock, Texas 252514 38.6 16.3 45% 88% 11% 4%
42 Wichita, Kansas 389927 38.7 19.4 30% 89% 13% 6%
43 Tallahassee, Florida 190895 36.1 18.1 52% 93% 13% 8%
44 Knoxville, Tennessee 186238 36.7 20 41% 90% 17% 5%
45 Santa Rosa, California 175143 37.9 23 56% 94% 6% 5%
46 Chattanooga, Tennessee 177582 39.4 20.3 31% 91% 13% 6%
47 Henderson, Nevada 292977 39.2 23.1 36% 94% 6% 8%
48 Springfield, Missouri 167313 36.6 18.9 39% 87% 16% 6%
49 Chesapeake, Virginia 237940 38.7 26.8 39% 92% 7% 5%
50 Gilbert, Arizona 237120 39.6 26.9 39% 95% 4% 6%
51 Plano, Texas 286047 40.1 26.8 31% 89% 5% 4%
52 Vancouver, Washington 174836 38.6 26.7 38% 92% 8% 6%
53 Buffalo, New York 256908 36.4 21.4 32% 95% 25% 8%
54 Columbus, Ohio 862643 38 21.8 35% 91% 16% 6%
55 Virginia Beach, Virginia 452602 40.2 23.4 43% 92% 5% 5%
56 St. Petersburg, Florida 260991 39.2 24.1 38% 88% 8% 5%
57 Huntington Beach, California 200631 38.3 30.1 51% 94% 5% 4%
58 Arlington, Virginia 230050 42 28.6 33% 94% 5% 3%
59 McKinney, Texas 172318 40.3 29.4 34% 90% 7% 3%
60 Peoria, Arizona 164198 39.5 28.2 36% 94% 5% 7%
61 Kansas City, Missouri 481360 39.3 22 32% 89% 12% 6%
62 Springfield, Massachusetts 154079 36.7 21.9 37% 94% 20% 8%
63 Winston-Salem, North Carolina 242200 38.2 20.4 33% 88% 15% 7%
64 Spring Valley, Nevada 205933 38.6 22.5 42% 88% 10% 5%
65 Greensboro, North Carolina 287019 37.8 19.8 36% 91% 18% 7%
66 Denver, Colorado 693060 39.5 25.4 39% 91% 10% 4%
67 Macon-Bibb County, Georgia 152527 36.9 21.3 36% 88% 21% 6%
68 Nashville-Davidson, Tennessee 660393 39.1 25.3 37% 89% 10% 4%
69 Toledo, Ohio 278512 37.7 19.9 31% 94% 21% 9%
70 Indianapolis, Indiana 852506 38.9 23.6 33% 91% 14% 6%
71 Akron, Ohio 197634 36.9 21.1 34% 90% 19% 8%
72 Amarillo, Texas 197812 40.2 18.5 32% 83% 12% 4%
73 Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 638311 39.4 21.7 31% 86% 12% 5%
74 Tacoma, Washington 211304 38.2 29.8 36% 93% 12% 6%
75 Austin, Texas 947897 39.8 24.8 38% 87% 8% 4%
76 Hayward, California 158969 37 33.4 56% 95% 8% 4%
77 Mesa, Arizona 484622 38.1 24.9 38% 89% 13% 6%
78 Sacramento, California 495200 37.8 25.2 42% 95% 15% 7%
79 Rancho Cucamonga, California 176540 37.7 32.1 46% 94% 6% 7%
80 San Francisco, California 870887 40.6 33.5 38% 97% 6% 5%
81 Newport News, Virginia 181825 38.9 20.9 42% 88% 9% 7%
82 Cincinnati, Ohio 298802 37.6 23 31% 93% 20% 9%
83 Milwaukee, Wisconsin 595070 36.9 22 37% 92% 22% 8%
84 Tucson, Arizona 530690 36.3 21.7 42% 90% 18% 9%
85 San Jose, California 1025373 38.1 30.7 54% 95% 7% 5%
86 Montgomery, Alabama 200024 38.8 20.6 36% 90% 15% 8%
87 San Diego, California 1406622 38.9 23.8 52% 92% 9% 6%
88 Durham, North Carolina 262989 39.2 23.8 35% 87% 15% 5%
89 Mobile, Alabama 192895 38.3 21.9 37% 88% 17% 7%
90 Corpus Christi, Texas 325734 40.4 18.7 38% 84% 11% 5%
91 Pembroke Pines, Florida 168587 39 31 46% 92% 8% 5%
