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After a tough couple of years many people are looking to move somewhere else where the conditions are just right – open space, friendly people, and a shorter commute (if any commute at all). Many Americans are looking for something that isn’t too big or not too small and want to find the best small city in America.

If you’re tired of big cities like New York or LA and you don’t want to live on a farm, then there are many small cities across the U.S. that could be just right for you.

Pheabs crunched the numbers to find the best small cities across the USA. We looked at a number of things but the key factors were affordability, economic health, and the quality of life. We looked at over 1,200 cities that have less than 80,000 residents and compiled data from the U.S. Census to come up with the results.

 

How We Calculated the List

We looked at over 1,200 cities with less than 80,000 residents to come up with the top list of small cities across the U.S. Using data from the 2020 American Community Survey by the US Census Bureau we took into account the following three topics:

 

Economic Health – made up of % of residents who are unemployed, percent of families and people under the poverty line, and median household income. All three categories are weighted equally.

Quality of Life – Average hours worked, average commute, and how many residents walk to work.

Affordability – Median value of owner-occupied housing units, median monthly homeowner cost, and median rent price. All three categories are weighted equally.

Scoring System – Our internal scoring system takes all of the above factors into consideration to provide an overall score of a small city that is desirable to live in

Data – All data is from the American Community Survey 2020.

 

Key Findings

 

The Midwest Still Wins Big

Midwest still reigns supreme. People are still looking for low cost of living, reasonable commutes and economies that are built on local jobs in education, health care and technology. These are all reasons that have helped the Midwest perform at the top of the list.

 

University Cities are Always Popular

Many of the cities in the top 15 are home to universities. This keeps investment coming into the local area, promises a buzzing nightlife and provides an abundance of skilled labour.

 

A Short Commute to Work, Good Salary and Low House Prices

Our data showed that the average individual commutes on average just 15 minutes to work every day, with only 10% being able to walk to work. This is a far cry from the likes of New York or Los Angeles where average work commuting times are up to 90 minutes.

Our finalists enjoy a healthy household salary of around $50,000 per year, with average house prices at the $150,000 mark, making it convenient and practical to start a home from a young age.

 

 

The Top 15 Best Small Cities in America

 

gold ribbon1. Cedar Falls, Iowa

Home to nearly 41,000 people, Cedar Falls is a spectacular city. With ample job opportunities and a median household income of $51,921, residents can enjoy a good quality of life. Inhabitants work an average of 33.2 hours each week, leaving lots of time to enjoy the vibrant arts or cuisine spots and outdoor activities such as water trails. Workers aren’t affected by long commutes – on average it takes 13.2 minutes to get to work, and 11.5% travel by foot.

 

cedar falls iowa small city

gold ribbon2. Winona, Minnesota

Set along the Mississippi River, Winona is a picturesque city with breathtaking scenery and landscapes. With the lowest median rent in the whole study of $516, and short workweeks of 32.5 hours on average, it’s not surprising that Winona is second on the list. The city boasts a short average commute to work of less than 14 minutes and a low cost of living. Residents or visitors can also check out the historic sites, attend festivals or marvel at Winona’s stunning architecture and lovely green parks.

 

winona minnesota

gold ribbon3. Marion, Indiana

Marion, a cultural haven, is home to the Marion Philharmonic Orchestra, performing art venues such as the Marion Civic Theater and a community arts school. Low living costs means that residents can enjoy the wide range of entertainment available, especially since there is a low medium rent of $567 and a median home value of $64,000. The median monthly homeowner cost is only $744, which is lower than any other city in the study, and includes mortgage payments, taxes, insurance and utility bills.

 

marion indiana

 

gold ribbon4. Wooster, Ohio

Home to the Ohio Research and Development Center for Agriculture, the city is full of many young and motivated individuals who benefit from a good standard of living. With a median rent of $656 and a median household income of just under $40,000, the high offering of job opportunities and low cost of living make Wooster a convenient place to live. Around 12% of residents walk to work, with an average commute time of less than 18 minutes.

gold ribbon5. Moorhead, Minnesota

Located in the majestic Red River Valley, Moorhead is a delightful agricultural region that is also home to several businesses and manufacturing industries. The small city has affordable housing, with a median rent of $688, as well as a high median household income of $47,442.

The average workweek lasts 35.1 hours, with nearly 10% of residents walking to work each day and the average commute time is only around 15 minutes. Residents can therefore benefit from a healthy work-life balance and enjoy the wealth of nature parks in their spare time. Restaurants, community festivals or other recreational activities are also on offer in the city which has low crime rates.

gold ribbon6. Mankato, Minnesota

Mankato might be a small city, but its offering is huge. With less than a 15 minute average commute time to work and a low mean workweek of 33.2 hours, residents have lots of spare time to enjoy the city’s coffee shops, art galleries and theaters. Renowned parks and trails with rivers, lakes and forested areas offer breathtaking landscapes for hiking or biking.

