Top 10 States for Young Adults

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This post comes from Richard Barrington at partner site MoneyRates.com.

Where should a young person go today to make his or her fortune? With student loan burdens soaring and youth unemployment rates in the double digits, this isn’t an easy question to answer.

There are plenty of obvious candidates, such as the traditional youth meccas of New York and California. But what if you ignored the clichés and considered the question with an open mind? A young adult starting out today would benefit from a place with plenty of opportunity, reasonable living costs and just enough lifestyle amenities to keep things interesting.

Where do such places exist? A MoneyRates.com study has identified 10 U.S. states that enjoy such youth-friendly conditions.

One caveat: These states may not be the ones you expect.

Conditions that matter to young people

In looking for 10 states where youth rules, MoneyRates.com looked at a mix of economic and lifestyle criteria:

  • Youth unemployment. Using figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, MoneyRates.com gave the best grades to states with the lowest unemployment rates for people age 20-24.
  • Demographics. Based on Census Bureau data, MoneyRates.com gave the best scores to states with the highest proportion of young adults.
  • College costs. MoneyRates.com gave the edge to states where the cost of a four-year college education was the most reasonable, based on figures from the College Board.
  • Rental availability. Since young adults are more likely to rent than own, MoneyRates.com ranked states according to the availability of residential rentals, according to Census Bureau information.
  • Rental costs. Since cost is also a key factor in renting, MoneyRates.com looked at average rental rates according to the Census Bureau.
  • High-speed Internet availability. The highest scores in this category went to states with the widest distribution of high-speed Web access, according to broadband Internet data from the U.S. government.
  • Nightlife. To gauge each state’s social landscape, each was ranked according to its total number of pubs, nightclubs and bars per capita, according to RateClubs.com.
  • Fitness facilities. The number of health clubs per capita, according to the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association, measured the opportunities for fitness in each state.

So which states fared best when all of these factors were considered? Here are MoneyRates.com’s 10 states where youth rules.

1. North Dakota

  • Unemployment rate for people age 20-24 — 5.1 percent.
  • Percentage of the population age 20-24 — 9.1 percent.
  • Average annual four-year college cost — $11,092.
  • Rental vacancy rate — 6.9 percent.
  • Median rental cost — $644.
  • 50-state ranking for broadband Internet access — 17.
  • Bars, pubs and nightclubs per million residents — 2,164.
  • Fitness clubs per million residents — 124.

It’s not exactly a glamour spot, but North Dakota is attracting young people. It now has a higher proportion of people age 18-24 than any other state. Having the lowest youth unemployment rate helps, but what may surprise you is that North Dakota also has more bars, pubs and nightclubs per capita than any state besides Wisconsin.

2. South Dakota

  • Unemployment rate for people age 20-24 — 9.4 percent.
  • Percentage of the population age 20-24 — 7.1 percent.
  • Average annual four-year college cost — $15,541.
  • Rental vacancy rate — 8.9 percent.
  • Median rental cost — $651.
  • 50-state ranking for broadband Internet access — 24.
  • Bars, pubs and nightclubs per million residents — 1,559.
  • Fitness clubs per million residents — 141.

While its neighbor to the north ranked in the top four in five different categories, South Dakota didn’t dominate any category but made it to second place overall by having above-average scores in all eight categories.

3. Nebraska

  • Unemployment rate for people age 20-24 — 7.0 percent.
  • Percentage of the population age 20-24 — 7.0 percent.
  • Average annual four-year college cost — $13,914.
  • Rental vacancy rate — 7.5 percent.
  • Median rental cost — $692.
  • 50-state ranking for broadband Internet access — 29.
  • Bars, pubs and nightclubs per million residents — 1,689.
  • Fitness clubs per million residents — 114.

Continuing a strong showing for the upper Midwest, Nebraska’s youth unemployment rate is lower than any state’s except North Dakota, and it also ranked in the top 10 for affordability of college and of residential rentals.

4. Montana

  • Unemployment rate for people age 20-24 — 11.2 percent.
  • Percentage of the population age 20-24 — 7.2 percent.
  • Average annual four-year college cost — $12,930.
  • Rental vacancy rate — 5.9 percent.
  • Median rental cost — $681.
  • 50-state ranking for broadband Internet access — 48.
  • Bars, pubs and nightclubs per million residents — 1,877.
  • Fitness clubs per million residents — 144.

Perhaps surprisingly, Montana’s best categories were the number of bars, pubs and nightclubs per capita (where it ranked fourth) and fitness facilities per capita (where it ranked fifth). On the negative side, Montana is one of the worst states for access to high-speed Internet, and rental availability is relatively tight.

5. Iowa

  • Unemployment rate for people age 20-24 — 8.4 percent.
  • Percentage of the population age 20-24 — 7.1 percent.
  • Average annual four-year college cost — $17,755.
  • Rental vacancy rate — 6.3 percent.
  • Median rental cost — $661.
  • 50-state ranking for broadband Internet access — 28.
  • Bars, pubs and nightclubs per million residents — 1,812.
  • Fitness clubs per million residents — 123.

Ranking among the 10 best states for youth employment and night spots per capita helped Iowa earn its top-five showing. Iowa was also one of the 10 best states for rental affordability, which is slightly surprising because the availability of rental properties is below average.

6. Hawaii

  • Unemployment rate for people age 20-24 — 8.9 percent.
  • Percentage of the population age 20-24 — 7.2 percent.
  • Average annual four-year college cost — $11,678.
  • Rental vacancy rate — 10.2 percent.
  • Median rental cost — $1,379.
  • 50-state ranking for broadband Internet access — 10.
  • Bars, pubs and nightclubs per million residents — 1,729.
  • Fitness clubs per million residents — 77.

