Best Cities for Millennials in the U.S.

February 18, 2020 by Dan Green

You’re young and mobile. So, where should you move?

Among the 50 United States, there are close to twenty-thousand incorporated cities. Each offers different opportunities and possibilities.

Some cities host an abundance of high-paying, entry-level jobs. Some are inexpensive and easy-to-navigate. Others are great for finding your tribe and making a life.

What follows is our scientific analysis of the Best U.S. Cities for Millennials, ranked nationally and by region. We used data from more than 70 public resources and ignored such trendy statistics as the number of farmer’s markets per capita; and, overall walkability.

For each city, we asked: “If you lived here, could you make it?”

That means:

  • Is there a better-than-typical chance of getting a great job?
  • Is it possible to earn a living, have a life, and still set aside money for your future?
  • Could you find social and personal fulfillment there?

So, where should you move? Use this list to get you started.

The “Best Cities” Methodology

We did a sizable amount of original research in our search for the Best U.S. Cities For Millennials.

This is an objective analysis based on statistical studies and credible resources. The only component that could be considered “opinion” is our opinion that Millennials should be able to afford the city in which they live.

Affordability matters.

We identified six categories that matter to people of all ages and assigned a relative weighting to each.

Then, using government and private sources, we logged local data for more than 3,500 cities before narrowing our data set down to the 100 most populous cities for people aged 20-34 where entry-level jobs are ample.

We ranked these “Best Places for Millennials to Live” from A to F. The six categorical rankings are as follows.

1. How many entry-level jobs are available in the city? (7.5% of score)

When you’re moving to a new city as a Millennial, you’ll want to make sure you get the job you really want. So, an abundance of entry-level jobs in the city is important.

To determine the number of full-time, entry-level job openings by city, we searched the database and set a 25-mile radius around each city center, with the assumption that Millennials will commute up to twenty-five miles for an entry-level job.

After finding the number of available entry-level positions in a city, we adjusted it against U.S. Census Bureau data showing that city’s population aged 20-34 which shows the relative strength of the entry-level job market for Millennials.

2. How much time is spent commuting in the city? (7.5% of score)

As human beings, time is our most valuable asset. How we spend it shapes who we are, and what we can accomplish.

This is why we chose to include “time spent commuting” as part of Best Place For Millennials To Live study. The less time you spend commuting, the more time you have for interests and hobbies such as sports leagues, gaming, and hitting the gym.

Using data from the American Community Survey published by the U.S. Census Bureau, we found the typical travel time to work for workers over 16 years of age across the country who do not work from home.

Data were split into 5-minute increments up to the forty-five-minute mark, at which point larger increments were used. Each city was then assigned a score based on the number of minutes it takes to commute to work.

Cities with lower commuting times were awarded higher point totals.

3. What’s the public transportation situation like in the city? (10% of score)

Owning a car can add a lot to your monthly expenses. First, there’s the cost of the car.

Whether you chose to lease or buy your car, that monthly payment comes due each month, along with the cost of parking.

In some cities, there’s an abundance of street parking available at all times. More commonly, though, you’re paying to park your car at home, at work, or both. Those costs can add up.

You’ve also got the cost of gas; and, of car insurance (by the way, you should probably shop for cheaper car insurance). All of these reasons are why we considered the strength of each city’s public transportation system in making our list of “Top U.S. Cities For Millennials”.

Using data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, we gathered data on the number of workers age 20-44 who walk or take public transportation to work which includes trains, subways, buses, and ferries.

Cabs and on-demand drivers such as Uber and Lyft are not considered public transportation.

Cities with a higher percentage of workers who walk or who take public transportation to work were awarded higher scores.

4. How many other young people live there? (15% of score)

When you’re moving to a new city and making a new life, it’s important to find your tribe; people with common interests to you and with whom you can form relationships.

This is why we researched the population density of young people in U.S. cities as part of the “Best Cities for Millennials in the United States” study.

To find the population density of people in their twenties, we used the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey to find the total population of people aged 20-29 within each of the country’s urban areas, then compared that figure against the total number of people living in the same urban area.

The higher a city’s ratio of young people to its overall population, the higher that city scored in our system.

5. What’s the after-work and weekend scene like in the city? (10% of score)

There’s a positive correlation between the number of restaurants, bars, and clubs in a city, and its vibrancy. When you want to go out — after work or on the weekend — you want to have options.

