In light of the COVID-19 crisis, many individuals are reconsidering where they live. According to a July 2020 Pew Research Center study, about a fifth of U.S. adults moved due to coronavirus or know someone who did. For people who are looking for a change of pace without having to sacrifice the full experience of city living, certain state capitals might prove a good option. Sometimes they are not actually the most populous cities in the states they represent, and still tend to offer many of the employment and cultural opportunities of bigger cities.
In this study, SmartAsset looked at the best state capitals to live in. We compared all 50 U.S. state capitals across five metrics: median income after housing costs, May 2020 unemployment rate, concentration of dining and entertainment establishments, violent crime rate and property crime rate. 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 SmartAsset’s seventh annual study on the best state capitals. Check out the 2019 version here.
A wide range of regions. Our top 11 state capitals for livability in 2020 span all four Census-designated regions. Specifically, three are located in the Northeast, two in the South, four in the Midwest and two in the West.
Layoffs during COVID-19 have varied across state capitals. The May 2020 unemployment rate across the 50 U.S. state capitals spans a range of roughly 15 percentage points. Lincoln, Nebraska had the lowest rate in that month, with unemployment at 5.0%, about eight percentage points lower than the national average. By contrast, the May 2020 unemployment rate in Honolulu, Hawaii was 19.9%.
Juneau and Annapolis have the highest incomes after housing costs. Census Bureau data for 2018 shows that the median household incomes in Juneau, Alaska and Annapolis, Maryland were roughly $88,200 and $83,900, respectively. After subtracting the median annual housing costs, we found that the average household in both cities still had more than $64,000 left over.
1. Madison, WI
Madison, Wisconsin takes the top spot in our study, ranking in the top 30% of state capitals for all five metrics. It has the 11th-highest median income after housing costs ($48,578) and 10th-highest concentration of dining and entertainment establishments (10.78%). It has the 15th– and eighth-lowest 2018 violent and property crime rates, respectively, as well as the 14th-lowest May 2020 unemployment rate, at 9.3%.
2. Annapolis, MD
Annapolis, Maryland ranks as the second-best state capital for livability. Annapolis has the second-highest 2018 median income after housing costs in our study, at close to $64,300. Additionally, it has the 11th-lowest May 2020 unemployment rate in the study – at 9.2% – and the sixth-lowest property crime rate – with fewer than 2,400 property crimes per 100,000 residents in 2018.
3. Lincoln, NE
Despite drastic spikes in unemployment over the past several months all across the country, jobs in Lincoln, Nebraska seem to be slightly more insulated against the COVID-19 crisis. In Lancaster County, of which Lincoln is the county seat, the May 2020 unemployment rate was 5.0%, the lowest in our study. Lincoln also ranks in the top 30% of state capitals in terms of safety. It has the 11th-lowest 2018 violent crime rate and 12th-lowest 2018 property crime rate of all 50 state capitals.
4. Honolulu, HI (Tie)
Unemployment in Honolulu, Hawaii has risen substantially during COVID-19. Of the 50 state capitals in our study, Honolulu had the highest rate as of May 2020, with unemployment at 19.9%.
Though the job market in Honolulu is currently difficult to navigate, the city continues to rank well in terms of the four other livability metrics we considered. It has the fifth-highest median income after housing costs, third-highest concentration of dining and entertainment establishments, third-lowest violent crime rate and 14th-lowest property crime rate.
4. Bismarck, ND (Tie)
Bismarck, North Dakota ties with Honolulu, Hawaii as the No. 4 best state capital to live in. Bismarck residents tend to have relatively high amounts of money left over from their paychecks, even after accounting for housing. Census Bureau data for 2018 shows that the median household income minus median annual housing costs in the city is almost $52,900, the third-highest amount for this metric in our study. Additionally, violent and property crime rates in Bismarck are low relative to other cities. In 2018, there were fewer than 300 violent crimes and about 2,700 property crimes per 100,000 residents in North Dakota’s state capital.
6. Boise, ID
Though dining and entertainment establishments are less concentrated in Boise, Idaho relative to other state capitals, the city ranks well in terms of the other four metrics in our study. It has the 15th-highest median income after housing costs – at roughly $45,000 – and 11th-lowest May 2020 unemployment rate, at 9.2%. Boise’s property and violent crime rates are the fifth- and fourth-lowest in our study, respectively.