Breaking the pattern of chilly Midwest states, Hawaii made it into the top 10 primarily on the strength of its low cost of higher education and its low rate of youth unemployment. It also scored well for nightlife and high-speed Internet access, and the state has a high proportion of young adults among its population. Be advised, though, that rental costs in Hawaii are higher than those in any other state and the District of Columbia.

7. Oklahoma

  • Unemployment rate for people age 20-24 — 9.6 percent.
  • Percentage of the population age 20-24 — 7.2 percent.
  • Average annual four-year college cost — $14,659.
  • Rental vacancy rate — 9.5 percent.
  • Median rental cost — $686.
  • 50-state ranking for broadband Internet access — 27.
  • Bars, pubs and nightclubs per million residents — 861.
  • Fitness clubs per million residents — 99.

Oklahoma did very well on youth employment and rental affordability, but it ranked as one of the worst states for nightlife.

8. Louisiana

  • Unemployment rate for people age 20-24 — 13.4 percent.
  • Percentage of the population age 20-24 — 7.6 percent.
  • Average annual four-year college cost — $18,475.
  • Rental vacancy rate — 12.6 percent.
  • Median rental cost — $644.
  • 50-state ranking for broadband Internet access — 38.
  • Bars, pubs and nightclubs per million residents — 1,415.
  • Fitness clubs per million residents — 118.

Besides Hawaii, Louisiana is the only warm-weather option on this list. Rentals are plentiful here, and the state has one of the most youthful populations in the country.

9. Massachusetts

  • Unemployment rate for people age 20-24 — 9.2 percent.
  • Percentage of the population age 20-24 — 7.2 percent.
  • Average annual four-year college cost — $24,254.
  • Rental vacancy rate — 6.5 percent.
  • Median rental cost — $1,036.
  • 50-state ranking for broadband Internet access — 6.
  • Bars, pubs and nightclubs per million residents — 1,686.
  • Fitness clubs per million residents — 147.

What’s surprising about this state’s high ranking is that four other New England states ranked among the 10 worst for young adults. Massachusetts has one of the highest concentrations of fitness clubs per capita, which is appropriate for a relatively youthful state. Despite a large population of young adults, unemployment in that demographic is low. Its college costs, however, are among the highest in the nation.

10. Utah

  • Unemployment rate for people age 20-24 — 7.7 percent.
  • Percentage of the population age 20-24 — 8.3 percent.
  • Average annual four-year college cost — $5,908.
  • Rental vacancy rate — 7.7 percent.
  • Median rental cost — $851.
  • 50-state ranking for broadband Internet access — 12.
  • Bars, pubs and nightclubs per million residents — 536.
  • Fitness clubs per million residents — 92.

While not a good state for nightlife or fitness facilities, Utah has the lowest higher education costs in the U.S., as well as a large young adult population with relatively low unemployment.

Everyone has their own preferences, biases and impressions, which means that the states above won’t be for everyone. Still, based on an objective review of the data, young people wanting to get a strong start on their adult lives may do well to give these places a look.

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Comments & discussion

We welcome your opinions, but let’s keep it civil. Like many businesses, we reserve the right to refuse service to anyone. In our case, that means those who communicate by name-calling, racism, using words designed to hurt others or generally acting like an uninformed bully. Also, comments that include links to email addresses or commercial websites typically aren't posted. This isn't a place to advertise your business.

  • Sarah A Shunk

    I agree with some reasons to move to North Dakota, but this article neglected one significant factor. I currently live in Williston, the heart of the oil boom and it is not a friendly market for those who do not have housing in their work benefit package. Rent is easily 2,000-3,000 a month for 1-3 bedroom mobile home or apartment, plus utilities. It depends on location. Houses are more expensive.t Gas prices are at $3.44 and they dropped from $3.69 a little while ago. There are issues with drugs, prostitution, vandalism, and so many other issues. If anyone is considering moving to Williston, find your housing first, then your job. Other areas in North Dakota have more housing.

    • traderjim7

      Good advice, thank you. One would not think that there would be the social problems and crime that you cite in North Dakota.

      • Sarah A Shunk

        Well, for my current job I had to get some fingerprinting done. One of the few female officers took my fingerprints and I asked her if she liked living in Williston. She didn’t say anything at first, but she said that she likes her a job.

        I was given some advice not to go shopping after dark by myself as a woman. There are so many more men than women here. Someone my husband knows through work had a couple guys come up to her in the parking lot attempt to steal a TV from her. She had gone shopping by herself and it was after dark.

  • Robert Eisman

    Southern Indiana, in 1970, had a 6.4 unemployment rate and you couldn’t even buy a job. A whole lot of people locally were without jobs and we thought 6.4% unemployment was entirely too high.

  • Dawn Lawrey

    Of all the places to make this list…Oklahoma is the last place to consider. Having grew up there and moved from there over 20 years ago…things have not changed and have even gotten worse. For instance…the author didn’t mention the average wage. Being a recent right-to-die state…was never able to find ANY job paying much over minimum wage when it wasn’t a right-to-die state. In terms of non-college education if you are thinking about having children…the schools are on par or below with any in other Southern states. Even Red bastions out West (like Idaho and Arizona where I have lived at in the past) have better performing schools without trying. Then…you have to remember that Oklahoma taxes EVERYTHING…including everything you own and groceries. There is a reason people move to Oklahoma…they aren’t smart enough or will make enough money to move some place else when they figure out the error of their ways.