The city boasts a low unemployment rate of 3.7% which is 2.3% less than the national average. This is followed by a low cost of living, with a median rent of $677.

gold ribbon7. Stevens Point, Wisconsin

Home to around 26,000 people, Stevens Point offers a beautiful community to reside in. The town is based in Portage County and boasts some of the best schools in the Badge State. With a low median rent of $647, anyone planning to buy a home will be looking at figures around $111,500.
The average workweek lasts 33.4 hours and 12.7% of the city’s residents walk to work, with the average commute time of 15.3 minutes. You will be spoilt for choice when it comes to recreational activities, with options to visit free art exhibitions, local bistros, breweries and neighborhood gardens.

gold ribbon8. Marquette, Michigan

Located by Lake Superior, Marquette is famous for its major port, known for primarily shipping iron ore. Whilst Marquette is one of the snowiest cities in America, the city is an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise as when the snow melts, residents can enjoy the parks, beaches, golf courses and waterfalls. Coupled with a low 33.1 hours worked per week on average, the mean commute time is extremely quick at 10.8 minutes and over 16% of residents walk to work.

gold ribbon9. Terre Haute, Indiana

A low cost of living is just one great feature that makes Terre Haute shine. With a low medium home value of $77,200 and a median monthly homeowner cost of $823, this large city is one of the most affordable. Multiple higher education institutions contribute to Terre Haute’s high level of employment and include Indiana State University, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology and Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana.

gold ribbon10. Helena, Montana

Helena offers the ultimate suburban charm, with both natural beauty and recreational activities, as well as lots of historical attractions. With a high median household income of $49,375 and a low poverty level rate of 14%, it seems fitting that Helena is one of the top 10 best small cities in the US. The city also boasts high employment rates coupled with a low average commute time of 13.4 minutes.

gold ribbon11. Searcy, Arkansas

Dedicated to a community spirit, Searcy offers a fantastic place for all. Whether you want to bird watch, visit festivals or one of the many well kept parks, Searcy has got you covered! With a relatively low median rent of $613 and a median monthly homeowner cost of $1,043, residents can use their extra cash to enjoy the abundance of shopping, dining, arts and entertainment that Searcy has to offer. A diverse job market that includes banking, health care, education and retail has provided the city with a strong economic basis.

gold ribbon12. La Crosse, Wisconsin

Located on the Mississippi River, in western Wisconsin, La Crosse is a charming waterside city. Nearly one-tenth of all residents walk to work, and the average commute time is less than 15 minutes. With an average workweek of 33.8 hours, those living in this delightful city have time to enjoy La Crosse’s best features, such as Grandad Bluff Park trails or a ride in a riverboat from Riverside Park. La Crosse prides itself in being a local technology and medical hub and is home to the University of Wisconsin–La Crosse, Viterbo University and Western Technical College.

gold ribbon13. Holland, Michigan

Conveniently located between Chicago and Detroit, Holland offers small town charm with a host of offerings for residents and visitors alike. Almost 7% of the city’s residents walk to work and the average commute time is just under 18 minutes. The median household income is high at $43,532 and the median home value is $111,300.

With a plethora of local shops, breweries and restaurants, as well as lots of historical sites, you can keep busy by visiting the famous Holland Museum, Bowl Mill or Nature Center to name a few. Better yet, ​​May’s Tulip Time Festival sees beautiful tulips blooming across the city.

gold ribbon14. Auburn, New York

Auburn offers an affordable and desirable place to live, work and play. The median home value is $95,600, compared with an average median value of $145,912 for the cities in the study. Located in the heart of the Finger Lakes Region of New York, the average commute to work takes less than 17 minutes. The governmental, educational, medical, manufacturing and retail industries provide lots of employment opportunities and alongside this, residents can relax and unwind whilst enjoying many neighborhood parks, recreational activities, city sponsored summer concerts and much more.

gold ribbon15. Normal, Illinois

Home to Illinois State University, Normal is a college town with lots to offer to all ages. With a high median household income of $53,053, the town radiates a suburban feel where most residents own their homes. Many young professionals reside in Normal, with an average workweek of just under 33 hours which gives them time to enjoy Illinois’s best parks, museums, art galleries, and the Uptown Shopping District.

Local agriculture provides the town with a solid economic foundation as Normal is located in Illinois’ richest corn and soybean producing area. You can enjoy a great quality of life in Normal, with bike-friendly roads and picturesque countryside.

