The Best Places to Live in the U.S. if You're Young and Broke

Fresh out of college or high school, young people don't earn much. The average wage for a 20- to 24-year-old was about $28,000 last year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

After taxes, rent, bills and food, most people pulling in this kind of money would be broke at the end of the month. So where can the young and broke stretch their dollars the furthest?

To find the places most appealing to young people without a lot of disposable income, personal finance site Magnify Money asked 100 people aged 18-24 to rank the importance of 12 city features that factor into quality of life. Their responses were weighted according to which were the most important to the respondents.

The most important city features, according to the survey, included:

  • Median rent
  • Price of goods compared with the national average
  • Average commute times
  • Unemployment rate for 18- to 24-year-olds
  • State income tax
  • Statewide sales tax (local sales tax may be higher)
  • Percentage of the young adult population who live in poverty, by federal standards
  • Percentage of the population between the ages of 18 and 24
  • Percentage of young adults who have either completed or are pursuing a college degree
  • Percentage of the population who use public transportation
  • Percentage of young adults who moved from another state or another country in the previous year, and
  • Availability of cheap food, as expressed in the number of pizza parlors per 100,000 residents.

Magnify Money then crunched the data of 107 metro areas with populations over 500,000, based on what the respondents said they wanted most in a city, then scored each city from 0-100 to find the best places for young adults without much money.

1. Madison, Wis.
1. Madison, Wis.

1. Madison, Wis.

  • Overall score: 73.2/100
  • Median rent: $950
  • Youth unemployment: 6.6%
  • Pizza places per 100k residents: 4.8

Thanks to a relatively low cost of living (goods run almost 5% cheaper here than the rest of the country) and a fairly robust public transportation system, Madison is a top city for the young and broke.

The average commute is just over 21 minutes, and no other big city has more young people who either attended or graduated from college (70%), and the city ranks in the top 10 for lowest youth unemployment.

Photo: youngryand/Shutterstock

2. Grand Rapids, Mich.
2. Grand Rapids, Mich.

2. Grand Rapids, Mich.

  • Overall score: 72.4/100
  • Median rent: $812
  • Youth unemployment: 6.7%
  • Pizza places per 100k residents: 10.5

Grand Rapids is full of young, educated citizens, with over 10% of the population between the ages of 18 and 24, and 59% of those young people either college graduates or on their way.

Photo: Shutterstock

3. Dayton, Ohio
3. Dayton, Ohio

3. Dayton, Ohio

  • Overall score: 72.2
  • Median rent: $761
  • Youth unemployment: 11%
  • Pizza places per 100k residents: 18.9

It turns out that Ohio is a great place to be young and broke. Statewide, income and sales taxes are low, and Dayton's modest median rent and low cost of goods (over 4% cheaper than the national average) add to the city's affordability.

Photo: Shutterstock

4. Syracuse, N.Y.
4. Syracuse, N.Y.

4. Syracuse, N.Y.

  • Overall score: 71.4
  • Median rent: $790
  • Youth unemployment: 8.2%
  • Pizza places per 100k residents: 3.8

Rents in Syracuse are low; so is youth unemployment (8%), but a lot of young people live below the poverty line here (26%).

Above, people crowd the streets of Syracuse during the Taste of Syracuse. Photo: Tommy Liggett / Shutterstock

5. Durham, N.C.
5. Durham, N.C.

5. Durham, N.C.

  • Overall score: 70.9
  • Median rent: $947
  • Youth unemployment: 8.1%
  • Pizza places per 100k residents: 8.6

Durham-Chapel Hill is home to Duke University and University of North Carolina, which helps explain why over 11% of the population is between the ages of 18 and 24.

Durham is relatively affordable, with a middle-of-the-pack median rent of $947 and prices almost 4.5% lower than the national average.

Photo: Nagel Photography / Shutterstock

6. Des Moines, Iowa
6. Des Moines, Iowa

6. Des Moines, Iowa

  • Overall score: 70.8
  • Median rent: $851
  • Youth unemployment: 3.5%
  • Pizza places per 100k residents: 19.1

Photo: Nagel Photography / Shutterstock

7. Provo, Utah
7. Provo, Utah

7. Provo, Utah

  • Overall score: 70.6
  • Median rent: $939
  • Youth unemployment: 5.9%
  • Pizza places per 100k residents: 17.3

Photo: Creator- Javin Weaver/Wikipedia

8. Akron, Ohio
8. Akron, Ohio

8. Akron, Ohio

  • Overall score: 70.1
  • Median rent: $806
  • Youth unemployment: 8.3%
  • Pizza places per 100k residents: 13.2

Photo: Harold Stiver / Shutterstock

9. Chattanooga, Tenn.
9. Chattanooga, Tenn.

9. Chattanooga, Tenn.

  • Overall score: 68.6
  • Median rent: $765
  • Youth unemployment: 7.9%
  • Pizza places per 100k residents: 6

Photo: Shutterstock

10. Lexington, Ky.
10. Lexington, Ky.

10. Lexington, Ky.

  • Overall score: 67.8
  • Median rent: $801
  • Youth unemployment: 8.1%
  • Pizza places per 100k residents: 6.5

Photo: aceshot1 / Shutterstock

11. Cincinnati
11. Cincinnati

11. Cincinnati

  • Overall score: 67
  • Median rent: $793
  • Youth unemployment: 9.3%
  • Pizza places per 100k residents: 7.2