92 Charlotte, North Carolina 842029 40.1 25.5 36% 88% 10% 5%
93 Rochester, New York 208886 36.1 20.7 37% 94% 28% 10%
94 Jacksonville, Florida 880623 39.7 24.7 38% 89% 11% 6%
95 Tulsa, Oklahoma 403622 39.1 18.8 31% 83% 16% 7%
96 Glendale, Arizona 245849 39 28.2 36% 88% 12% 5%
97 Bakersfield, California 376371 38.8 21.9 40% 93% 16% 9%
98 Las Vegas, Nevada 632916 38.3 25.5 39% 87% 13% 7%
99 Modesto, California 212172 38.2 28.5 43% 94% 9% 9%
100 Garden Grove, California 174877 37.1 29.1 60% 91% 10% 5%
101 Paradise, Nevada 242013 37.8 23 39% 85% 16% 6%
102 St. Louis, Missouri 311404 38.4 25 31% 89% 19% 7%
103 Cape Coral, Florida 179795 38.1 28.5 49% 90% 8% 6%
104 Washington, D.C. 681170 40.1 30.8 33% 96% 14% 7%
105 Richmond, Virginia 223170 37.4 21.5 42% 91% 23% 8%
106 Columbus, Georgia 197485 39.4 19.7 40% 90% 17% 8%
107 Providence, Rhode Island 179214 37.1 23.3 42% 92% 22% 8%
108 Aurora, Colorado 362249 39.3 28 48% 89% 9% 5%
109 Santa Clarita, California 181960 39 35.5 51% 94% 4% 6%
110 Aurora, Illinois 197107 38.7 28.6 43% 90% 10% 7%
111 New Orleans, Louisiana 391495 38.8 23.7 37% 90% 17% 8%
112 Oceanside, California 175441 37.8 29.3 64% 91% 7% 5%
113 Grand Prairie, Texas 190626 39.6 29.8 36% 81% 7% 4%
114 Baton Rouge, Louisiana 227707 37.2 22.7 42% 90% 20% 10%
115 Tampa, Florida 377172 39.2 23.8 41% 88% 14% 8%
116 Phoenix, Arizona 1615041 38.9 26.1 38% 86% 16% 6%
117 Arlington, Texas 392787 39.5 27.3 36% 83% 12% 5%
118 Riverside, California 324727 37 31.6 51% 91% 10% 8%
119 Long Beach, California 470140 38.1 30.7 45% 91% 14% 7%
120 Fresno, California 522021 37.3 21.2 42% 92% 25% 10%
121 North Las Vegas, Nevada 238689 37.8 26.6 45% 85% 11% 8%
122 Hollywood, Florida 152007 39 28.2 48% 86% 10% 5%
123 Fontana, California 209659 37.7 33.3 48% 90% 11% 7%
124 Oakland, California 419987 38.3 32.9 42% 93% 16% 6%
125 Boston, Massachusetts 672840 38.6 29.9 48% 97% 17% 8%
126 Chula Vista, California 267169 38.4 29.3 48% 94% 9% 10%
127 Atlanta, Georgia 472506 39.4 26.3 35% 89% 18% 7%
128 San Antonio, Texas 1492494 39 24.7 41% 84% 15% 6%
129 Glendale, California 200826 38.2 29.3 48% 93% 11% 9%
130 Baltimore, Maryland 614664 38.8 30.3 35% 93% 17% 9%
131 Shreveport, Louisiana 194472 38.9 18.3 38% 87% 26% 7%
132 El Paso, Texas 683088 38.9 23.2 37% 82% 19% 6%
133 Birmingham, Alabama 213434 38.8 21.6 37% 88% 19% 10%
134 Stockton, California 307057 37.8 30.6 40% 94% 14% 11%
135 Yonkers, New York 200792 37.6 35.6 45% 91% 11% 8%
136 Fort Lauderdale, Florida 178764 39.3 27.8 47% 85% 13% 5%
137 Clarksville, Tennessee 150280 41.6 23.8 37% 91% 13% 8%
138 Anaheim, California 351066 37.4 29.4 62% 89% 11% 6%
139 Alexandria, Virginia 155810 41.7 32.6 35% 85% 8% 3%
140 Memphis, Tennessee 652752 38.4 21.8 39% 87% 22% 9%
141 Irving, Texas 238284 40.3 26.1 38% 79% 11% 4%
