The 20 Best Places for 20-Somethings

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Many 20-somethings are graduating from school, including professional school, and on the hunt. NerdWallet took a look at the best metropolitans for young professionals in their 20s looking to settle down in an area with a great social and economic environment.

NerdWallet ranked U.S. metropolitan areas according to the following criteria:

  1. Is there economic opportunity? Many people in their 20s are just starting their careers and are looking for job opportunities. We looked at the unemployment rate and the median income per year of an individual to assess both the availability of jobs and the quality of work.
  2. Will you find peers in your age group? 20-somethings tend to flock together, so we included the percentage of the population between the ages of 20 – 29.
  3. Will you be able to find housing? We looked at the median cost of rent per month as well as the percentage of households that were rented to assess the size and cost of the rental market.
  4. Will you find cultural events and activities? We proxied recreation and entertainment by looking at the ratio of arts, entertainment and recreation businesses per 1,000 residents.
  5. Can you afford to live there? We looked at the general cost of living, based on the prices of everyday goods like movie tickets and pizzas, to see how expensive the city was, relatively speaking. 20-somethings often carry student debt and have very little savings as they start their careers.

For more information, check out our Cost of Living Calculator and City Life tool.

 

Best Metropolitan Areas for 20-Somethings

1. Washington D.C. – Arlington- Alexandria, VA

The greater Washington D.C. area has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation as well as one of the highest median incomes. This is an area of great economic opportunity for 20-somethings to start their careers, and many of them live in Adams Morgan and U Street, home to a great selection of restaurants, nightclubs and coffee houses. Young professionals should also think about Logan Circle, where a lot of new restaurants are popping up. Young professionals in the nonprofit sector should look into joining the Young Nonprofit Professionals network to meet others in the same field while those entering the foreign policy sphere can find educational and professional opportunities with the Young Professionals in Foreign Policy foundation.

2. San Francisco – Oakland – Fremont, CA

The City by the Bay and its surrounding communities comes in second on our list with its high median income and low unemployment rate. While the cost of living and rent may be on the higher side, San Francisco provides multitudes of economic opportunity and a thriving social scene. Lower Haight and Mission are especially popular with young professionals due to the plethora of coffee shops, restaurants and events. Mission is home to the ever-popular Dolores Park. The Young Nonprofit Professionals Network has plenty of events to help young professionals in the nonprofit sector obtain educational and professional  opportunities. Be sure to give back by joining organizations like Engineers Without Borders to volunteer around the world and UC Berkeley graduates that are sticking around should remain active in the Cal Alumni Association for social and professional events.

3. New York City – Northern New Jersey – Long Island, NY/NJ

Many recent graduates head to the New York Metropolitan area, which has one of the highest populations of 20-year-olds in the nation. Be sure to get out and socialize with the huge concentration of entertainment options, including the parks and trails of New York – yes, there is nature in the big city. Head to East Village for great entertainment options like restaurants, bars and comedy clubs. Or head to Brooklyn for (slightly) cheaper real-estate prices. Those entering the tech industry should become a member of NY Tech Meetup to network with others in the industry.  Make sure to give back to the community by finding ways to volunteer with New York Cares.

4. San Jose – Sunnyvale – Santa Clara, CA

The Bay Area is back on the list, with San Jose and its surrounding communities coming in fourth. The Silicon Valley, unsurprisingly, leans young, with many young professionals working in the technology industry coming in floods, with many settling in the hubs of Mountain View and Palo Alto, headquarters to companies like Google, Facebook and LinkedIn. Accordingly, the median income is one of the highest in the nation, a whopping $63,980 per year. Women should join the Society of Women Engineers in Santa Clara Valley to meet and mingle with fellow professionals. Graduates of local colleges like Stanford and San Jose State should join their local alumni chapters to find great professional and social activities.  Find other fun events and activities at Team San Jose.

