When it comes to jobs, the Midwest has an ample crop of opportunities. The unemployment rate in America’s heartland has consistently been lower than the country as a whole. In March, the jobless rate was 5%, the lowest for all regions and 0.5% below the national unemployment rate.
For college graduates and others who want to move to the Midwest or stay there, deciding where to live can be difficult, since it’s made up of 10 states and 124 metro regions. To help narrow the search, NerdWallet crunched the numbers to find the best places for jobs in the Midwest.
Millennial population. We looked at the percentage of residents who are millennials and the population growth of that demographic from 2010 to 2013.
Average income. Millennials are the 18-34 age group, but because of data limitations, we examined the average income for residents ages 25-44 as a proxy for the earning potential for young workers.
Unemployment. We looked at unemployment rates of residents ages 20 to 44, which is an indicator of the economic opportunities for young workers.
All data are from the U.S. Census Bureau. Places with less than 20,000 residents in 2013 weren’t included.
Best places for millennial job seekers in the Midwest
1. West Fargo, North Dakota
With an unemployment rate of 0.95% for residents 20 to 44 years old, West Fargo has attracted a younger workforce. The city has seen its millennial population grow 18% from 2010 to 2013. The big employers here include Sanford Fargo Medical Center and North Dakota State University.
2. Minot, North Dakota
Minot has seen its traditionally strong trade economy boosted even further by the boom in shale oil, although production has started to decline amid falling oil prices. The city of 44,000 added 2,000 millennial residents from 2010 to 2013, and the unemployment rate is 3.3% for residents ages 20-44. While the Air Force base is still the city’s largest employer, high salaries for oil workers in the Williston Basin have been a big draw for young workers.
3. Ankeny, Iowa
NerdWallet previously ranked Ankeny as the best town in Iowa for young families. Turns out it’s a good place for millennial job seekers, too. The community of 49,000 has seen its millennial population grow 25% from 2010 to 2013, and that demographic now makes up 27.4% of residents. The average income for residents ages 25-44 is $84,000. Millennials seeking to network may want to check out the chamber of commerce’s Ankeny Young Professionals group.
4. Royal Oak, Michigan
It’s one of the largest cities on our list, with an unemployment rate of 3.7% for its young adult residents, who earn an average income of $80,000. The city is known for its bustling nightlife and tourist attractions, including the Detroit Zoo. Royal Oak was also the setting for the sitcom “Home Improvement.” Major employers include William Beaumont Hospital and automotive part manufacturers Flex-N-Gate and HHI FormTech.
5. Moorhead, Minnesota
Located in the same metropolitan region as West Fargo, Moorhead has seen a similar boom in its economy and a higher increase in its millennial population, which grew 20.8% from 2010 to 2013. The agriculture industry remains a large employer in the area, in addition to several colleges and universities.
6. Kearney, Nebraska
The presence of the University of Nebraska at Kearney and the city’s central location on Interstate 80 has led to a diverse and flourishing economy. Major employers include software developer Xpanxion and online clothing retailer Buckle.com. The unemployment rate is 3.1% among residents 20 to 44 years old, and the population of millennials has grown 7.9% from 2010 to 2013.
7. Okemos, Michigan
This census-designated place, which takes pride in its quality of life, has been highlighted in the past as a destination for young professionals. Millennials are 27% of the population in Okemos, which is 4 miles from Michigan State University.
8. Clarksville, Indiana
Clarksville’s location on the banks of the Ohio River and its proximity to Louisville, Kentucky, makes it convenient for businesses that need to ship products. The town of 21,700 has about 600 businesses, and an unemployment rate of 2.8% for residents age 20-44 — the availability of jobs has helped the millennial population grow 19.1%. The town was named by Movoto, a real estate blog, as a dangerous area because of its crime rate, although Clarksville officials questioned the rankings, according to news reports.
9. Kent, Ohio
Known as the location of Kent State University, this city should also be regarded for its attractive employment options for young residents. The quality of the workforce has attracted many large companies to the area, including Davey Tree, Ametek and Smithers-Oasis. A recent $100 million redevelopment project has increased the commercial viability and quality of life for residents.
10. Normal, Illinois
Home to Illinois State University, Normal not only has a high ratio of students, it also has made a concerted effort to retain graduates. Redevelopment in uptown Normal, along with increased accessibility for bicyclists, has made the area a hot spot for young professionals. Normal has also developed a “next professionals” program, which helps residents 40 and younger network and develop their careers.
Millennial population. Millennial population as a percentage of the total population was 25% of the total score. Millennial population growth from 2010 to 2013 is 25% of the score.
Millennial unemployment. We looked at the unemployment rate among ages 20-44 as a proxy for millennials, who are 18-34. This was 25% of the score.
Average income. The income of residents ages 25-44 was used as a proxy for millennial income in selected cities. This was 25% of the score.
Our study examined 443 cities in the Midwest, as defined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Only places with populations over 20,000 were included. All data are from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.
Downtown Royal Oak, Michigan, image via iStock.