State capitals aren’t always the biggest cities in their state, but they’re among the most important. Not only are they central hubs for government offices and homes for notable landmarks, but they may also offer employment opportunities and other cultural features that make them attractive for longtime residents and potential newcomers alike. Some state capitals, though, are better places than others for people to lay down roots and build their savings. To that end, SmartAsset analyzed data for all 50 state capitals to find the ones where you can expect to live the best life.
Specifically, we compared the capitals across the following metrics: median income after housing costs, unemployment rate, dining and entertainment rate, violent crime rate and property crime rate. For details about data sources and how we put all the information together to create our final rankings, see the Data and Methodology section below.
This is SmartAsset’s sixth study on the best state capitals. Check out the 2018 version here.
- Consistency. Six of the state capitals from this year’s top 11 have been in our top 10 every year since 2016: Honolulu, Hawaii; Madison, Wisconsin; Concord, New Hampshire; Montpelier, Vermont; Austin, Texas and Bismarck, North Dakota. Of these six, three cities – Madison, Concord and Bismarck – have been in our top 10 since our first state capitals study in 2014.
- A few Southern gems. Capitals of Southern states largely fall in the bottom half of our study, with nine of our bottom 10 contenders located in the South, according to Census divisions. Four Southern cities rank within the top 20, however: Austin, Texas tied for No. 6; Annapolis, Maryland took the No. 8 spot; Raleigh, North Carolina ranked No. 12 and Nashville, Tennessee slid in at No. 17.
1. Honolulu, HI
Hawaii’s capital takes the top spot yet again. Honolulu residents have, on average, $48,607 in median income after housing costs, the fifth-highest amount in the study overall. It is also tied for the lowest unemployment rate in the study, at 2.1%. The violent crime rate is around 246 per 100,000 residents, the second-lowest among all state capitals.
2. Madison, WI
Madison, Wisconsin takes the No. 2 spot on our list. Madison also ties for the lowest unemployment rate in the study, at 2.1%. More than 10% of the city’s establishments are entertainment establishments like bars and restaurants, the third-highest rate in the top 11 and the sixth-highest rate in the whole study for this metric. The median income after housing costs in Madison is $45,575, and in even more good news, it’s also the city with the best work-life balance.
3. Concord, NH
Concord, New Hampshire is the highest-ranked New England capital in our top 11 and also one of three cities (along with Honolulu, Hawaii and Madison, Wisconsin) tied for the study’s lowest unemployment rate, at 2.1%. Concord also has the third-lowest violent crime rate and the second-lowest property crime rate – around 277 and 1,919 crimes per 100,000 residents, respectively. The median income after housing costs in Concord is $47,462, some of which residents might wish to divide among various investments, including a passive investment strategy.
4. Montpelier, VT
The list moves right next door from New Hampshire to its neighboring state to the west, Vermont. Montpelier, Vermont takes the No. 4 spot. This is the smallest state capital by population in our top 11. Montpelier has a median income after housing costs of $47,845, the eighth-highest on this list. The city also has the lowest rate of violent crime in our study, just a little more than 213 incidents per 100,000 residents.
5. Boston, MA
Boston, Massachusetts comes in at No. 5 on our list of the best state capitals to live in. It has an entertainment establishment rate of 12.13%, the second-highest rate in the study. It also has the third-lowest property crime rate, at approximately 2,089 incidents per 100,000 residents. The median income after housing costs is a bit lower than that in some of the other top-rated state capitals, but at $42,965, it still ranks 15th overall.
6. Boise, ID (tie)
Boise, Idaho ties with Austin, Texas for sixth place. This city ties for fourth-lowest unemployment rate in the study, at 2.2%. It does not fare as well when it comes to dining and entertainment, ranking 45th for this metric as only 7.92% of the establishments in the city fall into this category. The median income after housing costs in the city is $43,231.
6. Austin, TX (tie)
Austin, Texas ties with Boise, Idaho for sixth-best state capital to live in for 2019. It has the sixth-highest median income after housing costs in this study, $48,513. Home of the University of Texas, the city also has an unemployment rate of 2.6%, among the best on this list. People starting out in their careers might find it appealing that Austin is the No. 2 city in 2019 for young professionals.
8. Annapolis, MD
Annapolis, Maryland, the home of the U.S. Naval Academy, ranks eighth. It has a median income after housing costs of $61,991, the second-highest amount for this metric in the study. The unemployment rate ranks toward the middle of the pack at 23rd overall, specifically 3.2%. The property crime rate in Annapolis is approximately 2,356 incidents per 100,000 residents, the fifth-lowest in the study.
9. Bismarck, ND
Bismarck, North Dakota is the ninth-best state capital to live in. The median income after housing costs there is $51,217, the third-highest in this study. Bismarck’s 2.3% unemployment rate ties for seventh-lowest overall. The violent crime rate in the city is a top-10 rate, and the property crime rate there is a top-20 rate. The Bismarck metro area is one of this year’s top five housing markets for growth and stability.
10. Lincoln, NE (tie)
Lincoln, Nebraska ties for 10th with Carson City, Nevada. The unemployment rate there is just 2.5%, a top-15 rate. Around 9.18% of the establishments in Lincoln are dedicated to dining and entertainment. The median income after housing costs in the city is $42,325, ranking 16th overall. Lincoln’s violent and property crime rates are both top-20 rates.
10. Carson City, NV (tie)
Carson City, Nevada ties with Lincoln, Nebraska for the No. 10 spot. The median income after housing costs there is $38,433 and ranks 29th overall. However, the city’s percentage of dining and entertainment establishments, violent crime rate and property crime rate are all top-10 rates. (You might still have to exercise caution on the road, though, as Nevada is one of this year’s states with the worst drivers.)
Data and Methodology
To find the best state capitals to live in, we analyzed data for every state capital in the U.S. We considered the following five factors:
- Median income after housing costs. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2017 5-year American Community Survey.
- Unemployment rate. Data comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and is for June 2019.
- Dining and entertainment rate. This is the number of bars, restaurants and entertainment establishments as a percentage of all establishments. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2016 Business Patterns Survey.
- Violent crime rate per 100,000 residents. Data comes from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Database for 2017. Data for Boise, Idaho; Carson City, Nevada; Jackson, Mississippi; Lincoln, Nebraska; Raleigh, North Carolina and Richmond, Virginia came from neighborhoodscout.com
- Property crime rate per 100,000 residents. Data comes from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Database for 2017. Data for Boise, Idaho; Carson City, Nevada; Jackson, Mississippi; Lincoln, Nebraska; Raleigh, North Carolina and Richmond, Virginia came from neighborhoodscout.com
First, we ranked each city in each metric. From there, we found each city’s average ranking. To do this, we ranked all but two metrics equally. The metric of violent crime received a 0.7 weight and the metric of property crime received a 0.3 weight. We used each city’s average ranking to create our final score. The city with the best average ranking received a score of 100 while the city with the worst average ranking received a score of 0.
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