The 11 Best State Capitals to Live In

Madison, Wisconsin
MarynaG / Shutterstock.com

This story originally appeared on SmartAsset.

In light of the COVID-19 crisis, many individuals are reconsidering where they live. According to a July 2020 Pew Research Center study, about one-fifth of U.S. adults moved due to coronavirus, or know someone who did.

For people who are looking for a change of pace without having to sacrifice the full experience of city living, certain state capitals might prove a good option. Sometimes they are not actually the most populous cities in the states they represent, and still tend to offer many of the employment and cultural opportunities of bigger cities.

To find the best state capitals to live in, we analyzed data for each of the 50 U.S. state capitals. We compared them across five metrics:

    • Median income after housing costs. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s five-year American Community Survey.
    • May 2020 unemployment rate. Data comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and is measured at the county level.
    • Concentration of dining and entertainment establishments. This is the number of restaurants, bars and entertainment establishments as a percentage of all establishments. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2017 County Business Patterns Survey.
    • Violent crime rate. This is the number of violent crimes per 100,000 residents. Data comes from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Database and neigborhoodscout.com.
    • Property crime rate. This is the number of property crimes per 100,000 residents. Data comes from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Database and neighborhoodscout.com.

Based on our analysis, these are the best capitals to live in.

10. Raleigh, North Carolina (Tie)

Raleigh, North Carolina
Sean Pavone / Shutterstock.com

Raleigh ranks in the top 15 state capitals for three metrics: ninth-highest median income after housing costs ($49,983), 14th-lowest violent crime rate (about 400 per 100,000 residents) and ninth-lowest property crime rate (roughly 2,700 per 100,000 residents).

Raleigh falls behind most in terms of its relatively low concentration of dining and entertainment establishments.

Data from the 2017 County Business Patterns Survey shows that restaurants, bars and entertainment establishments make up less than 9% of all businesses in the area.

10. Boston (Tie)

Boston, Massachusetts
ESB Professional / Shutterstock.com

Boston has the highest concentration of dining and entertainment establishments of any of the state capitals in our top 11, and the second-highest overall in our study.

More than 12% of establishments in the area fall under the categories of restaurants, bars or entertainment establishments. Boston also has the 13th-highest median income after housing costs and third-lowest property crime rate in our study.

Notably, jobs in Boston have been less secure in recent months. In May 2020, the city had the second-highest unemployment rate of all 50 state capitals, at 17.3%.

9. Concord, New Hampshire

New Hampshire government
Jeffrey M. Frank / Shutterstock.com

Concord ranks as the ninth-best state capital in terms of livability. Concord ranks in the top 10 state capitals for three metrics: median income after housing costs, along with violent and property crime rates.

In 2018, the median household income was almost $63,000 and median annual housing costs in the area were less than $14,200. As a result, the median income after housing costs was roughly $48,800, the 10th-highest in our study.

Additionally, in the same year, Concord had the second-lowest violent and property crime rates.

8. Montpelier, Vermont

Montpelier, Vermont
Nagel Photography / Shutterstock.com

Montpelier is the least populous state capital in the U.S. With a relatively small population, the city does not have a high concentration of dining and entertainment establishments.

However, Montpelier ranks in the top 10 state capitals for three of the five metrics we considered. Specifically, it has the eighth-highest median income after housing costs ($50,845), lowest violent crime rate (fewer than 100 per 100,000 residents) and fifth-lowest property crime rate (about 2,200 per 100,000 residents).

7. Pierre, South Dakota

Pierre, South Dakota from above
Jacob Boomsma / Shutterstock.com

Recent layoffs in Pierre have been less severe than in other cities. The May 2020 unemployment rate in Hughes County stood at 6.8%, roughly 6 percentage points lower than the national average.

Beyond this, Pierre residents have high income relative to housing costs in the area. The 2018 median household income after housing costs stood at $51,029, the sixth-highest in our study.

6. Boise, Idaho

Boise, Idaho
Charles Knowles / Shutterstock.com

Although dining and entertainment establishments are less concentrated in Boise relative to other state capitals, the city ranks well in terms of the other four metrics in our study.

It has the 15th-highest median income after housing costs — at roughly $45,000 — and 11th-lowest May 2020 unemployment rate, at 9.2%.

Boise’s property and violent crime rates are the fifth- and fourth-lowest in our study, respectively.

4. Bismarck, North Dakota (Tie)

North Dakota Capitol
Ace Diamond / Shutterstock.com

Bismarck residents tend to have relatively high amounts of money left over from their paychecks, even after accounting for housing.

Census Bureau data for 2018 shows that the median household income minus median annual housing costs in the city is almost $52,900, the third-highest amount for this metric in our study.

Additionally, violent and property crime rates in Bismarck are low relative to other cities. In 2018, there were fewer than 300 violent crimes and about 2,700 property crimes per 100,000 residents in North Dakota’s state capital.

4. Honolulu (Tie)

Honolulu, Hawaii
MNStudio / Shutterstock.com

Unemployment in Honolulu has risen substantially during COVID-19. Of the 50 state capitals in our study, Honolulu had the highest rate as of May 2020, with unemployment at 19.9%.

Though the job market in Honolulu is currently difficult to navigate, the city continues to rank well in terms of the four other livability metrics we considered.

It has the fifth-highest median income after housing costs, third-highest concentration of dining and entertainment establishments, third-lowest violent crime rate and 14th-lowest property crime rate.

3. Lincoln, Nebraska

Lincoln, Nebraska capitol building
19885732 / Shutterstock.com

Despite drastic spikes in unemployment over the past several months all across the country, jobs in Lincoln seem to be slightly more insulated against the COVID-19 crisis.

In Lancaster County, of which Lincoln is the county seat, the May 2020 unemployment rate was 5%, the lowest in our study.

Lincoln also ranks in the top 30% of state capitals in terms of safety. It has the 11th-lowest 2018 violent crime rate and 12th-lowest 2018 property crime rate of all 50 state capitals.

2. Annapolis, Maryland

Annapolis, Maryland
Sean Pavone / Shutterstock.com

Annapolis, Maryland ranks as the second-best state capital for livability.

Annapolis has the second-highest 2018 median income after housing costs in our study, at close to $64,300.

Additionally, it has the 11th-lowest May 2020 unemployment rate in the study — at 9.2% — and the sixth-lowest property crime rate — with fewer than 2,400 property crimes per 100,000 residents in 2018.

1. Madison, Wisconsin

Madison, Wisconsin
Sean Pavone / Shutterstock.com

Madison, Wisconsin, takes the top spot in our study, ranking in the top 30% of state capitals for all five metrics.

It has the 11th-highest median income after housing costs ($48,578) and 10th-highest concentration of dining and entertainment establishments (10.78%).

It has the 15th– and eighth-lowest 2018 violent and property crime rates, respectively, as well as the 14th-lowest May 2020 unemployment rate, at 9.3%.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

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