Algorithms help us make almost every decision—they can even decide court cases and predict legislation—but is it possible to objectively calculate the best places to live? The answer depends on which factors are included and how the different metrics are weighted against each other. Luckily, MONEY has already done the hard work in creating the data behind our new map.
MONEY incorporates more than 170,000 data points into its ranking, such low crime rates, the quality of education systems, and public amenities. In short, they conduct a robust analysis. We wanted to simplify things, so we focused only on median household income (which corresponds to the size of the dot on the map) and future job prospects (which relates to the color of the dot). Mapping the data in this manner creates an easy snapshot of the most desirable places to live in the country.
Let’s look at the data one step at a time. There are eight cities where the median household income cracks $100K (see the list below). Paradise Valley, AZ tops the list with an incredible median income of $138,192. Second place is a full $10,000 lower in Mercer Island, WA, where the typical family brings home $128,484. Lower Merion, PA takes third place with a respectable median income of $117,438, a full $11,000 lower than Mercer Island. There’s not as much separation from one place to another further down the list.
Median household income is a good metric for understanding how well-off communities are right now, but projected job growth serves as a leading indicator for how the economy will change in the future. Taking a look at only job growth reveals a very different list, with St. Augustine, FL leading the pack at an incredible 18.2% projected growth. We hasten to add the median income is only $47,748, but that will only increase if labor remains in high demand. Allen, TX comes in second place with projected growth topping 17% and median income at $104,524. That’s more than twice as much as St. Augustine. These numbers indicate the labor market is going crazy in certain parts of the country.
Ideally, the best place to live would have both a high median income and strong projected job growth. In other words, looking at our map, the best place would be a large green dot—Allen, TX. As a matter of fact, there’s a clear cluster of green dots stretching from Allen to Fishers, IN, indicating a buoyant economy in certain parts of the mid-South. The Northeast meanwhile continues to boast some of the highest median incomes but comparatively little in the way of robust job growth.
If we have to pick one and only one metric for a ranking, median income is a good choice. Here’s a simplified list of the top ten places to live, ranked in order of the median household income. We included the expected job growth rate for each location as a reference.
1. Paradise Valley, AZ: $138,192 and 9.1%
2. Mercer Island, WA: $128,484 and 7.6%
3. Lower Merion, PA: $117,438 and 4.5%
4. Lone Tree, CO: $116,761 and 7.9%
5. Hockessin, DE: $115,124 and 4.3%
6. Reston, VA: $112,722 and 3.1%
7. Allen, TX: $104,524 and 17.0%
8. Rockville, MD: $100,158 and 5.8%
9. Woodbury, MN: $99,657 and 4.8%
10. Valley Stream, NY: $88,693 and 3.6%
Almost all the best places to live are suburbs, located outside large urban centers. These places have all the hallmarks of ideal places to buy a home and start a career—access to large legacy employers, good school systems, and proximity to the amenities of big cities. And with millennials starting to buy homes in the burbs, we’re guessing many of these places will have a bright future too.
Data: Table 1.1