5. Boston – Cambridge – Quincy, MA

The great Boston area has plenty of institutions of higher education, and many graduates stay in the area, so its no wonder it has a high percentage of 20-somethings. The median rent and the cost of living are also the lowest of the top 5 cities on our list, making this one of the most affordable areas. Many 20-somethings move to Southie because of its affordable rents and great entertainment options. Also be sure to go to Faneuil Hall Marketplace for its street theatre and Fenway, near the ball park, for the bars and restaurants. Boston has plenty of professional opportunities for young professionals in all industries through organizations like Boston Young Healthcare Professionals, Young Education Professionals and Young Professionals in Energy.

There are even communities for more niche professions, like the User Experience Professionals’ Association and Young Professionals in Transportation. Be sure to save time to get out and have fun – Boston has plenty of athletic and outdoor programs hosted by the Boston Athletic Association.

6. Honolulu, HI

Honolulu has the lowest unemployment rate on our list, which means it’s a great place to 20-somethings looking to start their careers as well as enjoy the benefits of living in Hawaii. Downtown Honolulu is always popular for its art galleries, restaurants and bars – be sure to hang out on First Friday when art galleries and restaurants host comedy, poetry and dace performances. Also stop by Kaka`ako, an up-and-coming neighborhood which has plenty of events on the weekends. Young professionals should join the Honolulu Professionals Foundation to network and find professional opportunities. Alumni of local universities like Hawaii Pacific University should be sure to follow their alumni network’s events.

7. Bridgeport – Stamford – Norwalk, CT

The Bridgeport – Stamford – Norfolk area may seem like a surprising entry on our list, but they are three of the largest cities in Connecticut. The metro area boasts a high median income and a lower cost of living and rent.  Downtown Bridgeport is experiencing a recent revitalization with new residents and businesses moving in. Be sure to stop by Baldwin Plaza and the Waterfront Park. Bridgeport also has the highest amount of entertainment options per 1,000 people, so there’s always something to do. Be sure to check out Bridgeport’s art scene with events hosted by Bridgeport Arts and Cultural Council. The University of Bridgeport is known for its diverse student population, and many alumni settle down in the city after college. The Alumni Club is a great source of information on social events and professional opportunities.

8. Los Angeles – Long Beach – Santa Ana, CA 

Los Angeles is a young city, with over 15% of the population aged between 20 and 29. Part of that is due to the numerous colleges in the area, as students settle down in the city after graduation. Santa Monica is a popular beach community with one of the most active bar scenes, while Venice Beach next door is more down-to-earth. Also be sure to check out the up-and-coming neighborhood of Silver Lake, home to artists and creative types. Graduates of local universities like USC, UCLA and Loyola Marymount University should be sure to join their alumni associations to find educational and professional opportunities. The cost of living and rent is much lower than the previous two Californian metropolitans, great for cost-conscious young professionals. LA has one of the highest proportions of residents with Hispanic origins, so its’ no wonder that ALPFA, the Latino association for business professionals, is booming.

9. Seattle – Tacoma – Bellevue, WA

The greater Seattle region has a low unemployment rate and a high percentage of residents aged 20 – 29. There is plenty of economic opportunities for young professionals with large Forbes 500 companies in town like Microsoft and Amazon. Belltown is a popular neighborhood, home to Seattle attractions like Pike Place Market and Olympic Sculpture Park as well as plenty of apartments, restaurants and live music venues. Lower Queen Anne, just north of Belltown, is also popular and a bit cheaper than Belltown. The Young Professionals of Seattle host a monthly happy hour event, great for meeting other 20-somethings. Those looking into the business and green sectors should join the Network for Business Innovation and Sustainability for educational and professional opportunities. Graduates of the University of Washington can find fun social activities, like summer barbeques, and professional events like workshops in the Alumni Association.

10. San Diego – Carlsbad – San Marcos, CA

San Diego and its surrounding neighborhoods rounds out our top 10 list as the fourth Californian metropolitan area. Sunny San Diego has a low cost of living and a fairly high salary, making it an attractive destination for young professionals looking for great weather and economic opportunities. Hot spots are Hillcrest, next to Balboa Park, with plenty of restaurants, cafes, clubs and boutiques. North Park is also popular and home to a local craft beer scene. San Diego has a thriving environmental industry with organizations like the San Diego Environmental Professionals. Engineers should join Engineers Without Borders to meet fellow engineers and help the world. Graduates of local colleges like UCSD and San Diego State should join their alumni organizations to find social events and professional opportunities. The University of San Diego even offers specific classes and certificates for professionals that those continuing their education.

