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SmartAsset: Best State Capitals to Live In - 2022 Edition

The number of people moving across state lines is increasing. From 2019 to 2020, a total of roughly 4.2 million individuals moved to a different state while from 2020 to 2021, that figure grew to 4.4 million. As Americans increasingly look to live in different states, state capitals may be ideal locations to reside in if you’re looking for rich culture and history, access to a variety of job opportunities and a front seat to a state’s political happenings.

In this study, SmartAsset compared all 50 state capitals. We ranked them based on topics such as employment, education, affordability, leisure and safety. 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 ninth study on the best state capitals to live in. Check out the previous version here.

Key Findings

  • State capitals vary wildly in affordability. There is a roughly $15,000 difference in the estimated annual cost of living between the most and least expensive state capitals. Boston, Massachusetts has the highest annual cost of living, at roughly $36,400. Comparatively, Jefferson City, Missouri has the lowest cost of living (just over $21,100).
  • The Midwest wins big. Five of the top 10 state capitals are in the Midwest. These state capitals rank well in the employment & education category as well as for affordability. Northeastern and Western state capitals take the remaining five spots, while no Southern state capital is in our top 10.

1. Pierre, SD

Pierre, South Dakota scores highest in the employment & education category along with affordability. Across all 50 state capitals, Pierre ties for the second-lowest unemployment rate (1.9%) and has the fourth-highest income after housing costs (a little over $58,100). This state capital also has the fourth-highest high school graduation rate, at 95.62%.

2. Madison, WI

The Wisconsin capital takes the top spot in our leisure & safety category. Residents in Madison typically work 36.7 hours per week (sixth-lowest) and outside of working hours, have access to the eighth-highest percentage of dining and entertainment establishments (8.41%). When it comes to safety, there were 922 violent crimes and 2,974 property crimes for every 100,000 residents in 2020 (ranking seventh-best and 15th-best, respectively).

3. Lincoln, NE

Lincoln, Nebraska ranks in the top 10 state capitals for employment & education as well as affordability. Across individual metrics, Lincoln ties for the fifth-lowest June 2022 unemployment rate (2.4%) and has the 14th-highest high school graduation rate (93.23%). Residents here also have the 15th-lowest down payment-to-income ratio (this measures how a 20% down payment on a home compares with one year of income), which is 60% of a resident's annual income.

4. Boise, ID

The second-highest ranking city for the employment & education category is Boise, Idaho. Taking a deeper look, Boise scores in the top 12 cities across all three metrics in the aforementioned category. It has the fifth-highest high school graduation rate (95.31%), ninth-lowest June 2022 unemployment rate (2.5%) and the 11th-highest five-year change in income (26.74%).

5. Helena, MT

Helena, Montana ranks sixth-best for our employment & education category and 11th-highest for livability. The city offers the third-highest high school graduation rate (95.64%) and 10th-lowest unemployment rate for June 2022 (2.6%). Workers in the city have the seventh-shortest average work week, at 36.9 hours.

6. Concord, NH

Concord, New Hampshire ranks third-best in the employment & education category. While the city ties for the second-lowest June 2022 unemployment rate (1.9%), it also scores well for both safety-related metrics, with the sixth-lowest violent crime rate (192 per 100,000 residents) and second-lowest property crime rate (1,662 per 100,000 residents).

7. Montpelier, VT

Montpelier, Vermont has the fifth-lowest June 2022 unemployment rate (2.4%) and seventh-highest high school graduation rate (94.21%), giving the city the No. 10 spot in the employment and education category. Additionally, there are roughly 219 violent crimes and 2,322 property crimes for every 100,000 residents in this capital city, ranking third-best and 10th-best, respectively.

8. Jefferson City, MO

Jefferson City, Missouri ranks first for both its low June 2022 unemployment rate (1.8%) and estimated cost of living for an individual ($21,110). For those settling down in the city, residents can expect to pay roughly 60% of their annual income on a down payment and have roughly $45,000 left after housing costs annually.

9. Albany, NY

In terms of leisure & safety, the Empire State’s capital ranks fifth. The average worker typically spends 35.8 hours per week on the job (second-lowest). During hours of leisure, Albany residents have access to the 10th-highest number of dining and entertainment establishments (more than one in 10 establishments are available for grabbing a bite or recreation).

10. Des Moines, IA

Des Moines, Iowa shines in the affordability category. A down payment in the area will cost roughly 52% of a resident's annual income and the annual cost of living for an individual is roughly $23,200. Des Moines ranks seventh- and 11th-best for these two metrics, respectively.

Data and Methodology

To rank cities, we considered all 50 state capitals. We compared them across 10 metrics spanning three different categories:

Employment & Education

  • June 2022 unemployment rate. Data is from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • Five-year income growth. Data is from the 2015 and 2020 5-year American Community Surveys.
  • High school graduation rate. Data is from the 2022 County Health Rankings.

Affordability

  • Income after housing costs. This the median household income less the median annual housing costs. Data is from the 2020 5-year American Community Survey.
  • Down payment-to-income ratio. This is the ratio between a 20% down payment on the median-valued home and the median household income. Data is from the 2020 5-year American Community Survey.
  • Estimated annual cost of living. Data is for an individual and is from the MIT Cost of Living Calculator.

Leisure & Safety

  • Concentration of dining and entertainment establishments. This is the number of dining and entertainment establishments as a percentage of all establishments. Data is from the 2020 County Business Patterns survey.
  • Hours worked per week. Data is from the 2020 5-year American Community Survey.
  • Violent crime rate. This is per 100,000 residents. Data is from the FBI and is for 2020.
  • Property crime rate. This is per 100,000 residents. Data is from the FBI and is for 2020.

We ranked each state capital in every metric and found an average ranking and score for each category. We then found a final score, averaging the three category scores. The state capital with the highest cumulative score ranks at the top of our list.

From the Experts: Financial Tips For Your Next Move

  • Look for discounts and special offers. “Many companies offer discounts for booking early or for combining services such as packing and shipping. Be sure to compare prices between different moving companies to find the best deal,” says Joshua Haley, Founder of Moving Astute.
  • Explore local relocation incentive programs. “Many cities and counties offer incentive programs that will pay onsite or remote employees to relocate to their area. Some of these programs offer cash incentives while others provide free land to build your next dream home,” says Kerry Sherin, Consumer Advocate at Ownerly. Check out our guide to learn more about some of the programs that exist and how to qualify for them.
  • Be prepared for the impact of taking on a mortgage. SmartAsset offers free tools to get a sense for how much you can afford to spend, to understand what your closing costs could be and how much to expect to pay in property taxes.
  • Work with an expert. If you’re thinking of making a major purchase such as buying a home, a financial advisor can help you manage your assets to reach your goals. 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/powerofforever

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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