Despite the perception that the COVID-19 pandemic sparked a mass migration out of cities, the data simply does not support that narrative. According to Pew Research, fewer people moved out of cities in 2020 compared with the years leading up to the pandemic. Approximately 4.9 million people left cities in 2020, which is less than the 5.4 million people who moved out of cities each year between 2016 and 2018.
But while the mass exodus from large cities may have been overstated, many small cities are growing. A recent SmartAsset study found that five of the top 10 boomtowns in America have fewer than 100,000 residents. Keeping this in mind, we set out to identify the most livable small cities in the nation.
SmartAsset analyzed data on 286 cities with between 65,000 and 100,000 residents, considering the following metrics: concentration of entertainment establishments, restaurants, bars and healthcare establishments, Gini coefficient (a measure of income inequality), home affordability, housing costs as a percentage of median income, poverty rate, unemployment rate, percentage of residents without health insurance and average commute time. For details on our data sources and how we put all the information together to create our final rankings, check out the Data and Methodology section below.
This is the 2022 edition of our study on the most livable small cities in America. Read the 2021 version of the study here.
- Americans are finding livability in the Midwest. Continuing a trend observed in last year’s study, the Midwest is home to a high concentration of the most livable small cities in the country. While eight of the top 10 cities are located in the Midwest, 19 of the 25 most livable small cities are also found in Midwestern states.
- The top 10 cities stand out for affordable housing. We considered two metrics that focus on housing: housing costs as a percentage of household income and home affordability (i.e. the ratio between median home value and median household income). Of the 10 cities at the top of our rankings, six are in the top 10th percentile for low housing costs relative to income, while eight rank in the top 20th percentile for the home affordability metric.
- Small cities in Florida rank poorly. The Sunshine State is home to a number of small cities that rank poorly for livability, including Miami Beach, which ranks dead last. In fact, 11 of the bottom 20 cities of our rankings are located in Florida.
1. O’Fallon, MO
Missouri's O’Fallon, a suburb of St. Louis, is the most livable small city in the U.S. for the second year in a row. O’Fallon has the 11th-lowest income inequality across our study and the 21st-lowest percentage of residents living below the poverty line (4.6%). Meanwhile, the city of 88,000 ranks 28th-best for home affordability, as the median home value in O’Fallon is just 2.54-times the median household income. Average housing costs in O’Fallon make up about 18% of the median household income, the 25th-lowest percentage in our study.
2. Oshkosh, WI
A city of nearly 67,000 residents, Oshkosh, Wisconsin is located in the county with the highest concentration of bars in our study. Oshkosh is also home to the 26th-highest concentration of entertainment establishments and has the 26th-lowest February 2022 unemployment rate (2.6%).
3. Eau Claire, WI
Eau Claire, Wisconsin has the third-highest percentage of businesses that are bars and the 16th-highest concentration of healthcare establishments. Meanwhile, median housing costs comprise 18.75% of the median household income, which ranks in the top 15th percentile for that metric. The city also has the ninth-shortest average commute time of just 16.2 minutes.
4. Flower Mound, TX
With nearly 79,000 residents, Flower Mound, Texas has the eighth-lowest poverty rate in our study, at 3.8%. Flower Mound also has the 14th-lowest income inequality, while the greater county has the 15th-highest concentration of restaurants (9.18%). Housing costs are 17.65% of the median household income in Flower Mound, that’s 19th-lowest across the 286 cities in our study.
5. Lafayette, IN
Located between Indianapolis and Chicago, the city of Lafayette, Indiana and surrounding Tippecanoe County have the 10th-highest concentration of restaurants (9.39%). Lafayette additionally ranks 20th overall for its concentration of healthcare establishments, which comprise 14.28% of all establishments. The median value of a home in Lafayette is about 2.54-times the median household income, the 29th-lowest ratio in our study.
6. Fishers, IN
Located northeast of Indianapolis, Indiana's Fishers had the lowest unemployment rate of all 286 cities in our study as of February 2022, as just 1.7% of workers did not have a job. The city also has the lowest percentage of residents living below the poverty line (2.9%). Meanwhile, median housing costs in Fishers comprise just 16% of the median household income, fourth-lowest across our study.
