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10 Cities That Embody the American Dream

Bismarck, N.D.
Unemployment rate: 2.9%
Walk score: 48
P/I ratio: 1.95
Education Quality Index score: 75.04
Nothing against Bismarck and its national-low unemployment rate, but when your state stacks the deck in businesses' favor, it makes it pretty easy to hold the line at 3% unemployment as North Dakota has.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce considers North Dakota the ninth-friendliest state for businesses in the nation thanks largely to how it's handled the sale of its natural resources. The state's voters opted to dump oil-extraction revenue into a Legacy Fund similar to Alaska's that not only bankrolls road and other infrastructure improvement in drilling areas, but eases property taxes as well.

That's on top of the 18% cut in individual state income tax and 20% cut in corporate tax during the last year. You'd think Bismarck was a fairly expensive place before those cuts went into effect, but with a median home price of $132,400 and a median family income of $68,000, it's the second-most affordable on this list.

In fact, new Bismarck residents can take the money they're saving and put it into the state-run Bank of North Dakota -- the only one of its kind in the 50 states -- that has no ties to the federal reserve and insures its money with the state's general fund instead of FDIC. The American Dream isn't enough for North Dakota, which feels its better off with the North Dakota American Dream.

Naturally, this reaps huge benefits for the state capital in Bismarck, where the state employs 4,300 of the city's 61,000 residents. The health care system and the city's five colleges provide another large chunk of the workforce, but energy company MDU Resources Group (MDU - Get Report) headquarters has been a good corporate citizen since North Dakota started producing power to spare.

All this good fortune has helped give Bismarck residents a great city with 2,300 acres of parkland, including the Dakota Zoo and an amusement park, expanding retail options based largely around malls and an NBA Developmental League franchise in the Dakota Wizards. It's still the second-least walkable city on our list and 48% of its residents need cars, but with all of that hiking and mall shopping we're pretty sure residents believe they're doing enough walking as it is.

The schools aren't exactly a weakness, either. The elementary schools rank near-perfect and the middle schools are exemplary. The high schools become slightly more problematic, but Bismarck offers a strong selection of private Catholic, Adventist and Christian schools to pick up the slack.
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