 

 

Metropolitan Area Unemployment Rate Income in the past 12 Months (2012) Population of 20 – 29 year olds Median Rent per month Renter-Occupied Housing Units Cost of Living Index Entertainment per 1,000 people Overall Score
1 Washington D.C. – Arlington- Alexandria, VA 5.0% $61,861 14.4% $1391 36.4% 150.9 23.2 61.4
2 San Francisco – Oakland – Fremont, CA 6.2% $57,285 13.9% $1345 46.3% 168.3 23.0 58.9
3 New York City – Northern New Jersey – Long Island, NY/NJ 7.5% $50,856 14.1% $1187 48.9% 229.6 33.8 58.3
4 San Jose – Sunnyvale – Santa Clara, CA 6.6% $63,980 13.8% $1460 43.1% 157.0 5.9 55.7
5 Boston – Cambridge – Quincy, MA 5.7% $55,284 14.5% $1163 38.7% 142.8 37.2 55.6
6 Honolulu, HI 3.9% $42,747 15.7% $1419 45.2% 169.7 6.6 54.9
7 Bridgeport – Stamford – Norwalk, CT 7.3% $62,027 11.1% $1217 32.2% 148.4 47.0 52.9
8 Los Angeles – Long Beach – Santa Ana, CA 8.4% $42,527 15.3% $1214 50.8% 131.3 40.5 50.1
9 Seattle – Tacoma – Bellevue, WA 5.2% $52,708 14.8% $1037 40.0% 116.2 24.7 48.8
10 San Diego – Carlsbad – San Marcos, CA 7.0% $45,669 16.9% $1237 46.7% 134.4 8.9 47.7
11 Columbia, MO 4.4% $37,201 23.8% $807 32.7% 95.7 19.7 46.5
12 Miami – Fort Lauderdale – Pompano Beach, FL 7.2% $37,818 13.1% $1078 37.5% 108.1 72.2 46.3
13 Minneapolis – St. Paul – Bloomington, MN/WI 4.9% $49,535 13.9% $858 29.4% 110.8 44.4 45.8
14 Hartford – West Hartford – East Hartford, CT 7.8% $54,145 12.7% $962 32.6% 124.6 44.6 44.9
15 Albany – Schenectady – Troy, NY 6.5% $46,622 14.0% $860 34.0% 109.7 47.0 43.8
16 Portland – South Portland – Biddeford, ME 5.7% $44,849 11.4% $887 30.5% 110.2 61.7 43.6
17 Madison, WI 5.2% $45,599 17.0% $864 54.2% 109.8 15.2 43.5
18 Provo-Orem, UT 4.3% $41,769 20% $818 33.4% 95.9 16.1 43.0
19 New Haven, CT 8.1% $50,775 13.4% $1018 36.4% 131.0 26.2 41.9
20 Baltimore – Towson, MD 6.7% $51,909 14.1% $1073 33.2% 118.0 18.2 41.8

 

Methodology

The overall score for 20-somethings was made using the following measure:

  1. Economic opportunity: cities with the lowest unemployment rate and median income of an individuals for a year’s worth of work (Bureau of Labor Statistics and U.S. Census data)
  2. Demographics: cities with the largest population of people between the ages of 20 – 29 (U.S. Census data)
  3. Housing: cities with the lowest median rent per month and the highest percentage of renter-occupied housing units (U.S. Census data)
  4. Cost of Living Index: cities with the lowest cost of living (The Council for Community and Economic Research)
  5. Social life: cities with the most art, entertainment and recreation businesses per 1,000 residents (U.S. Census data)

We looked at the 103 most populous metropolitan areas in this analysis.

Photo Credit: City of Seattle by Ron Henry