America’s best places to live in 2021

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As 2021 kicks off, loving the place you call home has never been more important. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic pushing urbanites to search for more space, cities will continue to thrive with the promise of career opportunities and an array of cultural offerings. If you’re one of the many reevaluating where you spend the majority of your time this year, here are 10 of the best places to live in 2021.

Best places to live in 2021

To identify the best places to live this year, Bankrate combed through data from the top 50 metropolitan areas through the lens of a key question: What makes a place livable and lovable?

What makes a city ideal for you will not be a perfect match for someone else, but there are common factors everyone looks for when searching for a new place to call home. We assessed five: affordability, education, job market, safety and wellbeing.

  • What it costs – We analyzed each city’s cost of living compared with its average salary per worker. While “affordable” is a relative definition based on your earnings, expenses, family and long-term savings goals, it’s important to weigh your income with what it can buy you in any city.
  • How it feels – Quality of life is an equally important ingredient, so to get a sense of the rhythm of each of these cities, we looked at wellbeing (how healthy individuals and the entire community are), employment (average commute times and unemployment rates), safety (property and violent crime rates) and educational attainment (the rate of college graduates who call the place home).
  • Who’s moving there – Finally, we looked at the net migration of each place over the past decade. Each city on this list has positive net migration, which means that more people are moving in than are moving out.

If bigger isn’t necessarily better in your book, keep in mind that there are plenty of smaller communities around these larger cities that may be able to offer similar perks.

America's best places to live in 2021

1. Raleigh, North Carolina

Affordability: 6 out of 10
Education: 9 out of 10
Job market: 8 out of 10
Safety: 9 out of 10
Wellness: 7 out of 10

Biggest upside: Safety and a strong job market
Biggest downside: Rising housing costs

The top spot in 2021 goes to Raleigh, North Carolina. As one of the anchors of The Research Triangle, which features North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (and also nearby Duke University in Durham), the city has a foundation of youthful innovation fueling its growth.

Outside of the office and the research laboratory, Raleigh is quickly climbing the cultural ranks as a place to eat, drink and do, with five James Beard Award-nominated chefs in the past year, the world’s largest beer garden and a mild climate that gives residents ample time to enjoy the outdoors.

2. Austin, Texas

Affordability: 7 out of 10
Education: 9 out of 10
Job market: 8 out of 10
Safety: 8 out of 10
Wellness: 8 out of 10

Biggest upside: Educational attainment and job market
Biggest downside: Everyone is moving there, and housing costs are exploding

The adage “everything is bigger in Texas” certainly rings true when it comes to the appeal of The Lone Star State capital. Austin has received a seemingly endless number of accolades that highlight reasons to visit, and plenty of those guests are deciding to become permanent residents.

While it’s earned a reputation for its music and creative scene, Austin has turned up the volume on its ability to attract the best talent in technology and healthcare, too, with the presence of major companies like Apple, Dell and Samsung. Whether you prefer a six-string guitar or a six-figure salary, everyone tends to enjoy at least one common denominator in Austin: BBQ sauce.

3. Colorado Springs, Colorado

Affordability: 8 out of 10
Education: 7 out of 10
Job market: 8 out of 10
Safety: 5 out of 10
Wellness: 8 out of 10

Biggest upside: Affordable and accessible to the outdoors
Biggest downside: Safety

Denver makes plenty of well-deserved headlines as a premier place to live, but Colorado Springs is giving the capital a run for the money — literally. The cost of living in Colorado Springs is approximately 15 percent lower than in Denver, and employment opportunities in healthcare, construction and tourism have all been increasing in recent years.

What’s nearby is equally as important as what’s within the city limits, too. From hiking and biking trails in the Garden of the Gods Park to the notorious white-knuckle drive up Pikes Peak, the city is a gateway to natural beauty. Additionally, Colorado Springs ranks among the top 25 cities for year-round clean air, according to the American Lung Association.

4. Boston, Massachusetts

Affordability: 4 out of 10
Education: 9 out of 10
Job market: 8 out of 10
Wellness: 8 out of 10
Safety: 8 out of 10

Biggest upside: A healthy job market and high average earnings
Biggest downside: Some of the highest housing costs in the country

With Harvard University, MIT, Boston College and scores of other prestigious academic institutions nearby, the Boston area is known as a place where people come to learn. That educational infrastructure continues to pay big dividends for the city for the post-grad crowd, too, with big employment opportunities in healthcare and technology. If you can work from home, you’ll be in better shape, though: The city’s average commute time is the highest on our list.

Outside of work, residents can enjoy the New England charm along the Charles River and in more than 2,300 acres of parks, including the landmark Boston Common. In fact, according to The Trust for Public Land’s ParkScore ranking, every resident of Boston lives within a 10-minute walk of a park.