7. Pierre, SD
Like in Lincoln, Nebraska, recent layoffs in Pierre, South Dakota have been less severe than in other cities. The May 2020 unemployment rate in Hughes County stood at 6.8%, roughly six percentage points lower than the national average. Beyond this, Pierre residents have high income relative to housing costs in the area. The 2018 median household income after housing costs stood at $51,029, the sixth-highest in our study.
8. Montpelier, VT
Montpelier, Vermont is the least populous state capital in the U.S. With a relatively small population, the city does not have a high concentration of dining and entertainment establishments. However, Montpelier ranks in the top 10 state capitals for three of the five metrics we considered. Specifically, it has the eighth-highest median income after housing costs ($50,845), lowest violent crime rate (fewer than 100 per 100,000 residents) and fifth-lowest property crime rate (about 2,200 per 100,000 residents).
9. Concord, NH
Concord, New Hampshire ranks as the ninth-best state capital in terms of livability. Concord ranks in the top 10 state capitals for three metrics: median income after housing costs, along with violent and property crime rates. In 2018, the median household income was almost $63,000 and median annual housing costs in the area were less than $14,200. As a result, the median income after housing costs was roughly $48,800, the 10th-highest in our study. Additionally, in the same year, Concord had the second-lowest violent and property crime rates.
10. Boston, MA (Tie)
Boston, Massachusetts has the highest concentration of dining and entertainment establishments of any state capitals in our top 11 and the second-highest overall in our study. More than 12% of establishments in the area fall under the categories of restaurants, bars or entertainment establishments. Boston also has the 13th-highest median income after housing costs and third-lowest property crime rate in our study.
Notably, jobs in Boston have been less secure in recent months. In May 2020, the city had the second-highest unemployment rate of all 50 state capitals, at 17.3%.
10. Raleigh, NC (Tie)
Raleigh, North Carolina ranks in the top 15 state capitals for three metrics: ninth-highest median income after housing costs ($49,983), 14th-lowest violent crime rate (about 400 per 100,000 residents) and ninth-lowest property crime rate (roughly 2,700 per 100,000 residents).
Raleigh falls behind the most in terms of its relatively low concentration of dining and entertainment establishments. Data from the 2017 County Business Patterns Survey shows that restaurants, bars and entertainment establishments make up less than 9% of all businesses in the area.
Data and Methodology
To find the best state capitals to live in, we analyzed data for each of the 50 U.S. state capitals. We compared them across five metrics:
Median income after housing costs. This is the median household income minus median annual housing costs. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 5-year American Community Survey.
May 2020 unemployment rate. Data comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and is measured at the county level.
Concentration of dining and entertainment establishments. This is the number of restaurants, bars and entertainment establishments as a percentage of all establishments. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2017 County Business Patterns Survey.
Violent crime rate. This is the number of violent crimes per 100,000 residents. Data comes from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Database and is for 2018. Data for Des Moines, Iowa; Carson City, Nevada and Raleigh, North Carolina comes from neigborhoodscout.com.
Property crime rate. This is the number of property crimes per 100,000 residents. Data comes from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Database and is for 2018. Data for Des Moines, Iowa; Carson City, Nevada and Raleigh, North Carolina comes from neighborhoodscout.com.
We ranked each state capital in every metric and found an average ranking for each, giving an equal weighting to all metrics. We used each city’s average ranking to create a final score. The city with the best average ranking received a score of 100 while the city with the worst average ranking received a score of 0.
Tips for Managing Finances When Considering a Move
Boost your emergency savings. One of the best ways to prepare for the unknown is by having an emergency savings account. Take a look at our best savings accounts in 2020 to see where you can start saving. Typical financial wisdom suggests you should have savings that can cover three months’ worth of expenses, but six months’ may be a better figure to shoot for during a recession.
Keep in mind the cost of living in different places. If you are thinking of moving cities, make sure look into the cost of living in that area. By knowing the average annual cost of living, you can figure out how far your salary will go and what your savings rate will be.
Seek out trusted advice. No matter where you live, a financial advisor can help you get your financial life in order. Finding the right financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with financial advisors in your area in five minutes. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors that will help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
Questions about our study? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
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