Capitals serve as cultural and political hubs for the states they represent, so moving to a state capital can come with a certain amount of bragging rights. Plus, if you want to work in a government job, these cities can serve as a key stop on your career path.
If you’re considering a move to a state capital, you might want to ask yourself the following questions: What are the best state capitals to live in? What are the worst? Does living in a state capital necessarily mean a higher quality of life? To answer those questions, GOBankingRates conducted a study to rank the 50 state capitals from best to worst.
These rankings might prove helpful in your search for the right place to live. Some of the capitals are also on the list of best places to buy a home in every state.
Last updated: Sept. 2, 2021
Best State Capitals
GOBankingRates analyzed all 50 state capitals using the following criteria:
- Violent crime rate and property crime rate per 1,000 residents
- Median home list price
- Annual cost of necessities
- School district score
- Unemployment rate of the population between ages 20 and 64, plus the percentage of the population living below the poverty line
- The median household income
The factors were scored, summed up and then ranked from best to worst for each state capital.
The best state capitals all share a few characteristics, including a solid median household income, low poverty and unemployment rates, a low cost of necessities, affordable homes and a good grade for school districts.
25. Montgomery, Alabama
A low median household income of less than $46,000 per year is one of the biggest blows to Montgomery’s ranking. That income, however, doesn’t have to stretch too far in terms of housing costs. Alabama’s capital has a median home value of just $95,195, making it one of only a handful of state capitals with home values below six figures.
24. Oklahoma City
The annual grocery cost in Oklahoma City is below $4,500, making it one of the cheaper cities for shopping. However, the total cost of necessities is on the pricier end at $19,600 a year.
23. Augusta, Maine
Augusta scores low in median household income at $43,996, but the median home price is $193,656. Groceries, healthcare and utilities all cost above the national average, but transportation is just 68.9% of the average.
22. Des Moines, Iowa
At $53,525 a year, Des Moines’ household income score isn’t the greatest, and more than 16% of its residents live in poverty. With home values floating around $167,000, however, it’s an affordable city.
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21. Salt Lake City
It might come as a surprise that Salt Lake City has one of the worst property crime scores in the study, averaging 59.42 incidents per 1,000 residents. Utah’s capital doesn’t rank too badly across other categories, but the median home value is pricey at above $535,000.
20. Saint Paul, Minnesota
Saint Paul’s strongest suit is the relatively affordable housing market. The median home value in Saint Paul is only $266,819, but it also has a so-so median household income of $55,920.
19. Topeka, Kansas
Topeka could be one of the best deals for people looking to buy a house. The Sunflower State capital got high marks for its temptingly low $139,107 median home value, though its median household income is also on the low side at $47,999 a year.
18. Salem, Oregon
The median household income for Salem is $60,676, which puts it in the top third of all state capitals. Although Salem has a fairly low violent crime rate, it has only an average score for property crimes. The city sees 37.43 property crime incidents per 1,000 residents, according to the study.
17. Frankfort, Kentucky
A big factor in Frankfort’s ranking, despite its low median household income, is its necessities score. The median cost of non-housing necessities in Frankfort is only $16,780.33 a year, so residents there pay the lowest among all 50 state capitals for things like groceries, utilities, health care and transportation.
16. Austin, Texas
Is keeping Austin weird keeping Texas’ capital high in the rankings? While that’s up for debate, the city does enjoy a strong household income along with a better-than-average unemployment rate of 4.8%. Furthermore, Austin features lower-than-average prices on groceries, healthcare and utilities, as well as a school district grade of A-.
15. Cheyenne, Wyoming
Cheyenne has a decent unemployment rate of 5% and a low poverty rate of 10.4%. Wyoming’s capital also enjoys a low rate of violent crimes, and its median household income is strong at $64,598.
14. Helena, Montana
Helena boasts a low unemployment rate at 3.4%. It also shines in the annual necessities cost category. Helena residents can expect to pay just $16,825 for yearly expenditures not related to housing. Its median household income comes in at $61,324 per year.
13. Olympia, Washington
Olympia has average scores for most of the categories in the study, but where it really shines is in its low cost of necessities. With Olympians paying just a little less than $17,000 a year for non-housing goods, the Washington capital has one of the lowest necessities costs in the study. Also, its school system earns an A grade.
12. Juneau, Alaska
The snowy capital of the largest geographic state in the nation boasts the second-lowest percentage of people living below the poverty line at just 7.7%. It also claims the highest median household income in the study at $88,398 — which is a good thing, considering Juneau is also one of the most expensive state capitals in terms of median home value and annual necessity costs.
11. Annapolis, Maryland
Annapolis, home to the U.S. Naval Academy, has the second-highest household median income in the study at $85,636, though it’s also a comparatively costly city to live in with a median home price of $516,476. The poverty rate is a low 11.1%.
