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 in your career path.
But what are the best state capitals to live in? Or the worst? And 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. Some of the findings include:
- The top two state capitals to live in belong to the Dakotas.
- Most of the top-ranking state capitals are in the Midwest.
- Most of the bottom-ranking state capitals are on the East Coast or in the South.
- Only two state capitals — Annapolis, Maryland, and Juneau, Alaska — have a median household income above $80,000. The next-highest median income is in Honolulu at $65,707.
If you’re contemplating a move, consider the following rankings. Some of these state capitals are the best places to buy a home.
Last updated: Jan. 29, 2020
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 and median rent
- 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, all sourced from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2017 American Community Survey
The factors were scored, summed up and then ranked from best to worst for each state capital.
The best state capitals often feature a solid median household income, low poverty and unemployment rates, a low cost of necessities, affordable rent and homes and usually a good grade for school districts.
25. Dover, Delaware
Dover’s median household income is just below $50,000, but the annual rent is less than $16,000, which means the average resident can live comfortably in Delaware.
24. Oklahoma City
The annual grocery cost in Oklahoma City is below $4,000, making it one of the most inexpensive cities for shopping. However, the total cost of necessities is on the more expensive end at nearly $19,000 a year.
23. Saint Paul, Minnesota
Saint Paul’s most influential factors in its ranking are the relatively affordable rent and mortgage scores. Residents pay just over $18,000 a year in rent, while the median home price in Saint Paul is $232,643.
22. Springfield, Illinois
The median household income in Springfield is $52,841, which gives it a middle-of-the-road score. Renters are much better off here than in some other locales, only paying an average of about $10,533 annually. The city received a good score when it came to housing prices too, with a median list price of $122,343.
21. Augusta, Maine
Augusta features relatively low crime rates as well as encouraging scores for both renters and homebuyers. It scores low in median household income, however, at just over $40,000.
20. Concord, New Hampshire
Fewer than 8% of people live below the poverty line in Concord, which contributes to its ranking. The reason the city doesn’t rank higher is its negative annual rent and home price scores. Renters in Concord pay more than $30,000 annually, while homebuyers should note the high median price of $576,136.
19. Des Moines, Iowa
At $49,999, Des Moines’ household income score isn’t the greatest. However, the unemployment rate is only 5.8%, and it gets high marks in rent and housing/mortgage categories.
18. Salem, Oregon
The median household income for Salem is $54,009, and annual rent here will cost more than $17,600. Although Salem has a low violent crime rate, it has an average score for property crimes. The city sees 42.55 incidents per 1,000 residents, according to the study.
17. 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 $16,035 for non-housing goods, the Washington capital has one of the lowest necessities cost in the study. Its healthcare costs also are well below the national average.
16. Topeka, Kansas
Topeka might be the best deal for people looking to move. The Sunflower State capital got high marks for the lowest annual rent, with a yearly total of $10,017.
15. Madison, Wisconsin
Madison’s biggest draw comes from its low crime rate scores. However, of the 25 best state capitals to live in, Madison has the highest poverty rate at 15.54%.
14. Carson City, Nevada
Carson City boasts a low rate of poverty, with fewer than 10% of its residents living below the poverty line. It also has the lowest property crime rate in the study, with only 16.40 incidents per 1,000 residents.
13. Austin, Texas
Is keeping Austin weird keeping Texas’ capital high in the rankings? No, it’s the great scores in household income along with low poverty and unemployment rates. Furthermore, Austin features low crime rates and a school district grade of A-. Austin isn’t as kind to renters as most of the better capitals in this study, though; expect to pay more than $21,000 annually.
12. Helena, Montana
Helena boasts a low unemployment rate, with only 3% of adults ages 20 to 64 unemployed. It also shines in the annual necessities cost category. Helena residents can expect to pay $16,285 for yearly expenditures such as groceries, healthcare and utilities. Its lowest score is in household income; the median household earns $53,892, according to the study.
11. Juneau, Alaska
The snowy state capital of the biggest state of the union in terms of area also boasts the lowest percentage of people below the poverty line found in the survey at 5.2%. It also claims the highest median household income in the study at $90,749.
10. Annapolis, Maryland
Sitting at No. 10 of the best state capitals to live in is Annapolis, home to the United States Naval Academy. It has the second-highest household median income in the study at $81,143.
9. Frankfort, Kentucky
A big factor in Frankfort’s ranking, despite its low median household income, is its necessities score. Those living in Frankfort pay the lowest amount for non-housing necessities at $15,548.
