Best places badge

How We Ranked the Best Places to Live

The U.S. News & World Report Best Places rankings are based on an analysis of public data and user opinions. To make the top of a list, a place must earn high scores in criteria such as desirability and quality of life.

2018 Best Places to Live Methodology

U.S. News & World Report's Best Places to Live rankings are intended to help readers make the most informed decision when choosing where to settle down. The metro areas included in the rankings are evaluated using data from trusted sources like the United States Census Bureau, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Labor and U.S. News' own internal resources. This data was categorized into the five indexes listed below and then evaluated using a methodology determined by Americans' preferences. The percent weighting for each index follows the answers from a public survey in which people from across the country voted for what they believed was the most important thing to consider when thinking about moving.

Job Market Index 20 percent

The Job Market Index measures the strength of each metro area's job market. To do this, we've assessed the following two factors to determine how likely residents will be to find employment and what their earning potential will be:

  • Unemployment Rate (50 percent): We've calculated the 12-month moving unemployment rate using data from the United States Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This represents whether or not the job market is growing, struggling or remaining stable.
  • Average Salary (50 percent): The average salary, as calculated by the BLS, is the best indicator of earning potential in a metro area.

Value Index 25 percent

The Value Index measures how comfortably the average resident of each metro area can afford to live within his or her means. To accomplish this, we compared the median annual household income to the cost of living in that metro area. The Value Index is determined by dividing the blended median annual household income by the blended annual cost of living for each metro area.

  • Blended Median Annual Household Income: Using data from the U.S. Census, we determined the percentage of the metro area population that owns a home and the percentage of the population that rents a home. Using those percentages, we calculated a blended median annual household income for each metro area.
  • Blended Annual Cost of Living: To determine the annual cost of living for homeowners in each metro area, we consulted the U.S. Census, which collects data on the amount homeowners pay for housing (including mortgage, utilities and taxes). We then extracted an estimated monthly cost for utilities, in each metro area, which we combined with the area's average monthly rent to determine the cost of living for renters. We multiplied the cost of living for both owners and renters by 12 to get the annual cost, and then using our ratio of renters to owners, we calculated the blended annual cost of living.

Quality of Life Index 30 percent

The Quality of Life Index measures how satisfied residents are with their daily lives in each ranked metro area. To calculate the Quality of Life scores, we evaluated the following aspects of life in each metro area using a weighted average. To determine the weightings, we surveyed people across the U.S. to see how important they considered each of the aspects evaluated in the index. The Quality of Life Index takes into account:

  • Crime Rates (30 percent): We've compared each metro area's murder and property crime rates per 100,000 people to the national rates, as determined by the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Uniform Crime Reports.
  • Quality and Availability of Health Care (10 percent): Using data from the U.S. News Best Hospitals rankings, we measured the availability of quality health care by determining the quantity of ranked facilities within 50, 100 and 250 miles of each metro area.
  • Quality of Education (25 percent): Using data from the U.S. News Best High Schools rankings, we determined the availability of quality education by calculating the average college readiness score of all schools in the metro area and comparing it to that of all the other ranked metro areas.
  • Well-being (15 percent): We use the composite score from the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index (which analyzes resident satisfaction in the following areas: purpose, social, financial, community and physical) as a representation of whether or not residents of each metro area are generally happy with their day-to-day lives.
  • Commuter Index (20 percent): The Commuter Index uses the U.S. Census' calculation of average commute time, which is a composite of the time spent traveling door-to-door, whether by foot, public transit, car or bicycle.

Desirability Index 15 percent

The Desirability Index measures whether or not people want to live in a given metro area. To determine this, we asked people from all over the country to tell us where they'd prefer to live.

  • Desirability Survey: Using SurveyMonkey, we polled people across the country to find out in which of the ranked metro areas they would most like to live. The metro areas were then ranked according to the percentage of the total votes they received.

Net Migration 10 percent

Net Migration measures whether people are moving to or away from each of the metro areas. While the Desirability Index measures whether or not a metro area is appealing, Net Migration represents whether or not a metro area is actually attracting new residents.

  • Net Migration: Using data from the U.S. Census – and eliminating any fluctuations caused by births or deaths – we've determined how many people are moving to or away from each metro area.

Note: If a piece of data is not available for a given metro area, we adjust the weighting of the other scoring categories for which we had data on a pro rata basis with the aim that no metro area benefits or suffers from missing data.

How We Did the Math

The data we collected from each of our sources came in a variety of forms, from flat numbers to negative numbers to percentages. Before imputing each data point into our equations, we had to standardize it so that it could be compared on an apples-to-apples basis with other data points we evaluated.