10. Carson City, Nevada
Carson City has the lowest property crime rate in the study, with only 13.57 incidents per 1,000 residents. Violent crime is also low here. On the downside, its median annual household income of $55,718 is not the best, and its median home value is on the high side at $399,809.
9. Madison, Wisconsin
Among Madison’s biggest positives are its low unemployment rate of 3.6% and its B+-rated schools. The city’s poverty rate, however, is on the high side at 16.9%.
8. Jefferson City, Missouri
Jefferson City has a relatively low poverty rate of 12.9%. The Show Me State’s capital also has fairly low crime rates and a median home list price of $180,231 to go with a median household income of $52,253.
7. Raleigh, North Carolina
In Raleigh, the median household income is strong at $67,266, and its school district scored a grade of A-. Utility costs are high, however, at 18.5% above the national average.
6. Lincoln, Nebraska
Lincoln scores well across the board, including an A- grade for its school district. The one area where it falters is a fairly low median household income of $57,746, but that’s offset somewhat by a comparatively low cost of living and an unemployment rate of 2.5%.
5. Concord, New Hampshire
Only 9% of people in Concord live below the poverty line, which contributes to the city’s high ranking. Also, New Hampshire’s capital boasts very low rates of both property crime and violent crime.
4. Pierre, South Dakota
Although Pierre loses Dakota bragging rights to its capital city neighbor to the north, it’s still among the five best state capitals to live in. A solid median household income of $62,192, low necessities costs and a B+ grade for schools are among the reasons Pierre ranks so high.
3. Boise, Idaho
Boise boasts a low unemployment rate of 3.2% as well as some of the lowest rates in the study for both violent and property crimes. You won’t find yourself paying much annually for necessities, either. Boise’s median non-housing essentials costs come in at $17,327 a year, placing it among the cheapest capital cities to live.
2. Bismarck, North Dakota
Unemployment is under 4% in Bismarck and the poverty rate is only 9.5%. Property crime and violent crime rates are low as well, and the cost of necessities is just above $16,700.
1. Montpelier, Vermont
If you live in fear of violent crime, Montpelier is the state capital for you. It ties Concord for the lowest violent crime rate score in the study at 1.49 incidents per 1,000 residents. It also has one of the lowest property crime rates on the list, along with a strong median household income of $65,078.
Worst State Capitals
The worst state capitals usually feature low household income, high poverty and unemployment rates and high crime rates. They might also have expensive necessities and housing costs or poor school district grades. These factors become more extreme the lower a capital is in the rankings.
Boston is another state capital with a very high housing cost. It ranks second only to Honolulu with a median home value of $687,024. The median household income is a high $71,115, but the unemployment rate is 5%.
24. Springfield, Illinois
The median household income in Springfield is $57,876, which, like so many other categories, puts the city in not great/not terrible territory. A big plus, however, is the low cost of housing. The median home value in Illinois’ capital is only $129,807.
Denver has mostly decent scores per category, but high housing costs hurt its ranking. The median home price in the booming city is more than $563,000, which makes it the third highest on the list.
22. Columbus, Ohio
Columbus’ overall scores aren’t terrible, but its median income is on the low side at $53,745, and nearly 20% of the population lives in poverty. The schools here get a barely satisfactory C- grade.
21. Columbia, South Carolina
Columbia falls below average among state capitals partly because of its lower median household income of $47,286 and its high rate of property crimes. But it got a B+ grade for its school district.
20. Nashville, Tennessee
The Music City has a violent crime rate of 11.1 incidents per 1,000 residents, making it one of only five capitals with double-digit rates in that category. Nashville’s median home price is on the high side as well, at about $346,000.
19. Sacramento, California
The Golden State’s capital doesn’t rank among the worst of the capitals in this study, but it’s far from the best. Lackluster scores in median household income, unemployment rates and poverty rates put Sacramento in the lower half of the rankings. The city also comes with a B- school district ranking and an annual necessities cost of more than $20,000 a year.
18. Albany, New York
Nearly 23% of people in Albany live below the poverty line, which helps explain its low ranking. So does its low median household income of only $45,825, though its median home value has risen to $235,675. Albany schools don’t help much with a C+ overall grade.
17. Santa Fe, New Mexico
Santa Fe has a fairly high poverty rate of 18% as well as the highest unemployment rate in the study at 7.8%. And with a median home value of more than $467,000, its housing market is unforgiving. However, the city does have a fairly low cost of living, with median non-housing necessities costing less than $17,500.
Atlanta has below-average scores in nearly every category, which explains its ranking among the bottom 15. Relatively high crime rates are one culprit, along with a high median home value of about $354,000.