8. Cheyenne, Wyoming
Cheyenne’s has a low unemployment rate of 5.6%, and a low poverty rate of 7.6%. Cheyenne also enjoys low rates for both violent and property crimes. Its median household income is $60,878.
7. Raleigh, North Carolina
Raleigh enjoys low poverty and unemployment rates, as well as fairly low rates for violent and property crimes. Its median household income is higher than most at $61,505, and its school district received a grade of A-.
6. Lincoln, Nebraska
Lincoln scores well across the board, including an A grade for its school districts. The one area where it falters is a somewhat low median household income of $53,089. Fewer than 12% of people live below the poverty line in Lincoln.
5. Jefferson City, Missouri
Jefferson City residents pay some of the lowest rent found in the study at just $11,460 annually. Missouri’s capital also has low crime rates and a median home list price of $178,193.
4. Boise, Idaho
There isn’t much crime to speak of in Boise, and it has some of the lowest rates in the study for violent and property crimes. You won’t find yourself paying much annually for necessities either. A low cost of $16,652 for things such as groceries and transportation help keep Boise high up in the study’s rankings.
3. Montpelier, Vermont
If you live in fear of violence, Montpelier might be the state capital for you. It features the lowest violent crime rate score in the study — 23.38 incidents per 1,000 residents — and one of the lowest property crime rates. Other factors that position Montpelier high in the rankings are its low poverty and unemployment rates.
2. Pierre, South Dakota
Although a lower median household income and a higher poverty rate make this the lesser Dakota, it’s still the No. 2 state capital to live in. A low cost for necessities and a strong A- grade for its school districts also boost Pierre’s image.
1. Bismarck, North Dakota
With the lowest unemployment rating in the study, coupled with a low poverty score, Bismarck might be worth considering for those seeking employment in a new location.
Worst State Capitals
The worst state capitals usually feature low household income scores, high poverty and unemployment rates, as well as high crime scores. They also might have expensive necessities and housing costs or poor school district grades. The factors become more extreme the lower a capital is in the rankings.
25. Columbus, Ohio
The best of the worst state capitals in this study is the Arch City. Columbus’ scores aren’t terrible, but its median income is low, and 14.72% of the population lives in poverty.
24. Montgomery, Alabama
A low household income score is the biggest factor in Montgomery’s ranking. However, it still enjoys low rent and home prices. The annual cost of necessities, such as transportation and healthcare, isn’t too bad either at $17,759.
23. Denver, Colorado
Denver has mostly fair scores, including a B grade for its school district, but the factors keeping it low in the rankings are its expensive rent and home prices. The annual average rent is $27,896 while the median home price is $484,100.
22. Nashville, Tennessee
Nashville has a fairly high violent crime rate at 39.91 incidents per 1,000 residents. It is fairly pricey when it comes to home prices with a median listing at $324,780.
21. Sacramento, California
The Golden State’s capital doesn’t rank near the worst of the capitals in this study, but it’s far from the best. Lackluster scores in household income, unemployment and poverty rates put Sacramento below the fold. The city also comes with average school districts and an annual necessities cost of more than $19,000.
Nothing really stands out about Phoenix, but its so-so scores are why it ranks in the lower half. Its median household income is $52,080, and 14.16% of the people in Phoenix live in poverty. Necessities are a bit more expensive in the city at an annual cost of $19,727.
19. Santa Fe, New Mexico
Santa Fe has a high poverty rate, and its housing market doesn’t seem too kind to either renters or homeowners. However, it has a positive non-household goods score with annual costs of less than $17,000.
18. Columbia, South Carolina
Columbia gets placed lower in the rankings because of its low median household income and its higher crime rates, especially property crimes. It also received a C+ grade for its school districts. Rent here is still more affordable than some other places in the study at $14,476 a year.
17. Albany, New York
Nearly 18% of people live below the poverty line in Albany, which helps explain its low ranking. However, it might be a good thing New York’s state capital isn’t in the Big Apple; Albany’s average monthly rent is $1,509, compared with New York City, where the average one-bedroom apartment can cost as much as $3,000 a month.
Your tropical paradise might not be all it’s cracked up to be. Although its median household income of $65,707 doesn’t look too bad, Honolulu ranks the absolute lowest in the study for necessities cost. Expect to pay $24,600 for items such as groceries, healthcare and transportation. It also has the second-highest home price/mortgage score in the study, with the median home price listing at $643,643.
