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These are the best (and worst) state capitals to live in, study finds

PIERRE, SD – JULY 9, 2018: South Dakota Capital Building along Capitol Lake in Pierre, SD at sunset. (Getty)

(NEXSTAR) — Every state has one: a capital. Dover, Delaware, is technically the oldest, and Juneau, Alaska, the youngest. But some of the nation’s capitals are better to live in than others.

Reviewing employment, education, affordability, leisure, and safety data points, SmartAsset recently ranked the best state capitals to live in. This is the ninth time they’ve created such a list, and a new capital has been crowned as the most liveable.

Specifically, in order to rank the 50 capitals, the report’s authors ranked them based on 10 different metrics: June unemployment, five-year income grown, 2022 high school graduation rate, income after housing costs, down payment-to-income rate, estimated annual cost of living, the concentration of dining and entertainment establishments, hours worked each week, and 2020 rates of violent and property crimes.

Overall, SmartAsset found two common trends: state capitals vary greatly in how affordable they are and the Midwest is largely the most livable.

The most expensive state capital was Boston, Massachusetts, which was found to be $15,000 more expensive to live in annually than the cheapest on the list, Jefferson City, Missouri.

Half of the states ranking in the top 10, listed below, were found in the Midwest. This is largely due to their strong rankings regarding employment, education, and affordability. Capitals across the Northeast and West also snagged top-10 spots, with no Southern states ranking as high.

Pierre, South Dakota, took the top spot on SmartAsset’s list thanks to its unemployment rate of 1.9% and fourth-highest income after housing costs, as well as a high rate of high school graduation. Pierre edged out Madison, Wisconsin, which was ranked as the best capital to live in for the past two years.

Here are the top 10 state capitals to live in, according to SmartAsset’s review:

  1. Pierre, South Dakota
  2. Madison, Wisconsin
  3. Lincoln, Nebraska
  4. Boise, Idaho
  5. Helena, Montana
  6. Concord, New Hampshire
  7. Montpelier, Vermont
  8. Jefferson City, Missouri
  9. Albany, New York
  10. Des Moines, Iowa

Jefferson City and Albany edged out Raleigh, North Carolina, and Frankfort, Kentucky, both of which ranked among the top 10 last year.

Pierre had the highest scores for affordability and employment and education, while Madison had the highest score in terms of leisure and safety.

While some Northeastern capitals landed among the best to live in, others landed among the worst. The lowest-ranked capitals, according to SmartAsset, were found throughout the country – from the Northeast to the South and into the Mountain West.

Dover, Delaware, was ranked as the worst capital after recording the worst possible score for employment and education, and a low score for affordability. It did, however, earn a higher leisure and safety score than the top-ranked capital, Pierre (41.71 versus 34.12). Last year’s worst-ranked capital was Baton Rouge, Louisiana, which climbed slightly to 49th in this year’s rankings.

Below are the worst capitals to live in, according to SmartAsset:

  1. Dover, Delaware
  2. Baton Rouge, Louisiana
  3. Little Rock, Arkansas
  4. Denver, Colorado
  5. Hartford, Connecticut
  6. Atlanta, Georgia
  7. Olympia, Washington
  8. Phoenix, Arizona
  9. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
  10. Augusta, Maine

Little Rock had the lowest leisure and safety score while Hartford had the worst affordability score. Hartford did, however, have a top-10 leisure and safety score.

You can see where your state capital ranks here.

SmartAsset’s rankings of best capitals to live in isn’t too different from a recent ranking by WalletHub, which analyzed dozens of different metrics to determine the best states to live in.

The authors of WalletHub’s list found states in the Northeast and Midwest were among the best, while states in the southern part of the country were considered among the worst.

Topping out that list was Massachusetts (Boston ranked as the 26th best capital to live in) followed by New Jersey, New York, Idaho, Virginia, New Hampshire, Florida, Wyoming, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. At the bottom of the list was Mississippi, followed by Alaska, Louisiana, Arkansas, New Mexico, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Alabama, Kentucky, and West Virginia.


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