1. MADISON, WISCONSIN
The state capital of the Badger State and residence of the flagship campus of the University of Wisconsin scores highly on most of the metrics in our investigation. The city of 253,000 ranks ninth for percent of the population with health insurance (96.4 percent), a sign that many residents have some coverage to assist with medical bills. Unemployment, at 3.8 percent, was 16th lowest in our analysis, and those with jobs work an average of 37.0 hours a week, good for 20th, and their commutes averaged 19.4 minutes, No. 17.
2. SIOUX FALLS, SOUTH DAKOTA
The Mount Rushmore State has no corporate income tax, which probably explains the presence of numerous big employers including Citi and Wells Fargo in its largest city, Sioux Falls. The town, which sits near the border with Minnesota, has an unemployment rate of 2.6 percent — a tie for first in our analysis. It’s also the third most-affordable city out of 177, where median gross rent (a census metric which includes rent plus the estimated average monthly cost of utilities and fuels) takes up 27 percent of residents’ monthly income. Commutes are second-best in our evaluation, at 16.8 minutes.
3. LINCOLN, NEBRASKA
Home to the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers, Lincoln is tied for the 10th-lowest unemployment rate (3.6%) in our investigation, and it’s relatively affordable, with median gross rent that’s 33% of monthly income — which makes it No. 25 out of 177. Even though it was not superlative in any data we analyzed, the city of 280,000 nonetheless ranked in the top 40% in all six of those quality-of-life metrics examined. The state also appears to be a welcoming place: Nebraska took in 76 refugees per 100,000 inhabitants in 2016, the most of any city, according to a Pew Research Center study.
4. OVERLAND PARK, KANSAS
The largest suburb in the Kansas City area and the headquarters of internet and wireless provider Sprint, Overland Park has the second-lowest poverty rate of any town in our top 10 (4.4%), and it tied for second-lowest unemployment rate (3.5 percent). It’s also the third-most affordable at the top cities, with 32% of monthly income going to gross rent. On the other hand, residents work more than those in most other cities — the average workweek is 39.5 hours (tied for 142nd out of 177).
5. BOISE, IDAHO
Idaho’s capital sits across the Boise River and one of the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, where its residents enjoy miles of trails for hiking and mountain-biking. In addition, residents have enough time to enjoy them: Boise rates in the lower half of our analysis in average weekly hours worked at 38.1 hours, and its average commute is tied to eighth-lowest overall at 18.4 minutes. The town of 223,000 also gets high marks for affordability, with median earnings about 33 percent of monthly gross rent. A note to outsiders: Long-time residents say “BOY-see.”