5. Atlanta, Georgia

Affordability: 7 out of 10
Education: 9 out of 10
Job market: 7 out of 10
Safety: 4 out of 10
Wellness: 9 out of 10

Biggest upside: A booming job market
Biggest downside: Safety

Delta Air Lines, The Home Depot and The Coca-Cola Company are a few of the reasons why Atlanta is such a good place to call home. In addition to serving as the corporate headquarters for those three well-established companies, Atlanta is earning a reputation as a top destination for new and emerging start-ups, with $1.8 billion of venture capital centered in the city in 2019 alone.

The city’s bright future is encapsulated by the Atlanta Beltline, a massive urban development with plans for 33 miles of multi-use urban trails, more than 450 public art installations and performances and $10 billion in economic development.

6. Tampa, Florida

Affordability: 8 out of 10
Education: 7 out of 10
Job market: 8 out of 10
Safety: 7 out of 10
Wellness: 7 out of 10

Biggest upside: Low cost of living
Biggest downside: Still developing its own sense of culture and place

While plenty of people tout what Florida doesn’t have — a state income tax — as a key reason to move to the Sunshine State, many young job-seekers are also flocking to Tampa for what the area does have: an affordable cost of living; nearly 80 colleges, universities and technical schools in the Tampa Bay area; and a range of high-profile companies like Raymond James, Citigroup and USAA.

In 2021, the city will also shine as the host of Super Bowl LV, and plans to continue working to appeal for those looking for arts and culture, too.

7. Nashville, Tennessee

Affordability: 7 out of 10
Education: 7 out of 10
Job market: 8 out of 10
Safety: 5 out of 10
Wellness: 6 out of 10

Biggest upside: Job market
Biggest downside:
Rising housing costs

Nashville has already exported its famous local specialty, hot chicken, to loads of restaurants around the U.S., and plenty are deciding to go straight to the source to try the culinary delight. Of course, they’re coming for more than a recipe. The city’s music industry, coupled with big employment opportunities in healthcare, education and insurance, make the city an ideal place to work and play (or just listen).

The city has recently welcomed the major addition of Amazon’s East Coast logistics hub, a project that will create 5,000 jobs. While the city, like others, felt the fallout of COVID-19, its pre-pandemic reputation makes it likely that the lights of Broadway will be just as bright in the near future.

8. Kansas City, Missouri

Affordability: 8 out of 10
Education: 7 out of 10
Job market: 9 out of 10
Safety: 7 out of 10
Wellness: 4 out of 10

Biggest upside: Low cost of living and strong employment
Biggest downside:
Wellness

Living in Kansas City means saving with some very affordable housing costs, but it doesn’t mean sacrificing any of the perks of being in a big city. With the Royals and the Chiefs each hoisting championship trophies in recent years, the city has enjoyed a climb to the top of the sports world. If sporting events aren’t your thing, the city’s jazz circuit is worth exploring — more than 40 nightclubs offer opportunities to enjoy the soul of the city.

In addition, while employment figures have been shaky across the country in an uncertain rebound from COVID-19, Kansas City’s unemployment rate clocked in as one of the lowest of any big city, thanks to the presence of leading companies including Garmin, H&R Block, Hallmark and Amazon.

9. Columbus, Ohio

Affordability: 8 out of 10
Education: 7 out of 10
Job market: 8 out of 10
Safety: 7 out of 10
Wellness: 5 out of 10

Biggest upside: Low cost of living and strong job market
Biggest downside:
Wellness

If you put a star next to Columbus on your map of places to consider moving, you’re a bit late to the party: In 2019, just shy of 50 people per day moved to the capital of Ohio.

Those new arrivals are coming for more than Ohio State football, too. They’re finding job opportunities in computing, biomedical services, finance and e-commerce, as well as proximity to the Scioto Mile, a 175-acre, eight-park network that connects downtown Columbus to the Scioto River and welcomes bikers, kayakers and paddle boarders.

10. Phoenix, Arizona

Affordability: 8 out of 10
Education: 5 out of 10
Job market: 8 out of 10
Safety: 7 out of 10
Wellness: 4 out of 10

Biggest upside: Affordable living
Biggest downside:
Wellness

In addition to the Chase Tower, Wells Fargo Plaza and other buildings that dot the Phoenix skyline, a crowd of close to 20 construction cranes as of this past fall symbolize the city’s continued growth. The Southwestern city stands tall with plenty of employment opportunities in healthcare and finance and, of course, an abundance of sunshine.

While Phoenix falls closer to the bottom of the fitness index, the metro area has plenty of ways to stay active, including a picture-perfect hike up Camelback Mountain.

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