If you’re a young professional, chances are that you haven’t hit your peak earning years yet. According to recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median weekly earnings for people ages 25 to 34 is just $975. Median weekly earnings rise from there, climbing to $1,155 for people 35 to 44 years old, before peaking at $1,172 for those ages 45 to 54.
Despite not being in your prime earning years, your early career – specifically between the ages of 25 and 34 – is still an important time financially. Where you live can play a pivotal role in establishing a solid financial foundation for the future. With this in mind, SmartAsset identified and ranked the best cities for young professionals in 2022.
We compared 144 of the largest U.S. cities across nine metrics, focusing on affordability, workforce demographics and entertainment options. For details on our data sources and how we put all the information together to create our final rankings, read the Data and Methodology section below.
This is SmartAsset’s sixth annual study on the best cities for young professionals. Check out the 2021 version of the study here.
- Seattle makes a big jump. Despite its high cost of living, Seattle took a big leap up our rankings from last year’s study when the Emerald City ranked as the No. 14 best city for young professionals. Thanks in part to the fifth-largest increase in median earnings over the last four years and one of the highest labor force participation rates, Seattle ranks as the third-best city for young professionals this year.
- Top cities have affordable rents. While the average rent across all 144 cities in our study is $1,130 per month, housing the top 10 cities is generally more affordable. The average rent across the 10 best places for your professionals is just $868 per month. Meanwhile, the average rent in these 10 cities makes up just 19.91% of full-time workers’ earnings, significantly lower than the study-wide average of 27.89%.
- Midwestern states dominate the top 10. Midwestern states are home to eight of the 10 best cities for young professionals. Of those places, five have unemployment rates that rank among the 10 lowest across our study.
1. Minneapolis, MN
Minneapolis ranks No. 1 overall, thanks in large part to having the lowest unemployment rate (1.4%) across our entire study. Minnesota’s largest city also has the fourth-highest labor force participation rate among young professionals (90.6%) and the 17th-largest change in median earnings between 2016 and 2020. During that four-year span, full-time workers saw their earnings grow by 14.80%. Meanwhile, people ages 25 to 34 years old also comprise 22.17% of the city’s total population, 11th-highest across our study.
2. Sioux Falls, SD
Sioux Falls not only has the seventh-lowest average monthly rent ($588), but the average rent is only 15.49% of full-time workers’ earnings, that’s the third-lowest across our study. This city of nearly 181,000 residents also has the sixth-highest labor force participation rate among young professionals (90%), the sixth-highest entertainment establishment density (2.98%) and the eighth-lowest unemployment rate (2%).
3. Seattle, WA
Seattle is home to the highest percentage of young professionals, as people ages 25 to 34 comprise 24.67% of the overall population. The city also has the second-highest labor force participation rate among people in this age group (91.7%) and the sixth-lowest overall unemployment rate (1.9%). Meanwhile, Seattle has the sixth-highest median earnings for full-time workers ($78,468), which increased by nearly 19% between 2016 and 2020.
4. Omaha, NE
While the average rent in Omaha is just under $750 per month (25th-lowest), that’s just 18.29% of the median earnings for full-time workers in this city (14th-lowest). Unemployment in Nebraska’s largest city and the surrounding area is just 2.2%, 14th-lowest across our study.
5. St. Paul, MN
St. Paul ranks highly for two county level metrics: unemployment and entertainment establishment density. Ramsey County, which includes St. Paul, is tied for the second-lowest unemployment rate across our study (1.6%) and ranks 15th overall for entertainment establishment density (2.06%).
6. Huntsville, AL
Huntsville is home to the ninth-lowest average monthly rent ($653), which makes up only 15.45% of the median earnings of a full-time worker (second-lowest). Huntsville and the surrounding area are tied with St. Paul for having the second-lowest unemployment rate across our study. This city of just under 200,000 residents also has the ninth-lowest cost of living ($22,670).