A city’s food-and-social scene matters to Millennials looking for the best places to live.

Using data in the Economic Census of the United States, we found the number of food and drink establishments in a city and adjusted it against that city’s total population aged 20-34 to find the number of restaurants, food trucks, coffee shops, bars, clubs, brunch spots, and other venues per person.

Cities that boast more places to eat and drink per young person received higher scores than cities with fewer places to eat and drink.

6. How far does a paycheck get you in the city? (50% of score)

Your salary is not your paycheck. Your salary is what you earn. Your paycheck, by contrast, is what you take home after taxes and fees.

Depending on where you live, your paycheck can be shrunk. Many cities levy taxes on people working within city limits to pay for public services such as parks and sanitation. Tax rates can be as high as six percent, or $6 from your paycheck for every $100 you earn.

Furthermore, the value of your paycheck varies based on where you live.

In some cities, renting an apartment, shopping for food, and buying clothes costs more than the national average. Your paycheck gets used up faster. There’s less left over to spend on things such as leisure, fun, and savings.

We wanted to capture this dynamic as part of our “Best Places To Live” study for Millennials because it’s a real-world event that’s rarely discussed.

Your salary may not be as important as you think.

We did an abundance of research related to each city’s entry-level salary range, taxes charged to workers by the city and state, and the city’s specific cost of living to find what a dollar earned in each city is actually worth.

We sourced income data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, referencing workers twenty-five years or older with a Bachelor’s Degree; cost of living data from the government’s Cost of Living Index as published in the Statistical Abstract of the United States; and, tax data from each state’s Department of Revenue and each city’s City Office.

There was multiple Cost of Living indices available through the Statistical Abstract of the United States. We chose the index that factors the cost of grocery items, housing, utilities, transportation, healthcare, and miscellaneous goods and services into its result.

We ignored the cost of renters insurance because it’s property specific and linked to additional coverages including personal liability and auto insurance, which can be bundled for discounts and savings.

We computed the median earnings for each city, adjusted for state and local taxes; then, normalized that figure for the city’s cost of living. This allowed us to rank every U.S. city by its relative income-earning potential.

Cities in which workers keep more of their paycheck received the highest scores.

Chart: The Top U.S. Cities For Millennials

Thinking of moving? These are the top U.S. cities for today’s twenty-somethings.

The Best U.S. Cities For Young People

There are a lot of ways to determine the best U.S. cities for young people today. We went scientific.

Using data from more than 70 public resources, we built an algorithm for Millennials that shows the best places to live nationwide.

We considered every city in every state and applied our mathematics fairly.

We over-weighted cities that let you keep a large percentage of your paycheck; and, gave extra consideration to cities that make it easy to get around. We omitted subjective factors completely.

You’ll find no mention of the trendiness of a town or its hipness. Grades are assigned based on statistics and our algorithm only.

What are the best cities for Millennials? Where should you move after graduation? Use this list to get you started.


Durham, NC

Grade: A
Regional Ranking: #1 in the South
Estimated population age 20-34: 100,100 people


Pittsburgh, PA

Grade: A
Regional Ranking: #1 in the Northeast
Estimated population age 20-34: 346,400 people


Nashville, TN

Grade: A
Regional Ranking: #2 in the South
Estimated population age 20-34: 240,500 people


Des Moines, IA

Grade: A
Regional Ranking: #1 in the Midwest
Estimated population age 20-34: 107,000 people


Charlotte, NC

Grade: A
Regional Ranking: #3 in the South
Estimated population age 20-34: 286,800 people


Syracuse, NY

Grade: A
Regional Ranking: #2 in the Northeast
Estimated population age 20-34: 86,500 people


Columbus, OH

Grade: A
Regional Ranking: #2 in the Midwest
Estimated population age 20-34: 341,500 people


Austin, TX

Grade: A
Regional Ranking: #4 in the South
Estimated population age 20-34: 389,000 people


Greenville, SC

Grade: A
Regional Ranking: #5 in the South
Estimated population age 20-34: 94,700 people


Houston, TX

Grade: A
Regional Ranking: #6 in the South
Estimated population age 20-34: 1,200,400 people


Albany, NY

Grade: A
Regional Ranking: #3 in the Northeast
Estimated population age 20-34: 132,100 people


Dallas, TX

Grade: A
Regional Ranking: #7 in the South
Estimated population age 20-34: 1,198,700 people


