Skim just about any study on thriving state economies today and chances are you'll come across a common thread: North Dakota.
It's no surprise. Jobs are plentiful, rent is cheap, and when people put the brakes on baby-making during the recession, North Dakota was one of only three states where fertility rates didn't take a nosedive.
I even wrote a story this week based on a study that named North Dakota the No. 1 best state for young Americans.
Judging from reader feedback, no one agreed:
" North Dakota, really? What kind of nightlife and singles scene is there in ND?"
" That list could have been renamed 'The Worst States in America' and it still would have been accurate. I'll pick DC over a Dakota any day."
The truth is they have a point.
Looking at U.S. Census data, North Dakota saw only 4.7 percent population growth between 2000 and 2010, compared to 35.1 percent and 20 percent booms in Nevada and Texas, respectively.
I'm a bit older than the age group designated in this study, but when I graduated––in the thick of the recession, mind you––I didn't think twice before launching my career in New York. Today, I pay twice as much rent as I ever did in my home state of Georgia and I'm constantly floored by things like $11 salads and $17 cocktails.
And yet, here I am. Not in North Dakota.
The job market. No one can simply look at employment rates for a state and count on finding a job in their field. North Dakota's economy may be booming, but that's mostly due to its mining and shale industry. I didn't go to journalism school to work on an oil rig. And according to Salary.com, the average reporter in Fargo, N.D. nets only a little more than $31,000 per year.
The social scene. Though the state has one of the highest ratios of 20-24 year olds to the rest of the population, its largest city, Fargo, has fewer than 200,000 residents. Although I do have a couple of friends there who claim they love it, let's just say they visit me more than I visit them.
The diversity. Having grown up outside of Atlanta, Ga., I'm attracted to a multi-cultural environment. More than a third of New York's population are immigrants and my neighborhood in Queens is a melting pot of people from just about every country I could point out on a map. On the other hand, North Dakota's residents are 90 percent white and fewer than 3 percent are foreign-born, according the U.S. Census.
The vibe. There's a reason AARP Magazine sent a reporter in person to check out all the cities on its list of the top 10 places to retire this year. No matter how stellar a state's economic report card may be, the personal connection people feel to a place is what truly matters. I'm a city girl and though I'm always up for traveling off the beaten path, I don't thrive for very long outside of the concrete jungle.
This isn't meant to be free PR for the city of New York (goodness knows there's plenty to complain about). The point is, lists like these are meant to be taken with a large dose of salt. Just about every state has something different going for it, but at the end of the day, most people pick their zip code like me––based on their gut rather than science.
Haven't seen the list yet? See which 10 states are the best places to be young in America >
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