15. Little Rock, Arkansas
Little Rock doesn’t score too badly in the study. Its median household income is less than $50,000, but what really sinks Arkansas’ capital in the rankings is its crime scores. Little Rock has the worst violent crime rate in the study, with 70.68 incidents per 1,000 residents. It also has one of the highest property crime rates, based on study results.
Like many cities in the bottom half of the study, Indianapolis suffers from a less-than-desirable median household income. Lukewarm scores in poverty and unemployment rates, plus a high violent crime rate — 45.15 incidents per 1,000 residents — also prevent Indianapolis from ranking higher.
13. Salt Lake City
Salt Lake City has the worst property crime score in the study, averaging 81 incidents per 1,000 residents. It also has a poor household income score, but it doesn’t rank too badly across other categories.
12. Charleston, West Virginia
Charleston has a low median household income score, as well as high crime rates. On the other hand, low rent and low home prices might be the tradeoff for prospective residents.
11. Lansing, Michigan
Lansing has one of the lower household income scores on the study, with its median household income tallying at $38,642. Nearly 10% percent of people are unemployed in Lansing, and the poverty rate stands at 19.32%. A positive to living in Lansing is low housing costs, both for renters and homeowners.
10. Tallahassee, Florida
Tallahassee has the highest poverty rate of all state capitals, the study showed. Nearly 22% percent of people live below the poverty line in the city. It also suffers from a low household median income of $42,418. On the bright side, its school district received a grade of A-.
9. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
Harrisburg ranks far down in the study because of its low median household income of $35,300. Nearly 20% percent of people live below the poverty line, and there is a high violent crime rate. Harrisburg shines when it comes to housing prices, however. The median list price is $64,914, and renters pay less than $10,700.
8. Jackson, Mississippi
The median household income for Jackson is $35,308, giving it one of the most dismal income scores in the study. Conversely, its annual rent of around $10,000 makes it one of the more affordable capitals for renters.
Atlanta features below-average scores in nearly every category, which explains its low ranking. Relatively high crime rates don’t help it, either.
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6. Providence, Rhode Island
Disappointing scores for median household income, poverty and unemployment rates, plus a below-average school district rating, push Providence down in the study’s rankings. The median household income is $40,366, and almost 18% of people in Providence live below the poverty line.
5. Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Baton Rouge has a high poverty rate of 18.6% and a low household median income of just below $41,000. Furthermore, its higher-than-average crime rates keep Baton Rouge low on this study’s rankings. Renters might find this city more agreeable to live in, however, as they will pay only $15,094 a year.
Boston has the worst scores for both rent and home prices in the study. Expect to pay nearly $40,000 a year if you’re renting here. And good luck buying a home because the median list price is a shocking $739,857.
3. Trenton, New Jersey
Trenton is another state capital suffering from a low median household income, and it also has high unemployment and poverty rates. Still, real estate investors or potential home buyers might want to take note of Trenton’s median home price of $76,427, which is the second-lowest in the study.
2. Richmond, Virginia
Richmond scores low in household income, poverty and unemployment, and it also receives subpar marks elsewhere. What helps sink Richmond’s ranking is the D+ grade for its school district. Richmond’s best scores are for rent and necessities costs.
1. Hartford, Connecticut
The lowest-ranking capital in the study features abysmal household income and poverty scores. Nearly 20% percent of Hartford lives below the poverty line, while 14.6% of working-age adults are unemployed. But even those working earn a median household income of only $34,000 a year.
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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 list price, sourced from Zillow’s January though July 2019 index; (4) median rent, sourced from Zillow’s January though July 2019 index; (5) annual cost of living expenditures, based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2017-18 Consumer Expenditure Survey and local cost of living indices sourced from Sperling’s Best Places; (6) 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, (7) unemployment rate of population between 20 and 64, (8) percent of population living below the poverty line, and (9) the median household income all sourced from the 2017 American Community Survey done by the United States Census Bureau. 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 Sept. 4, 2019.
Data is accurate as of September 4, 2019, and is subject to change.
About the Author
Sean joined the GOBankingRates team in 2018, bringing with him several years of experience with both military and collegiate writing and editing experience. Sean’s first foray into writing happened when he enlisted in the Marines, with the occupational specialty of combat correspondent. He covered military affairs both in garrison and internationally when he deployed to Afghanistan. After finishing his enlistment, he completed his BA in English at UC Berkeley, eventually moving to Southern California.