For twentysomethings, finding the right place to live can be a challenge. The best cities need to offer a combination of employment opportunities and social activities, of course, but they also need to be affordable. After all, the typical college graduate with up to three years of work experience makes $41,900, and that money must go a long way.
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To assemble our list, we screened for cities with high starting salaries for college grads, using data from Payscale.com. We also looked for a cost-of-living score near or below 100, the national average, as well as affordable monthly rents. (The median U.S. rent, including utilities, is $817.) Finally, we searched for cities where the percentage of residents ages 20 to 29 is near or above the average of 13.8%.
With these parameters in mind, we found great cities for young adults. These aren’t the cheapest places to live but rather cities that offer solid value: low cost of living and reasonable rents relative to paycheck size. There are also plenty of things to do that appeal to the twentysomething crowd and a healthy concentration of twentysomethings to do them with.
Here are five of the top cities:
|Seattle houses some major employers while staying affordable.
Photo: Daniel Schwen
Residents ages 20-29:14.5%
Monthly rent: $942
Starting salary: $46,700
San Francisco and Silicon Valley can claim many of the biggest names in tech, but travel 14 hours north to find high-paying IT, aerospace and green energy jobs at a fraction of the Bay area living cost. Amazon, which has its headquarters in Seattle, began a hiring spree in March. Boeing, Microsoft and the University of Washington also employ thousands in the region. In the off-hours, Seattleites have their pick of theaters, coffee shops and concert halls. For all that, the rent and groceries remain reasonable: Seattle’s cost of living is 30% lower than San Francisco’s and 23% less than San Jose’s.
Top selling point: Like Silicon Valley, but with better coffee.
Biggest drawback: Cloudy 226 days a year.
|LSU football is a big draw in Baton Rouge.
Baton Rouge, La.
Metro population: 802,484
Residents ages 20-29:16.3%
Cost-of-living score: 94.1
Monthly rent: $714
Starting salary: $41,400
Consider Baton Rouge the cheaper and less-congested cousin city of Houston. It boasts thousands of good-paying energy and petrochemical jobs, yet rents are rock-bottom and traffic is tolerable. A major hub of the U.S. oil industry, Baton Rouge has weathered the down economy better than many cities, and it continues to add workers at companies such as ExxonMobil and Dow Chemical, as well as in health care and information technology. While cultural offerings don’t compare to those of a larger metropolis, tailgating at LSU football games and exploring Cajun music and cuisine have their charms. Many attractions along the Gulf Coast are within easy day-trip range.
Top selling point: All the hype of Houston without the traffic.
Biggest drawback: It’s not New Orleans.
|The culture, paychecks and expenses are all big in New York.
Photo: Nils Olander
New York, N.Y.
Residents ages 20-29:14.1%
Cost-of-living score:220.7 (Manhattan only)
Monthly rent: $1,072
Starting salary: $47,500
Yes, Manhattan can be ridiculously expensive, but you can’t deny that “The City,” as New Yawkers call it, has inspired more dreams than any other in the world. About 3.7 million people work in the five boroughs, employed in every imaginable industry. Those jobs — as well as New York’s unparalleled nightlife, arts and culture — have drawn young hopefuls for generations. College grads with up to three years’ experience earn $5,600 more than the national average annual salary. While New York’s amenities come at a cost, you can dampen the expense, especially for rent, by moving to up-and-coming outer neighborhoods. Living costs are 17% lower in Brooklyn than in Manhattan, for example, and 31 percent lower in Queens.
Top selling point: It never sleeps.
Biggest drawback: The cost of living will keep you up at night.
|Unlike other major cities, Chicago added jobs last year.
Photo: David Bjorgen
Residents ages 20-29:14.0%
Monthly rent: $882
Starting salary: $44,300
Chicago added nearly 17,000 jobs last year, gaining jobs even as other big cities such as New Yorkand Los Angeles lost them. That’s not the only advantage Chicago holds over its coastal peers. While salaries skew high, as in similar metropolises, living costs remain reasonable by comparison. Rent, for example, runs about 20% less in the Windy City than in the Big Apple. Twentysomethings can expect to earn above-average wages at companies such as AT&T, United Continental and JPMorgan Chase, some of the city’s largest private employers. Then they can put that extra take-home pay toward Chicago’s storied nightlife and culture, the plethora of professional sports teams and arguably the country’s best improv.
Top selling point: Better job growth (and pizza) than New York or Los Angeles.
Biggest drawback: It really is windy.
|Colorado Springs is ideal for an outdoor enthusiast.
Colorado Springs, Colo.
Metro population: 645,613
Residents ages 20-29:15.1%
Cost-of-living score: 91.8
Monthly rent: $802
Starting salary: $42,300
For young adults, Colorado Springs offers a tempting combination of good starting salaries in a stable defense- and tech-based economy, plus low rents and living costs. Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin and Atmel rank among the city’s top employers, and large finance, defense and technology companies announced plans to expand this year. Located in the Rocky Mountains, 70 miles south of Denver, Colorado Springs is already well-known to outdoorsy types. The 14,110-foot Pike’s Peak sits directly above town, and the city’s bicycle-friendly “complete streets” policy makes it ideal for urban cyclists. Plus, groceries and other everyday expenses are less here than in any city on our list.
Biggest drawback: Urbanites need not apply.