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SmartAsset: Best Places to Live on a $65,000 Salary - 2022 Edition

As of April 2022, the 12-month inflation rate is 8.3% and the highest it has been in over 20 years. Among other things, this has translated to a higher cost of living for many Americans. According to a report from the Capital One Insights Center, only 18% of consumers said their wages kept up with the rising cost of living. With a tightening wallet, Americans across the country are looking for ways to stretch their income and some places offer a better opportunity to do so than others.

In this study, SmartAsset uncovered the best cities in America to live on a $65,000 salary, a figure that aligns with the national median household income ($64,994). We compared 104 cities (all with a population of at least 60,000 and a median household income between $60,000 and $70,000) across topics such as income, employment, housing costs and access to various establishments. 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.

Previously, SmartAsset looked at the best places to live on a $60,000 salary. Check out the 2020 study here.

Key Findings

  • Small Midwestern cities dominate the top 10. Seven of the top 10 cities belong to this region. These cities offer low median monthly housing costs and relatively short commutes.
  • Housing affordability is the driving force behind the highest-ranking cities. The top 10 cities all rank particularly well for our two housing cost metrics: median monthly housing costs and housing costs as a percentage of income. Median monthly housing costs do not exceed $1,300 in any of the 10 cities and residents earning $65,000 can expect to pay less than 25% of their income on housing.
  • Unemployment is nearly two times higher in the bottom 10 cities than the top 10. The average March 2022 unemployment rate in the top 10 cities is 2.8%, with Rogers, Arkansas having the lowest unemployment rate, at 2.2%. Conversely, the average March 2022 unemployment rate for the bottom 10 cities is 5.2%, with the highest rate in Salinas, California, at 7.6%.

1. Bismarck, ND

The best place to live on a $65,000 salary is Bismarck, North Dakota. The city ranks second-best for three metrics: median monthly housing costs ($910), housing costs relative to a $65,000 salary (16.80%) and the number of entertainment establishments per 10,000 residents (5.13). Bismarck also ranks fourth-best for both its low average commute time (16.5 minutes) and poverty rate (8.4%).

2. Sioux Falls, SD (Tie)

The most populous city in South Dakota ranks in the top 10 cities for five of the nine metrics we considered. It has the fourth-lowest median monthly housing costs ($946) and housing costs relative to a $65,000 income (17.46%). Additionally, it ranks sixth for its low average commute time (16.7 minutes), seventh for its low March 2022 unemployment rate (2.4%) and eighth for the high concentration of civic establishments (almost 13 for every 10,000 residents).

2. Cheyenne, WY (Tie)

Residents in Cheyenne, Wyoming have the lowest average commute time in our study, at approximately 15 minutes. The poverty rate in the city is just over 9% (ranking ninth-lowest). And there are roughly 14 civic establishments for every 10,000 residents (ranking fifth-best).

4. Billings, MT

Median monthly housing costs in Billings, Montana stand at about $1,000, or 11th-lowest overall. This means that residents earning $65,000 would only need to spend an average of about 19% of their pre-tax income on housing. Billings also ranks well for access to a variety of establishments with a rough combined total of roughly 24 civic and entertainment establishments for every 10,000 residents. Billings also has the seventh-lowest average commute time, at about 17 minutes.

5. Waukesha, WI

Waukesha, Wisconsin ranks in the top 20 cities for three metrics: 19th for the number of entertainment establishments for every 10,000 residents (6.43) and 20th for both the median monthly housing costs ($1,103) and housing costs relative to a $65,000 income (20.36%). The March 2022 unemployment rate is 2.6% (22nd-lowest) and the poverty rate is 11.1% (27th-lowest).

6. Bloomington, IL

Bloomington, Illinois ranks well for our housing affordability metrics. It places sixth for both median monthly housing costs ($950) and housing costs relative to a $65,000 income (17.54%). The city also has the sixth-lowest percentage of residents without health insurance (4.4%). Additionally, Bloomington, Illinois has the third-lowest average commute time of 16.3 minutes.