Photo: Shutterstock

12. Salt Lake City
12. Salt Lake City

12. Salt Lake City

  • Overall score: 66.8
  • Median rent: $1,026
  • Youth unemployment: 5.5%
  • Pizza places per 100k residents: 15.7

Photo: Shutterstock

13. Fayetteville, Ark.
13. Fayetteville, Ark.

13. Fayetteville, Ark.

  • Overall score: 66.8
  • Median rent: $764
  • Youth unemployment: 3.1%
  • Pizza places per 100k residents: 26

Photo: Brandonrush/Wikipedia

14. Columbus, Ohio
14. Columbus, Ohio

14. Columbus, Ohio

  • Overall score: 66.7
  • Median rent: $877
  • Youth unemployment: 7.9%
  • Pizza places per 100k residents: 13.5

Photo: Shutterstock

15. Albany, N.Y.
15. Albany, N.Y.

15. Albany, N.Y.

  • Overall score: 66.1
  • Median rent: $931
  • Youth unemployment: 11.6%
  • Pizza places per 100k residents: 18

Photo: Carol Bell / Shutterstock

16. Milwaukee
16. Milwaukee

16. Milwaukee

  • Overall score: 65.6
  • Median rent: $856
  • Youth unemployment: 7.9%
  • Pizza places per 100k residents: 11.4

Photo: f11 Photo/Shutterstock

17. Rochester, N.Y.
17. Rochester, N.Y.

17. Rochester, N.Y.

  • Overall score: 65.1
  • Median rent: $836
  • Youth unemployment: 9.9%
  • Pizza places per 100k residents: 2.5

Photo: Shutterstock

18. Greensboro, N.C.
18. Greensboro, N.C.

18. Greensboro, N.C.

  • Overall score: 65.1
  • Median rent: $764
  • Youth unemployment: 11.1%
  • Pizza places per 100k residents: 11.5

Photo: Shutterstock

19. Buffalo, N.Y.
19. Buffalo, N.Y.

19. Buffalo, N.Y.

  • Overall score: 64.5
  • Median rent: $749
  • Youth unemployment: 8.2%
  • Pizza places per 100k residents: 2.7

Photo: jiawangkun / Shutterstock

20. Oklahoma City
20. Oklahoma City

20. Oklahoma City

  • Overall score: 64
  • Median rent: $801
  • Youth unemployment: 9.8%
  • Pizza places per 100k residents: 13.2

Photo: Shutterstock

21. Ogden, Utah
21. Ogden, Utah

21. Ogden, Utah

  • Overall score: 64
  • Median rent: $888
  • Youth unemployment: 6.1%
  • Pizza places per 100k residents: 12.5

Photo: PureRadiancePhoto/Shutterstock

22. Omaha, Neb.
22. Omaha, Neb.

22. Omaha, Neb.

  • Overall score: 63.7
  • Median rent: $871
  • Youth unemployment: 8%
  • Pizza places per 100k residents: 11.4

Photo: Shutterstock

23. Toledo, Ohio
23. Toledo, Ohio

23. Toledo, Ohio

  • Overall score: 63.7
  • Median rent: $692
  • Youth unemployment: 15%
  • Pizza places per 100k residents: 9.3

Photo: Steve Lagreca / Shutterstock

24. Cleveland
24. Cleveland

24. Cleveland

  • Overall score: 63.4
  • Median rent: $776
  • Youth unemployment: 10.9%
  • Pizza places per 100k residents: 13.9

Photo: Shutterstock

25. Spokane, Wash.
25. Spokane, Wash.

25. Spokane, Wash.

  • Overall score: 63.3
  • Median rent: $839
  • Youth unemployment: 9.1%
  • Pizza places per 100k residents: 15.5

Photo: Shutterstock

26. El Paso, Texas
26. El Paso, Texas

26. El Paso, Texas

  • Overall score: 62.7
  • Median rent: $771
  • Youth unemployment: 9.8%
  • Pizza places per 100k residents: 5.9

Photo: Shutterstock

27. Springfield, Mass.
27. Springfield, Mass.

27. Springfield, Mass.

  • Overall score: 62.3
  • Median rent: $871
  • Youth unemployment: 11.4%
  • Pizza places per 100k residents: 25.1

Photo: John PhelanWikipedia

28. St. Louis, Mo.
28. St. Louis, Mo.

28. St. Louis, Mo.

  • Overall score: 62.2
  • Median rent: $861
  • Youth unemployment: 8.9%
  • Pizza places per 100k residents: 9.8

Photo: f11photo / Shutterstock

29. Hartford, Conn.
29. Hartford, Conn.

29. Hartford, Conn.

  • Overall score: 60.8
  • Median rent: $1,046
  • Youth unemployment: 8.7%
  • Pizza places per 100k residents: 13.8

Photo: Sean Pavone / Shutterstock

30. Colorado Springs, Colo.
30. Colorado Springs, Colo.

30. Colorado Springs, Colo.

  • Overall score: 60.6
  • Median rent: $1.057
  • Youth unemployment: 10.2%
  • Pizza places per 100k residents: 6.7

See the ranking of all 107 cities at Magnify Money.

Photo: Jeff Smith - Perspectives / Shutterstock

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