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September 9, 2017

What U.S. metros are the best for millennials?

To answer that question, Apartment List graded 75 top U.S. metros in three categories -- jobs, affordability and livability -- and ranked them, based on their scores.

Many metros score high in one or two categories, but few metros offer the ideal mix of a strong job market, affordable rent and home prices and high livability scores.

The best three metros for millennials are Pittsburgh, Provo, Utah, and Madison, Wis., which all earn A+ marks overall.

Largely, inland metros, primarily located in the Midwest and South, rank higher than coastal metros, offering affordable options for millennials, in addition to strong job markets and plentiful entertainment options.

Metros where millennials traditionally move -- San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York -- and where millennials have recently been moving -- Seattle, Austin, Tex., and Denver -- receive low scores for affordability. Despite strong job markets and high livability ratings, rents in these metros are too expensive for many millennials, and homeownership is far out of reach for most.


Making a move to a new city is both scary and exciting. A big move can mean leaving friends and family behind, starting a new career or experiencing an entirely new climate. In our recent survey of 24,000 renters, 64 percent of renters say they plan to settle down in a different city than where they currently live. Affordability concerns drive renters away from pricey coastal metros, while renters leave the Midwest and South in search of better job opportunities.

Millennials, aged 18 to 34, have higher rates of migration, compared to older adults, frequently relocating for better jobs, cheaper housing or a more exciting social scene. From 2007 to 2012, millennials made up 24 percent of the total U.S. population, but accounted for 43 percent of all movers in the United States.

In order to identify the best metros for millennials, Apartment List created an index to grade 75 top U.S. metros on jobs, affordability and livability. We calculate the score within each category based on how the metro compared to the others in the study, with overall grades and rankings determined by the average score of the three categories. The metros that top our list provide millennials a balance between a strong job market and reasonable rent and home prices, as well as a lively social scene.


Apartment List based our index on three equally-weighted categories important to millennials:

      1. Jobs: The strength of a metro’s job market is based on median wages1, wage growth2 and the millennial unemployment rate3
      1. Affordability: Affordability is calculated using Apartment List median rents4 and the share of households that can afford the median-priced home in their metro5
    1. **Livability: To measure livability, we use data from our annual survey of 24,000 renters. We look at how satisfied renters are with the following factors in their metro:**

        • Weather
        • Access to parks, community activities and nightlife
        • Opportunities to date and make friends
      • Safety and low crime rates

We give each metro a numerical score based on its ranking compared to other metros on each of the study’s three categories. We calculate final scores for each category by averaging of the scores for each factor within the category. Finally, we determine overall grades and rankings by calculating the average of the three categories: jobs, affordability and livability.

Top 10 Metros for Millennials

RankMetroOverall GradeJob ScoreAffordability ScoreLivability Score
1Pittsburgh, PAA+699453
2Provo, UTA+696284
3Madison, WIA+795081
4San Antonio, TXA+595785
5Columbus, OHA+557666
6Charleston, SCA+663496
7Omaha, NEA+698343
8Oklahoma City, OKA+719034
9Houston, TXA+765955
10Minneapolis, MNA675173

The top 10 metros for millennials are inland metros with relatively low rents, primarily located in the Midwest and South.

No. 1 Pittsburgh tops the list of the best metros for millennials, with high marks for jobs and affordability. The city earns higher than average livability scores, with renters particularly satisfied with the city’s low crime level and options to date and make friends. Devastated by deindustrialization and the collapse of the steel industry in the 1980s, Pittsburgh has been undergoing a revitalization. The city has moved away from factory jobs and today attracts young, educated workers. The number of Pittsburgh residents 25 years of age and older with a college degree grew by 37.3 percent between 2000 and 2013. Tech giants, such as Apple, Facebook, Google and Uber, have opened offices in Pittsburgh, and the city has a thriving food and art scene.