In order to balance these metrics, we used a standard deviation (or Z-Score) calculation to determine each data point's differentiation from the data set's mean, and then used the Z-Score to create a standardized U.S. News score using the method outlined below:

  • Calculating the Z-Score: The Z-Score represents a data point's relation to the mean measurement of the data set. The Z-Score is a negative when the data point is below the mean and positive when it's above the mean; a Z-Score of 0 means it's equal to the mean. To determine the Z-Score for each data point, we calculated the mean of that same data point across all ranked metro areas. We then subtracted the data point from the mean and divided it by the standard deviation.
  • Calculating the T-Score: We used a T-Score calculation to convert the Z-Score to a 0-100 scale by multiplying the Z-Score by 10. To ensure that the mean was equal across all data points, we added our desired scoring mean (between 0 and 10) to the T-Score to create an adjusted T-Score.
  • Calculating the U.S. News Score: To calculate the U.S. News Score, we divided the adjusted T-Score by 10 to create a 0-10 point system across the board that would allow us to accurately apply our methodology.

Learn more about the Best Places to Live ranking.


2018 Best Places to Retire Methodology

The Best Places to Retire rankings are intended to help people narrow their choices of where to live in retirement. Without question, individual preferences and family proximity weigh heavily in choosing where to retire. But there are similarities in what retirees and future retirees want, regardless of where they live today. In preparing the 2018 Best Places to Retire rankings we surveyed pre-retirees (age 45–59) and retirement-age individuals (age 60+) for guidance on what matters most to them. These groups are our target audiences, and our goal is to provide them with an approachable, useful place to start planning for retirement.

U.S. News evaluated 100 of the largest metropolitan areas in the U.S. (including Puerto Rico) for the 2018 Best Places to Retire rankings. Smaller cities and regions, including some that are popular with retirees, were not included in the analysis. The rankings are based on overall retirement scores that we calculated for each city included in the analysis. The overall retirement score is a weighted average of six indexes. The overall retirement score and each index score was calculated on a 10.0 scale based on the data sources and scoring methodology described in more detail below. The six indexes are: Housing Affordability, Happiness, Desirability, Retiree Taxes, Job Market and Healthcare Quality. The weights for each index were determined based on two online surveys conducted by U.S. News of pre-retirees (age 45–59) and retirement-age individuals (age 60+) during the first week of September 2017. Respondents were asked to indicate the attributes of a retirement destination that are most important to them, choosing from a predefined list of options. 841 responses were collected. Based on the survey scoring, U.S. News assigned the following weights to the indexes in compiling the overall retirement score for each city:

Happiness Index 23.8 percent

The Happiness Index represents how content residents are with important aspects of their daily lives. The index is based on the composite well-being index scores for each metropolitan area as published in the Gallup-Healthways “State of American Well-Being: 2016 Community Well-Being Rankings” report released in March 2017.

Housing Affordability Index 20.9 percent

The Housing Affordability Index assesses the comparative cost of housing in the metropolitan areas included in the rankings. To estimate the average housing costs by area, we used U.S. Census data to look at both the average annual costs for homeowners (including mortgage, utilities and taxes) and the average annual costs for renters (including rent and utilities). We then created a blended average annual housing cost for each metro area by adding the average homeowner costs multiplied by the share of residents who are homeowners with the average renter costs multiplied by the share of residents who are renters.

Healthcare Quality Index 19.8 percent

Using data from the U.S. News Best Hospitals rankings, the Healthcare Quality Index measures the availability of top quality healthcare in each metro area. The index is scored based on the quantity of U.S. News-ranked and rated facilities within 50, 100 and 250 miles of each metro area.

Retiree Taxes Index 15.2 percent

The Retiree Taxes Index measures the expected tax friendliness of each metro area for retirees. To estimate tax friendliness, we created a composite retirement tax score based on a Sales Tax Index (40 percent of the score) and an Income Tax Index (60 percent of the score). We examined tax rates as reported by the Tax Foundation for 2017, and blended state-level taxes for metropolitan areas that include multiple states (such as the Washington, DC metropolitan area that includes DC, MD and VA).

States have wildly different approaches to taxation across housing, consumption (sales), regular income and – importantly – Social Security. As of 2017, thirty-nine states do not tax Social Security income. Since over half of retirees rely on Social Security for more than 50 percent of their income in retirement, this is an important factor. To account for this, we calculated the Income Tax Index as 50 percent based on a state’s median income tax rate for regular income and 50 percent based on a state’s taxation of Social Security income.

Job Market Index 10.4 percent

Americans have a variety of views on what it means to be retired. For many, “retirement” does not mean exiting the workforce completely, so living in a community with ample opportunities for full- or part-time employment can be important.

The Job Market Index measures the strength of each metro area’s job market. To evaluate this, we considered two factors: ease of finding employment and earning potential. The area’s unemployment rate (50 percent of the index score) is based on the 12-month moving unemployment rate using data from the United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) at the time we compiled the metric for the U.S. News Best Places to Live 2017 ranking analysis. The area’s average salary (50 percent of the index score) was also retrieved from BLS at that time.

Desirability Index 10.0 percent

The Desirability Index represents how strongly Americans are interested in living in a given metropolitan area. To determine this, U.S. News conducted an online survey (also used in the 2017 Best Places to Live methodology) to poll people across the country about a randomized subset of the metropolitan areas being analyzed. Metro areas were then scored according to the percentage of the total votes they received in the survey.

Learn more about the Best Places to Retire ranking.