Phoenix fell from the top 25 to the bottom 25 in GOBanking Rates’ most recent study. Its median household income is decent at $57,459, but 18% of the people in Phoenix live in poverty. Transportation costs are 17.9% higher than the national average, too.
14. Richmond, Virginia
Richmond scores low in poverty rates, and it also receives subpar marks elsewhere. What really sinks Richmond’s ranking, however, is the C- grade for its school district, among the lowest grades on the list.
Like many cities in the bottom half of the study, Indianapolis suffers from a less-than-desirable median household income — in its case, $47,873 per year. A high violent crime rate of 12.5 per 1,000 residents also contributes to its low ranking, and 18% of residents live below the poverty line. Its school district received a grade of C-.
12. Tallahassee, Florida
Tallahassee has one of the highest poverty rates of all state capitals, with more than a quarter of the population living below the poverty line. It also suffers from a low household median income of $45,734, though Florida residents can keep more of that money because there’s no state income tax. On the bright side, Tallahassee’s school district received a grade of B+.
Tropical Hawaiian paradise falls into the get-what-you-pay-for category. Although its median household income of $71,465 doesn’t look too bad, Honolulu ranks the highest in the study for the median cost of necessities. Expect to pay $25,331 a year for items such as groceries, healthcare and transportation. It also has the highest median home value by far — $1,125,424.
10. Little Rock, Arkansas
Little Rock’s median household income is not great at about $51,000 a year, but what really sinks Arkansas’ capital in the rankings is its crime rates. Little Rock has the worst violent crime rate in the study by far at about 15 incidents per 1,000 residents as well as the second-highest rate of property crime.
9. Lansing, Michigan
Lansing has one of the weaker income scores on the study, with a median annual household income of below $42,000. The poverty rate is high at 24.6%, but residents don’t have to pay much to live there. Lansing’s median home value is only $119,901 — one of the lowest figures in the study.
8. Charleston, West Virginia
Charleston has a low median household income of $43,344, a high poverty rate and the highest property crime rate on the list with more than 66 incidents per 1,000 residents. On the other hand, a median home value of about $130,000 makes West Virginia’s capital an affordable housing market.
7. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
One reason Harrisburg ranks so low is its paltry median household income of $39,685. Meanwhile, a stunning 26.2% percent of the population lives below the poverty line. Other problems include a school district saddled with a C- grade and a high violent crime rate. Harrisburg shines when it comes to housing prices, however — the median home value here is only about $188,000.
6. Providence, Rhode Island
A lower median household income of $45,610 and below-average school district grade of C- push Providence down in the study’s rankings. What’s worse, however, is the nearly 26% poverty rate.
5. Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Baton Rouge has a high poverty rate of 24.8% and a low household median income of about $44,000. Furthermore, its higher-than-average crime rates cement Baton Rouge’s place as one of the lowest cities in this study’s rankings.
4. Dover, Delaware
Dover’s median household income is nothing to brag about at below $48,000 a year, though its median home value is 220,091. What hurts Dover is a high unemployment rate of 7.7% and a high rate of property crime.
3. Jackson, Mississippi
The median annual household income for Jackson is $38,888, one of the lowest in the study. It also has a very high poverty rate of about 25%. Conversely, its median home value of $62,986 makes it the cheapest housing market of any capital city by far.
2. Hartford, Connecticut
After finishing last in the 2019 ranking, Hartford is this year’s second-lowest capital largely because of abysmal median household income and poverty scores. More than 28% percent of Hartford residents live below the poverty line, which is the second-highest rate on this list. The median household income is $36,278, which places Hartford 49th out of 50.
1. Trenton, New Jersey
Bringing up the rear is Trenton, which closely tracks Hartford in terms of poverty, income and unemployment. The difference is that Trenton’s housing is slightly more expensive and its schools are saddled with an even lower D grade.
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Methodology: GOBankingRates analyzed all 50 state capitals to find the best (and worst) state capitals to live in along the following criteria: (1) violent crime rate per 1,000 residents and (2) property crime rate per 1,000 residents, both sourced from Neighborhood Scout; (3) median home value, sourced from Zillow’s January – July 2021 index; (4) annual cost-of-living expenditures, based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ midyear 2019/20 Consumer Expenditure Survey and local cost-of-living indices sourced from Sperling’s Best Places; (5) school district score, based on Niche’s Best School District index; (each school district had an alphabetical grade, A+ through F, which was converted into a numerical value in order to score); (6) percent of population living below the poverty line and (7) the median household income sourced from the 2019 American Community Survey done by the United States Census Bureau; and (8) unemployment rate for June 2021 as sourced from the Bureau of Labor Statistics: June 2021 rates for Metropolitan Areas. All these factors were scored, summed up and then ranked from best to worst for each state capital. All data was collected and is up to date as of Aug. 26, 2021.