To create MONEY’s Best Places to Live ranking, we looked only at places with populations between 10,000 and 100,000. We eliminated any place that had more than double the national crime risk, less than 85% of its state’s median household income, or a lack of ethnic diversity. This gave us 2,400 places.
We then collected about 170,000 different data points to narrow the list. We considered data on each place’s economic health, cost of living, public education, crime, ease of living, and amenities, all provided by research partner Witlytic. Our partners at realtor.com contributed data on housing market costs and growth. We put the greatest weight on economic health, cost of living factors, and public school performance.
Finally, reporters researched each spot, interviewing residents, checking out neighborhoods, and searching for the kinds of intangible factors that aren't revealed by statistics. To ensure a geographically diverse set, we limited the list to no more than four places per state and two per county. In the top 15, we allowed only one place per state.
Rankings derived from more than 70 separate types of data, in the following categories:
- Economy—based on local unemployment rate, historical job growth, projected job growth and the level of employment opportunities available.
- Cost of living—based on median household income, tax burden, insurance costs, commuting costs, medical spending, utility and home expenses.
- Education—based on math and reading test scores and local and county level high school graduation rates.
- Housing—based on realtor.com Housing Affordability Index and Housing Growth Index at county level, plus other realtor.com housing statistics available at research.realtor.com.
- Crime—based on property and violent crime risk as well as homicide and drug overdose rates.
- Amenities—based on number of doctors and hospitals in the area as well as number of leisure activities in the town and surrounding area, including bars, restaurants, museums, sports complexes, and green spaces.
- Ease of living—based on commute times, weather, and other factors.
Witlytic, realtor.com, Synergos Technologies, Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Aviation Administration, OpenFlights.org, Carinsurance.com, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Moody's Analytics, Kaiser Family Foundation, Internal Revenue Service, Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Infogroup.com, Council for Community and Economic Research, American Alliance of Museums, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, SchoolDigger, Census Bureau, National Center for Education Statistics, MountainVertical.com, White Book of Ski Areas, Association of Zoos and Aquariums, MCH Strategic Data, Economic Innovation Group, League of American Orchestras, ATTOM Data Solutions, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Education, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, TLCengine, the Energy Information Administration, and ClearlyEnergy.
Infogroup’s human-verified business database consisting of over 16 million records across the U.S. was used in MONEY’s evaluation of the volume and quality of resources available to residents. Infogroup’s data consists of attributes such as business profiles, openings, closings, images, social URLs, geographical coordinates, and more.