142 Orlando, Florida 277198 39 25.6 44% 85% 16% 6%
143 Norfolk, Virginia 245115 39.8 20.5 45% 88% 16% 8%
144 Kansas City, Kansas 153893 38.7 20.6 37% 81% 18% 8%
145 Fort Worth, Texas 855897 39.7 27.9 37% 82% 14% 5%
146 Corona, California 166774 37.2 38.1 55% 90% 9% 6%
147 Escondido, California 151594 37.6 29.3 61% 88% 13% 6%
148 Chicago, Illinois 2704965 38.8 35 35% 90% 15% 8%
149 Fayetteville, North Carolina 204777 40.2 20.2 41% 90% 18% 10%
150 Lancaster, California 160107 38.8 33.3 40% 93% 21% 7%
151 Jackson, Mississippi 169141 37.9 22 39% 86% 17% 13%
152 Port St. Lucie, Florida 185136 38.7 28.8 56% 84% 12% 5%
153 Sunrise Manor, Nevada 193357 37 28.7 41% 81% 17% 9%
154 Salinas, California 157224 39.7 23.7 64% 85% 13% 4%
155 Garland, Texas 234588 39.7 29.5 41% 79% 11% 5%
156 Los Angeles, California 3976324 38 31.7 55% 89% 15% 7%
157 Jersey City, New Jersey 264161 39.4 38.6 37% 88% 14% 6%
158 Oxnard, California 207911 38.3 24.8 66% 82% 11% 6%
159 Dallas, Texas 1317942 40.3 26.7 37% 78% 16% 5%
160 Ontario, California 173211 37.6 33.4 55% 90% 13% 9%
161 Santa Ana, California 334236 37.3 24.6 71% 83% 14% 6%
162 Augusta-Richmond County, Georgia 196194 40 19.6 40% 87% 22% 11%
163 Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 1567872 38.7 33.3 38% 91% 20% 10%
164 Cleveland, Ohio 385810 36.8 24.3 36% 93% 31% 14%
165 Moreno Valley, California 205516 37.4 35.8 54% 90% 14% 9%
166 New York, New York 8537673 39 41.4 44% 92% 16% 7%
167 Palmdale, California 157349 37.8 43.2 42% 92% 16% 9%
168 Houston, Texas 2304388 39.9 27.3 39% 78% 18% 7%
169 San Bernardino, California 216242 36.9 29.4 54% 87% 26% 9%
170 Laredo, Texas 257988 38.5 20.9 42% 73% 30% 5%
171 Miami, Florida 453584 38.7 29 49% 81% 21% 7%
172 Hialeah, Florida 236385 37.8 25.5 62% 76% 19% 5%
173 Brownsville, Texas 183829 38 20.1 37% 71% 27% 9%
174 Pomona, California 152476 36.4 29.8 73% 85% 17% 9%
175 Detroit, Michigan 672829 36.9 26.4 42% 92% 30% 17%
176 Pasadena, Texas 153359 40.1 26.8 42% 74% 15% 12%
177 Newark, New Jersey 281770 36.5 34.7 48% 81% 24% 12%

Methodology

Capital Bean looked at 176 cities with populations over 150,000. We looked at ACS one-year data and looked at the following factors:

  • Mean weekly hours worked
  • Mean travel time to work
  • Median annual rent as percentage of median income
  • Percentage of population with health insurance coverage
  • Percentage of families and people with income in the last 12 months below the poverty level
  • Unemployment rate

The six variables were all weighted equally to give us an overall ranking for each location.

Richard Allan

Richard Allan

Richard Allan is the founder of Capital Bean and a passionate writer about personal finance, budgeting and how to save money at home and work.

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