7. Sioux City, IA
Sioux City, Iowa ranks seventh overall for home affordability and has the 12th-lowest housing costs compared to the median household income. The median home value is only 2.13-times the median household income in this city of 82,500 residents. Meanwhile, median housing costs comprise 16.94% of the median household income. Sioux City also ranks 11th-best for its high concentration of bars, a metric that’s measured at the county level.
8. Cheektowaga, NY
Cheektowaga, New York is one of the most affordable places for people to buy a home. The median home value is just 2.13-times higher than the median household income, eighth-best across our study. Just 3.6% of Cheektowaga residents do not have health insurance, the 30th-lowest rate in our study. Cheektowaga and the surrounding Erie County have 32nd-highest concentration of bars in our study.
9. St. Charles, MO
Home to about 70,700 residents, the city of St. Charles, Missouri has the 18th-lowest housing costs as a percentage of median household income (17.59%). As of February 2022, St. Charles County also had the 40th-lowest unemployment rate (2.8%) across the 286 cities we studied. The city also ranks in the top 15th-percentile for its concentration of healthcare establishments (13.50%).
10. Woodbury, MN
Woodbury, Minnesota has the sixth-lowest unemployment rate (2.0%) as of February 2022 and the 14th-lowest percentage of residents living below the poverty line (4.2%). Meanwhile, Woodbury and the surrounding Washington County have the 20th-highest concentration of arts, entertainment and recreation establishments, which make up more than one in 50 establishments in the area.
Data and Methodology
To find the most livable small cities in America, SmartAsset compared 286 cities with at least 65,000 people but fewer than 100,000 across the following 11 metrics:
- Concentration of entertainment establishments. This is the number of arts, entertainment and recreation establishments as a percentage of all establishments in a county. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2019 County Business Patterns Survey.
- Concentration of bars. This is the number of bars as a percentage of all establishments in a county. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2019 County Business Patterns Survey.
- Concentration of restaurants. This is the number of restaurants as a percentage of all establishments in a county. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2019 County Business Patterns Survey.
- Concentration of healthcare establishments. This is the number of healthcare and social assistance establishments as a percentage of all establishments in a county. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2019 County Business Patterns Survey.
- Gini coefficient. This is a statistical measurement of income inequality. A Gini coefficient of zero indicates total equality of wealth distribution, while a coefficient of one indicates total inequality of wealth distribution across groups. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2020 5-year American Community Survey.
- Home affordability. This is the median home value divided by median household income. A lower ratio indicates that homes are more affordable and vice versa. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2020 5-year American Community Survey.
- Housing costs as a percentage of household income. This is the median housing costs divided by median household income. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2020 5-year American Community Survey.
- Percentage of residents below the poverty line. 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 February 2022. This is measured at the county level.
- Percentage of residents without health insurance. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2020 5-year American Community Survey.
- Average commute time. This measures a worker’s average commute time in minutes. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2020 5-year American Community Survey.
First, we ranked each city in each metric. Next, we found each city’s average ranking, with each metric receiving an equal weight. We used this average ranking to create our final scores. The city with the highest average ranking received a score of 100 and the city with the lowest average ranking received a score of 0.
Home Buying Tips
- Work with a financial advisor. A real estate agent isn’t the only kind of professional that can help guide through the homebuying process. A financial advisor can help you set a budget and integrate your home purchase into a holistic financial plan. 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.
- Shop for the best interest rate. SmartAsset’s mortgage rate comparison tool shows you current interest rates being offered by mortgage lenders. Be sure to shop around for the best possible rate and do your due diligence before picking a lender.
- Don’t forget to consider PMI. When putting less than 20% down on a property, you’ll need to pay private mortgage insurance or PMI. This surcharge, which is often rolled into your monthly mortgage payment, typically costs between 0.5% and 1% of your loan amount each year. When shopping for a new home, use SmartAsset’s mortgage calculator to estimate how much your monthly mortgage payment may be, including PMI.
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