The United States is a wonderful country, and those of us lucky enough to call it home have the choice of fifty great places we can choose to live. We have everything from tropical paradise in Hawaii to the vast stretches of open land in the middle of the country, to stunning beaches and mountain ranges in various sections. What riches. Most of us stay relatively close to where we started unless we follow jobs or loved ones to a new location. But some people make a deliberate search for the best place for the life they want to lead and relocate to pursue it. Of course, the best place to live is subjective, and what’s best for one person might be completely unappealing to another.
U.S. News and World Report compiles a Best Places to Live list, based on what it considers to be objective elements:
Job Market Index, based on the local unemployment rate and average salary, as calculated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Value Index, which is a measure of housing affordability. This score evaluates household income for both homeowners and renters compared with the housing cost for both.
Quality of Life Index, which weighs how satisfied residents are with their life, including the crime rate, quality, and availability of health care, quality of education, resident well-being, and commute time.
Desirability Index, which determines whether people would like to live in a specific area.
Net Migration, which measures the actual influx or outflow to the area.
The results of the U.S. News analysis show Colorado cities in four of the top five spots, with only Austin, Texas elbowing into number three.
For most families, the elements that make a city attractive will be affordability, good schools, low crime, recreation, and employment opportunities. Affordability is the most objective measurement, with the U.S. median price of a home at $295,300. The range of median price for existing homes by state stretches from a high of nearly $647,000 in Hawaii to a low of $107,000 in West Virginia. Of course, even the most expensive states have a variety of price points. California is the most expensive real estate in the continental U.S., with a median home value of over $579,000. Yet in the state’s Central Valley cities of Bakersfield and Fresno, single-family homes are for sale in the range of $200,000, and even in the exurbs of Riverside, homes below $350,00 are available. In contrast, the median price in San Francisco is $1.3 million, which doesn’t fall into the affordable category for very many families.
Public school quality is a primary concern for families when choosing a neighborhood, and the level of funding varies widely by state. Wallethub recently completed an analysis of public education by state, looking at both quality and safety. The site weighed recognition as a Blue Ribbon school, high school graduation and dropout rates, reading and math test scores, participation rates in and median scores on ACTs and SATs, participation in and scoring on A.P. exams, and other factors. The overall best (including both quality and safety) ten states were ranked as:
- New Hampshire
- And the bottom five were determined to be:
- New Mexico
While there may not be a direct correlation between higher education and the quality of K-12 schools, an abundance of colleges and universities generally contributes to the cultural and academic quality of a metropolitan area. U.S. cities with a higher number of educational institutions are more attractive to families. Some areas with an increased concentration of colleges are:
Los Angeles, with 230 colleges and universities, including world-famous UCLA and USC, plus several campuses of the renowned California State University system. California has over 400 total colleges, more than any other state.
New York City has over 200 colleges and universities within a 25-mile radius and over a million college students. NYU has almost 50,000 between the undergraduate and graduate levels, followed by Columbia with over 20,000.
Chicago, the country’s third-largest city, also comes in third in the number of colleges with 148. Northwestern is the best-known, but the College of DuPage, Depaul University, and the University of Illinois are also over 20,000 students each.
While not even in the top 20 cities by population, Boston holds the number four spot in colleges and universities. The metro area has the oldest college in the U.S.—Harvard, several campuses of the University of Massachusetts, and several traditionally female colleges like Smith and Wellesley.
Filling out the top five and right behind Boston is Philadelphia with 115 higher learning institutions, including the University of Pennsylvania, Drexel, and Temple.
While there is some inconsistent data about whether a “college town” has a positive, negative, or neutral impact on the quality of public education at the K-12 level, it’s clear that the presence of a robust college presence positively supports other family-friendly recreational and cultural offerings. Colleges bring athletics and often musical and dramatic performances for families.
One objective indicator is where people are moving, although the reasons are not always clear. States with population declines due to outmigration in the last five years are California, New York, Massachusetts, Illinois, Connecticut, New Jersey, Maryland, Louisiana, Hawaii, and Kansas. More Americans are moving to Idaho than any other state, followed by Washington, North Carolina, and New Mexico. Florida continues to experience an influx from New York and Georgia, and Oregon is gaining refugees from California.
People report leaving Kansas primarily for better job opportunities, while Connecticut departures may be motivated by higher taxes. Maryland, which has recently joined the top ten states for outward migration, reports that those who leave are motivated by employment opportunities, retirement, family, lifestyle, and health reasons. In Hawaii, the most common motivation cited is affordability, which is often given as the catalyst for departures from California as well. States gaining the most residents tend to have moderate climates, affordable housing, and thriving economies.
Wherever home is, Americans like to move. On average, we change residences eleven times in our lifetime, compared to Europeans’ average of four times. Most of us don’t go far, with over 85% staying in the same state and the remaining 15% moving to a different one. But moving for a family-related reason is the most common motivation—accounting for 25% of moves. Family reasons might be moving out on your own for the first time or getting married or divorced. It includes moving into a larger place when you have children or a smaller place when the nest is empty. Moving for family reasons includes moving closer to your grown children to help out with the grandkids or just to spend more time with them. It can also cover moving closer to mom and dad to be there when they need you. Home is where the family is, no matter how we define that family.