No. 2 Provo, Utah, takes the second spot on the list, with high scores for jobs, affordability and livability. Provo’s strong job growth and low millennial unemployment, combined with high livability scores, make the metro a great destination for millennials looking to relocate. Provo residents give the metro high marks for safety and dating options, and more affordable rents allow millennials to save up to purchase a home.

Other Midwest metros -- No. 3 Madison, No. 5 Columbus, Ohio, No. 7 Omaha, Neb., and No. 10 Minneapolis -- also make the top 10 metros for millennials.

No. 3 Madison, home to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, earns top scores for dating and entertainment and has reasonable rents and low millennial unemployment rates. No. 5 Columbus offers a stronger job market than most neighboring Midwest metros, more affordable prices than coastal metros and a lively restaurant, bar and music scene.

No. 10 Minneapolis, with relatively high wages compared to rents, had the highest share of millennial homebuyers in 2016. Midwest metros lose points for their weather, but for millennials willing to stick it out through cold winters, these metros offer a great option for settling down.

Southern metros including No. 4 San Antonio, No. 6 Charleston, S.C., No. 8 Oklahoma City and No. 9 Houston also make the grade of top 10 metros for millennials. Charleston ranks low for affordability, due to wages that fail to keep pace with rent and home prices, but has the highest livability score of the 75 metros studied.

Affordability concerns keep other pricey coastal metros such as Washington, D.C. (No. 16), San Jose (No. 29) and Boston (No. 31) out of the top 10 metros for millennials, despite strong job markets and plentiful entertainment.

Bottom 10 Metros for Millennials

RankMetroOverall GradeJob ScoreAffordability ScoreLivability Score
50Riverside, CAF201718
49Bridgeport, CTF482018
48Orlando, FLF213242
47North Port, FLF112560
46Sacramento, CAF392237
45Worcester, MAF513710
44Miami, FLF221364
43Providence, RIF572913
42Oxnard, CAD39558
41New Haven, CTD51439

The worst metros for millennials are located in the Northeast, California and Florida. Low livability scores in Northeast metros place them at the bottom of the list, while Florida metros earn low grades for their job markets. The California metros at the bottom of the list are not the most expensive metros in the state but rather metros with high housing costs relative to the strength of their job market.

Riverside, Calif., has the lowest score on the list of metros for millennials, with a high millennial unemployment rate and a low share of people able to afford a median-priced home. Additionally, Riverside renters give the metro low marks for safety, dating and parks and entertainment. Two other California metros -- Sacramento and Oxnard -- also score low due to a high cost-of-living, relative to wages.

Northeast metros located in Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts take four of the ten bottom spots, with weak job markets and low livability scores. Connecticut, including the Bridgeport and New Haven metros, is struggling to attract young workers. Corporations are leaving Connecticut, and the population has been shrinking for three straight years, with millennials leaving Connecticut for Boston and New York City.

Florida metros, including Orlando, North Port and Miami, score poorly in our report card, largely due to low median-wages and slow wage growth. Still, the Florida metros of Miami and North Port score high for livability, with high ratings for safety and plenty of entertainment options.

Strongest Millennial Job Markets in Coastal Metros

With low millennial unemployment, high wages and strong wage growth, the coastal metros of Washington, D.C., San Jose, Boston, Seattle and San Francisco earn the top job market scores. Salt Lake City (No. 7) earns the best job market score for a non-coastal metro, with a millennial unemployment rate of just 3.3 percent.

In the South, Texas metros and Oklahoma City earn strong marks, while metros in Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia and Florida struggle. Memphis, Tenn., has the weakest job market of the 75 metros studied, with high millennial unemployment, slow wage growth and relatively low wages. Another Tennessee metro, Knoxville, also scores low for its job market, while Nashville earns higher marks due to a low millennial unemployment rate.

Florida metros’ job markets earn low scores, with Miami, Orlando, Deltona, Palm Bay and North Port ranking at the bottom of the list of the best job markets for millennials, with low wages, slow wage growth and high millennial unemployment.