7. Appleton, WI

Appleton, Wisconsin ranks third-best for its low median monthly housing costs ($936) and housing costs as a percent of $65,000 income (17.28%). The city also has the ninth-lowest average commute time, at 18.7 minutes. The March 2022 unemployment was 2.7% and the poverty rate is about 10%. Roughly 6% of Appleton’s population is without health insurance, which is the 17th-lowest in this study.

8. Rogers, AR

Rogers, Arkansas has the ninth-lowest median monthly housing costs ($969) and as a result, median annual housing costs make up less than 18% of a $65,000 income. The unemployment rate for March 2022 is 2.2% (fourth-lowest) and the poverty rate is 9.8% (15th-lowest). Rogers also boasts the second-lowest average commute time of 16 minutes.

9. Madison, WI

Madison, Wisconsin takes the ninth spot this year. For every 10,000 residents in the city, there are 12 civic establishments (ranking ninth-best) and roughly six entertainment establishments (ranking 21st-best). Just 3.8% of the residents in Madison are without health insurance (fourth-lowest) and the March 2022 unemployment rate is 2.3% (fifth-lowest). Residents can expect an average commute time of almost 20 minutes in this city (ranking 16th-best).

10. Cedar Rapids, IA

Cedar Rapids, Iowa boasts the fourth-lowest median monthly housing costs in our study, at $946. Cedar Rapids also has the ninth-lowest percentage of residents without health insurance (4.6%) and eighth-lowest average commute time (18 minutes).

Data and Methodology

To find the best cities to live on a $65,000 salary, SmartAsset considered cities with a population of at least 60,000 people and a median household income between $60,000 and $70,000.  This resulted in a list of 104 cities, which we compared across the following nine metrics:

  • Median household income. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2020 5-year American Community Survey.
  • Median monthly housing costs. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2020 5-year American Community Survey.
  • Housing costs as a percentage of income. We calculated this by finding the median monthly housing costs as a percentage of a $65,000 salary. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2020 5-year American Community Survey.
  • Entertainment establishments per 10,000 residents. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2020 County Business Patterns Survey.
  • Civic establishments per 10,000 residents. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2020 County Business Patterns Survey.
  • Percentage of residents without health insurance. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2020 5-year American Community Survey.
  • Average commute time. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2020 5-year American Community Survey.
  • Unemployment rate. Data comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and is for March 2022.
  • Poverty rate. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2020 5-year American Community Survey.

First, we ranked each city in each metric. From there, we calculated the average ranking for each city, weighting all metrics equally. Using this average ranking, we created our final score. The city with the highest average ranking received a score of 100. The city with the lowest average ranking received a score of 0.

Financial Tips for Median Earners

  • Adjust your budget to keep up with rising costs. “It’s been said, ‘Today's dollar won’t buy the same things yesterday’s dollar did,’ which has never been more true for life in 2022,” said Brad Pistole, President of Trinity Insurance & Financial Services. Living costs are rising and that may strain your wallet. “Energy costs, rental prices and interest rates are rising as well, making it impossible for anyone to avoid the impact of inflation." Tackle the rising cost-of-living with our budget calculator to get ahead on your expenses and project the next six months.
  • Navigate a market crash. Lessen your worries by learning what you can do to limit the impact of a market crash on your retirement assets. For instance, understand what an iBond is and how it can help you deal with inflation.
  • Work with an expert. A financial advisor can help you manage and make the most of your money. 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.

Questions about our study? Contact press@smartasset.com.

Photo credit: ©iStock/William_Potter

Anja Solum Anja Solum is a data journalist at SmartAsset covering a variety of personal finance topics, including retirement and debt management. Before joining SmartAsset, she worked on both agency and in-house content marketing teams where she developed her love for data analysis and visualization. In her free time, she nurtures a passion for gaming, a recent addiction to anime & KDramas, and a mischievous labrador retriever. A bit of a nomad, she’s lived in Norway, Jamaica, and Denmark in addition to the U.S. but now resides in Raleigh, North Carolina.
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