Indianapolis, IN

Grade: A
Regional Ranking: #3 in the Midwest
Estimated population age 20-34: 331,900 people

Where Should I Move – The Top 100 Cities

Overall Rank City, State Earned Grade Region Regional Rank
1 Durham, NC A South 1
2 Pittsburgh, PA A Northeast 1
3 Nashville, TN A South 2
4 Des Moines, IA A Midwest 1
5 Charlotte, NC A South 3
6 Syracuse, NY A Northeast 2
7 Columbus, OH A Midwest 2
8 Austin, TX A South 4
9 Greenville, SC A South 5
10 Houston, TX A South 6
11 Albany, NY A Northeast 3
12 Dallas, TX A South 7
13 Indianapolis, IN A Midwest 3
14 Harrisburg, PA A- Northeast 4
15 Fayetteville, AR A- South 8
16 Cincinnati, OH A- Midwest 4
17 St. Louis, MO A- Midwest 5
18 Lubbock, TX A- South 9
19 Gainesville, FL A- South 10
20 Omaha, NE A- Midwest 6
21 Corpus Christi, TX A- South 11
22 Raleigh, NC A- South 12
23 Dayton, OH B+ Midwest 7
24 Lexington, KY B+ South 13
25 Knoxville, TN B+ South 14
26 Colorado Springs, CO B+ West 1
27 New Haven, CT B+ Northeast 5
28 Buffalo, NY B+ Northeast 6
29 Rochester, NY B+ Northeast 7
30 Seattle, WA B+ West 2
31 Birmingham, AL B+ South 15
32 Tulsa, OK B+ South 16
33 Akron, OH B+ Midwest 8
34 Hartford, CT B+ Northeast 8
35 Baton Rouge, LA B+ South 17
36 Denver, CO B West 3
37 Lafayette, LA B South 18
38 Boston, MA B Northeast 9
39 Louisville, KY B South 19
40 Anchorage, AK B West 4
41 Boise, ID B West 5
42 Jacksonville, FL B South 20
43 Grand Rapids, MI B Midwest 9
44 Spokane, WA B- West 6
45 Savannah, GA B- South 21
46 Winston-Salem, NC B- South 22
47 Memphis, TN B- South 23
48 Wichita, KS B- Midwest 10
49 Baltimore, MD B- South 24
50 Kansas City, MO B- Midwest 11
51 Washington, DC B- South 25
52 Minneapolis, MN B- Midwest 12
53 Chattanooga, TN C+ South 26
54 Oklahoma City, OK C+ South 27
55 Cleveland, OH C+ Midwest 13
56 Milwaukee, WI C+ Midwest 14
57 San Antonio, TX C+ South 28
58 Little Rock, AR C+ South 29
59 Augusta, GA C+ South 30
60 Tampa, FL C+ South 31
61 Atlanta, GA C+ South 32
62 Springfield, MO C+ Midwest 15
63 Youngstown, OH C+ Midwest 16
64 Providence, RI C+ Northeast 10
65 Richmond, VA C South 33
66 Lancaster, PA C Northeast 11
67 Reno-Sparks, NV C West 7
68 Shreveport, LA C South 34
69 San Jose, CA C West 8
70 Fort Wayne, IN C Midwest 17
71 Detroit, MI C Midwest 18
72 Orlando, FL C South 35
73 Charleston, SC C South 36
74 Bakersfield, CA C West 9
75 Phoenix, AZ C West 10
76 Chicago, IL C- Midwest 19
77 San Francisco, CA C- West 11
78 Columbia, SC C- South 37
79 Sacramento, CA C- West 12
80 Salt Lake City, UT C- West 13
81 Fayetteville, NC C- South 38
82 Portland, OR C- West 14
83 Rio Rancho, NM C- West 15
84 Philadelphia, PA C- Northeast 12
85 Jackson, MS D+ South 39
86 Sarasota, FL D+ South 40
87 El Paso, TX D+ South 41
88 Riverside, CA D+ West 16
89 Las Vegas, NV D+ West 17
90 Tucson, AZ D+ West 18
91 Mobile, AL D+ South 42
92 Cape Coral, FL D South 43
93 McAllen, TX D South 44
94 Eugene, OR D West 19
95 New York, NY D Northeast 13
96 Fresno, CA D West 20
97 San Diego, CA D West 21
98 Miami, FL D- South 45
99 Los Angeles, CA D- West 22
100 Honolulu, HI F West 23

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