The Restless Project: Sane Places to Live in America — Starting With Rural Wisconsin

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Rural Wisconsin is one of those places in the U.S. that has jobs, affordable housing and better-than-average schools. Here are one resident's thoughts.

“I’m right in one of those sane circles,” Dawn Dinegan wrote to me from her four-bedroom home an hour north of Madison, Wis. “Lots of decent housing for $100K … good schools and low crime.”

restlessHdr (1)Those “sane circles” are on a map I published recently listing 100 U.S. communities with jobs, affordable homes, and better-than-average schools. Rural Wisconsin is on the list. You probably won’t be surprised to learn that big cities like New York, San Francisco and Seattle are not.

The economics of living an affordable life in America are unforgiving, as I’ve been chronicling in The Restless Project. In many places, people with average-wage jobs can’t afford average-priced homes, making a mess out of family budgets.

While this might be the rule, there are plenty of exceptions, and now I am turning my attention to those places. On my map, they displayed as “sane circles.” Where is the American Dream still reasonably available to folks who work hard and live decent lives? Today, with help from Dawn, we make the case for rural America and, in particular, rural Wisconsin.

Dawn and her husband may be far from Madison (he drives 70 miles one-way to get to his job in corrections), but they are only 2 miles outside a “little burg.”

“(It has) one school, one post office, one gas station, a couple of restaurants, one dollar store and five bars. Hey, it’s Wisconsin, after all,” she said. On the other hand, it is the kind of place where no one worries if they forgot to lock the door.

The family mortgage is less than $1,000 a month, so they live comfortably on his salary, supplemented by Dawn’s work as a long-term substitute teacher.

Rural living has its downsides

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