7. Madison, WI
Wisconsin’s state capital has the fifth-highest labor force participation rate among young professionals, as 90.3% of people between 25 and 34 are working or actively looking for work. Dane County, which is home to Madison, has an unemployment rate (2%) that’s tied for eighth-lowest across our study. Madison and Dane County also have the 14th-highest entertainment establishment density (2.31%).
8. Cincinnati, OH
Cincinnati, Ohio has the ninth-lowest cost of living ($22,721) of all 144 cities in our study. While people ages 25 to 34 make up less than 19% of Cincinnati’s population, the labor force participation rate among young professionals is 87.6%, 22nd-highest overall.
9. Kansas City, MO
Missouri’s largest city is home to the 13th-highest labor force participation rate among people 25 to 34 years old. In Kansas City, 88.6% of young professionals are employed or actively looking for work. Kansas City has the 30th-lowest average rent ($796), which only comprises 20.47% of a full-time worker’s median earnings (24th-lowest).
10. Lincoln, NE
The eighth Midwestern city in our top 10, Lincoln and surrounding Lancaster County, have the fifth-lowest unemployment rate (1.8%) among the 144 cities included in our study. Meanwhile, the average rent in Lincoln ($763) comprises just 20.04% of a full-time worker’s median earnings (22nd-lowest).
Data and Methodology
To rank the best cities for young professionals, we considered the 150 largest cities, 144 of which had complete data. We compared those cities across nine metrics:
- Percentage of the population between ages 25 and 34. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2020 5-year American Community Survey.
- April 2022 unemployment rate. Data comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and is at the county level.
- Labor force participation rate for young professionals. This is the labor force participation rate for residents ages 25 and 34. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2020 5-year American Community Survey.
- Average rent. This figure was calculated using the average rent of a studio, one-bedroom apartment and half of the average two-bedroom apartment. We considered rents from June 2021 to May 2022 and data comes from Zumper.
- Estimated annual cost of living. This is for an individual and accounts for housing, food, transportation, healthcare and other basic budget needs. Data comes from the MIT Cost of Living calculator and is measured at the county level.
- Entertainment establishment density. This is the percentage of all establishments in the area dedicated to arts, entertainment or recreation. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2020 County Business Patterns Survey.
- Median earnings for full-time workers. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2020 5-year American Community Survey.
- Four-year change in median earnings. This is the percentage change in median earnings for full-time workers from 2016 to 2020. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2016 1-year American Community Survey and the 2020 5-year American Community Survey.
- Median rent as a percentage of full-time workers’ earnings. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2020 5-year American Community Survey.
First, we ranked each city in every metric, weighting all metrics equally. Then we found each city’s average ranking and used the average to determine a final score. The city with the best average ranking received a score of 100. The city with the lowest average ranking received a score of 0.
Financial Planning Tips for Young Professionals
- Work with a financial planner. Many financial advisors offer financial planning services, which can include investment advice, retirement planning, saving for a home purchase and other financial needs. Finding a qualified financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three financial advisors who serve your area, and you can interview your advisor matches at no cost to decide which one is right for you. If you’re ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
- Avoid lifestyle creep. It can be tempting to spend more and more money as your income rises throughout your career. This is known as lifestyle creep. Instead, try to keep your spending levels relatively flat when you get a raise and reroute the added income to retirement accounts, taxable investment accounts or general savings. You’ll thank yourself down the road.
- It’s about time in the market, not timing the market. Investors between 25 and 34 years old have perhaps the most valuable resource at their disposal: time. Numerous studies have shown how difficult it is to successfully time market downturns and upswings. Instead, staying invested for the long term is a much more effective strategy for generating wealth. A decades-long time horizon allows an investor to benefit from a riskier portfolio, because they have ample time to recoup losses suffered during a downturn. Staying invested for the long term means you won’t miss the market upswings that typically follow downturns.
Questions about our study? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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