Affordability Scores Low in Coastal Metros

Five California metros -- San Jose, San Francisco, Oxnard, San Diego and Los Angeles -- rank in the top 10 most unaffordable metros. Honolulu takes the No. 3 spot, with some of the highest rents in the nation and the lowest share of the population that can afford the median-priced home. East Coast metros, such as Boston (No. 7), New York (No. 8) and Miami (No. 10), also face a major affordability crisis, with high home and rent prices. Metros that experienced rapid rent increases over the past decade, including Seattle and Denver, also score poorly in the affordability category.

The upstate New York metros of Syracuse, Buffalo and Rochester are some of the most affordable metros, offering median rents of around $900. In these metros, about three out of four people are able to afford the median-priced home. Midwest metros, such as Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Grand Rapids, Mich., also offer affordable options for millennial renters and homebuyers. In the South, Oklahoma City and Louisville, Ky., are the most affordable for millennials, with rents below the national average and reasonable home prices.

Highest Livability Scores in the Carolinas

Apartment List measures livability scores, using renter satisfaction scores from our national survey in four categories: weather; access to parks community activities and nightlife; opportunities to date and make friends; and safety and low crime rates. Charleston, S.C., Greenville, S.C., and Raleigh, N.C., are the most liveable metros, earning high scores in all four categories.

Charleston’s livability score is high enough to make the metro the sixth best for millennials, despite lower marks for affordability. With a stunning waterfront, plenty of history and a great restaurant scene, Charleston offers endless entertainment options for millennials.

Some metros with high livability scores, including Austin, Denver and San Diego, fail to make the list of the top metros for millennials, because of their lack of affordable housing options. For those who can afford the high rents, these metros offer great indoor and outdoor entertainment options for millennials and strong job markets.

Northeast metros earn the lowest marks for livability, with New Haven and Worcester, Mass., finishing last. Renters in these metros are particularly displeased with dating and entertainment options, and give the cold weather in these metros low marks. Despite doing well on our affordability index, upstate New York metros -- Rochester, Albany and Syracuse -- score low for livability.


While large coastal metros, from San Francisco to New York City, offer strong job markets and plenty of entertainment options, affordability concerns make them a poor choice for many millennials. Inland metros, including Pittsburgh, Provo and Madison, are some of the best locations for millennials. These metros offer millennials more than just affordable housing options. They also provide strong job markets and vibrant social scenes.

Many metros offer two elements important to millennials, but few can provide millennials the trifecta of good jobs, reasonable housing costs and high livability scores. For example, upstate New York metros, such as Syracuse and Buffalo, are very affordable, but earn low livability scores due to their cold weather and a lack of entertainment and dating options. Metros with booming job markets and high livability scores, including Washington, D.C., and Seattle, price out many millennials, with high rents and unattainable starter home prices.

While many millennials dream of moving to expensive, bustling metros, such as New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, it may be time to reconsider. Inland metros, such as Pittsburgh, Provo and Madison, provide strong job markets, affordable housing options and plenty of entertainment.

OverallMetropolitan AreaOverall GradeJob ScoreAffordability ScoreLivability Score
42Albany, NYB706218
57Albuquerque, NMC366126
49Allentown, PAB-376439
45Atlanta, GAB-305956
17Austin, TXA722287
37Baltimore, MDB754236
58Baton Rouge, LAC456411
55Birmingham, ALC365930
31Boston, MAB+851064
74Bridgeport, CTF482018

  1. 2016 median wages from the Bureau of Labor Statistics
  2. Change in median wages from 2005 to 2016 from Bureau of Labor Statistics data
  3. 2015 unemployment for individuals aged 22 to 34 from U.S. Census Bureau data
  4. Metro level rent estimates from August 2017
  5. Data from Harvard JCHS 2017 State of the Nation’s Housing Report, Table W-10

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Sydney is a Senior Research Associate at Apartment List, where she conducts research on economic trends in the housing market. Sydney previously worked on a U. Read More
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