1. Des Moines, Iowa
With a total metropolitan population of just over 600,000, Iowa’s capital city is large but still neighborly. Like many urban areas, downtown Des Moines is home to lofts and condos for Millennials and empty-nesters and is surrounded by suburbs filled mostly with families.
Parks, bike trails, and lakes provide outdoor recreation, while cultural events, festivals, one-of-a-kind restaurants, and shops highlight an active city entertainment scene. All this plus a median annual salary of $49,420 and median home price of just $181,217 combine to make Des Moines the fourth best place to live, according to U.S. News & World Report. Better yet, residents tend to spend just 23.52% of annual income on housing costs, including mortgage (or rent), utilities, and taxes, a fact that makes Des Moines the third most affordable city in the U.S., according to both U.S. News and WalletHub.
As for the job market, Des Moines comes in at number 60 out of the 182 cities on WalletHub’s best cities for the jobs report. Job prospects, especially in tech and among startups, are enhanced by the community’s low 2.9% unemployment rate. Other promising areas include insurance, financial services, logistics, publishing (Meredith is headquartered there) and healthcare.
2. Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota
With a metropolitan population of nearly 3.5 million people, Minneapolis and St. Paul, aka the Twin Cities, are about as big-city as one gets in the Midwest – not counting Chicago, of course. There are plenty of big-city amenities like sports stadiums, museums, and art galleries, as well as the Mississippi River, which offers water-based activities galore. In fact, the state of Minnesota, known as the Land of 10,000 Lakes, features everything from boating and swimming to ice fishing and cross-country skiing, depending on the season.
The Twin Cities provides residents with a $55,010 median annual salary, which, combined with a median home price of $237,367, results in the area’s number 9 ranking on U.S. News’s best places to live list. A reasonably low cost of living lets residents spend just 25% of their annual income on housing costs, leaving the rest for other expenses.
Job prospects in the Minneapolis-St. Paul’s area is strong, with life sciences, biotech, and health-tech leading the way. Minneapolis is also home to (or near the home of) the corporate headquarters of Target, Best Buy, 3M, Cargill, and General Mills, with manufacturing and retail management also having a strong job showing. The area’s low 3.3% unemployment rate places Minneapolis at number 12 and St. Paul at number 25 on WalletHub’s best cities for jobs list.
3. Salt Lake City, Utah
People tend to think of Salt Lake City’s Mormon heritage as a defining characteristic, but the city is no longer religiously uniform. Despite the Latter-Day Saints’ health code, downtown coffee shops abound and alcohol can be purchased and consumed at many restaurants and at bars and pubs. Known as the Crossroads of the West, Salt Lake City, the capital city of Utah, is named for its proximity to the Great Salt Lake. Outdoor recreation is popular, with five national parks and several world-class ski resorts within driving distance.
Coming in at No.15 on U.S. News’s best places to live report, Salt Lake City’s metropolitan population of just under 2.4 million is the most highly populated metro area in the state of Utah. Residents earn a median annual salary of $46,221 and spend just over 25% of that on housing expenses each year. The median price of a home in Salt Lake City is $280,894, making it the highest in this sample.
Job seekers have plenty to choose from in the fast-growing Salt Lake City area. WalletHub ranks SLC number 33 among the places to find a job, and the area has a 3.1% unemployment rate. The best private-sector opportunities are found in trade, transportation, technology, and utilities, with education, finance, healthcare, manufacturing, and construction also providing many openings.
4. Boise, Idaho
While other cities on this list have much to offer outdoor enthusiasts, none beats the area around Boise, the capital city of Idaho. Indeed, for recreation around rivers, mountains, canyons, deserts, or lakes, this area could rank near the top of anyone’s list. That said, downtown Boise doesn’t take a back seat when it comes to culture, nightlife, entertainment, and a solid restaurant scene.
With a metro population of 664,000, roughly the same as Des Moines, Boise doesn’t rank as a major city, but it’s big enough to have all the amenities and still offer something of a small-town feel. The result is a rank of number 23 on the U.S. News list of best places to live.
The area’s median annual salary of $43,040 and median home price of $221,475 are further enhanced by the fact that residents spend only 26.22% of their annual income on housing, which makes it the 25th most affordable place to live, according to U.S. News.
Ranked number 30 as a great city for jobs by WalletHub, Boise has a 3% unemployment rate and better job opportunities than most, especially in finance, logging, mining, livestock, and farming. Recently the region has seen growth in technology, thanks to companies like Micron Technology Inc., HP Inc., and Hewlett Packard, all of which have offices in Boise.
5. Omaha, Nebraska
The 904,000 people who call Omaha home are proud to celebrate their past as cattle ranchers while pointing to the new face of the region, which serves as the home base to a whole slew of new tech startups. Once the eastern start of the first transcontinental railroad, the area is now mostly seen from the air as travelers head further west to cities like San Francisco and Seattle.
All this belies the fact that Omaha ranks number 28 among U.S. News’s best places to live and is one of the most affordable (number 7, according to U.S. News), with a median annual salary of $46,490 and ultra-low median home price of just $165,667. This translates to a cost of living that lets residents spend just 25% of their annual income on housing.
Omaha’s 3% unemployment rate also makes it a great place to find a job – number 50, according to WalletHub. In addition to its burgeoning tech industry, Nebraska’s largest city is also home to Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, Mutual of Omaha, TD Ameritrade, and the Union Pacific Railroad, to name just a few. Health services and education offer a growing number of employment opportunities, but the real future, employment-wise, maybe in technology for a region that recently earned the nickname “the Silicon Prairie.”