Full List of Top 100 Small Cities in America

Rank City Median household income Residents at poverty level Average commute to work in minutes Residents who walk to work Mean hours worked per week Median rent ($ per month) Median home value Median selected monthly homeowner cost Score
1 Cedar Falls, Iowa $57,113 11.5% 13.4 11.7% 33.4 812.9 $184,250 $1,428 77.9
2 Winona, Minnesota $42,018 9.2% 14.1 9.4% 32.7 567.6 $153,010 $1,174 76.3
3 Marion, Indiana $34,870 6.7% 17 6.9% 34.7 623.7 $70,400 $818 75.8
4 Wooster, Ohio $42,924 11.7% 17.9 11.9% 35.2 721.6 $132,550 $1,244 75.7
5 Moorhead, Minnesota $52,186 9% 15.6 9.2% 35.3 756.8 $169,950 $1,433 75.6
6 Mankato, Minnesota $45,135 6.1% 15.1 6.3% 33.4 744.7 $161,810 $1,324 75.5
7 Stevens Point, Wisconsin $42,294 12.7% 15.5 12.9% 33.6 711.7 $122,650 $1,212 75.1
8 Marquette, Michigan $38,278 16.1% 11 16.3% 33.3 711.7 $168,520 $1,263 75
9 Terre Haute, Indiana $34,757 6.4% 17.8 6.6% 34.8 726 $84,920 $905 75
10 Helena, Montana $54,313 7.2% 13.6 7.4% 37.2 763.4 $220,110 $1,442 74.9
11 Searcy, Arkansas $43,515 5.4% 18.2 5.6% 36.2 674.3 $148,940 $1,147 74.9
12 La Crosse, Wisconsin $45,199 8.5% 15 8.7% 34 775.5 $140,800 $1,344 74.8
13 Holland, Michigan $47,885 6.7% 17.7 6.9% 35.2 865.7 $122,430 $1,210 74.5
14 Auburn, New York $40,359 6.1% 16.9 6.3% 36.5 686.4 $105,160 $1,247 74.2
15 Normal, Illinois $58,358 8.7% 17 8.9% 32.9 873.4 $177,320 $1,553 74
16 Laramie, Wyoming $41,191 10.8% 11.3 11% 36.2 785.4 $219,780 $1,494 74
17 Logan, Utah $39,347 7.2% 13.8 7.4% 33 715 $178,750 $1,217 73.6
18 Galesburg, Illinois $34,973 6.1% 15.7 6.3% 36.7 625.9 $77,770 $946 73
19 Manhattan, Kansas $46,763 10.1% 15.7 10.3% 34.9 932.8 $199,870 $1,546 72.9
20 Cedar City, Utah $45,933 7% 17 7.2% 35.3 678.7 $177,210 $1,385 72.7
21 Iowa City, Iowa $45,096 17.7% 16.9 17.9% 34.2 914.1 $201,740 $1,527 72.6
22 Wheeling, West Virginia $39,272 5.4% 18.3 5.6% 36.9 575.3 $103,950 $963 72.5
23 Kearney, Nebraska $52,502 4.5% 12.8 4.7% 37.5 762.3 $164,670 $1,425 72.2
24 Moscow, Idaho $36,743 20.5% 13.4 20.7% 33.4 711.7 $218,350 $1,394 72.1
25 Emporia, Kansas $39,439 5.4% 14.7 5.6% 35.7 616 $102,960 $1,101 71.8
26 Kingsville, Texas $39,261 6.6% 15.3 6.8% 35.3 776.6 $83,600 $1,252 71.8
27 Dubuque, Iowa $48,857 5.2% 16 5.4% 37.2 759 $143,880 $1,209 71.6
28 Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania $34,408 8.2% 19.7 8.4% 36.1 693 $86,460 $1,158 71.5
29 Ashland, Ohio $43,093 7.8% 19.7 8% 37.1 731.5 $107,030 $1,088 71.3
30 Bowling Green, Ohio $39,155 15% 15.9 15.2% 32.1 691.9 $163,020 $1,478 71.3
31 Salem, Virginia $48,595 5.2% 16.7 5.4% 36 895.4 $188,320 $1,356 71.1
32 Rock Island, Illinois $43,278 5.1% 18 5.3% 35.5 727.1 $108,020 $1,113 71.1
33 Walla Walla, Washington $44,767 9.4% 12.9 9.6% 36.1 801.9 $189,090 $1,429 71
34 Pocatello, Idaho $44,477 4.7% 16.8 4.9% 36.6 657.8 $146,190 $1,135 71
35 Mason City, Iowa $44,936 3.8% 14.6 4% 37.7 657.8 $111,210 $1,056 70.7
36 Aberdeen, South Dakota $52,011 2.7% 11.3 2.9% 39.8 651.2 $150,260 $1,157 70.6
37 Grand Forks, North Dakota $48,012 3.7% 12.8 3.9% 35.9 759 $174,900 $1,484 70.5
38 Nacogdoches, Texas $34,752 6.8% 16.1 7% 37.1 785.4 $134,090 $1,315 70.5
39 Bozeman, Montana $52,089 10.2% 13 10.4% 36.1 915.2 $266,530 $1,650 70.5
40 Missoula, Montana $45,451 8.3% 14.5 8.5% 35.3 822.8 $261,030 $1,586 70.3
41 Columbus, Nebraska $51,992 4.3% 12.7 4.5% 39.8 677.6 $127,160 $1,137 70.2
42 Rome, New York $45,298 5.7% 18.3 5.9% 37.5 759 $100,100 $1,311 70.2
43 Bowling Green, Kentucky $35,422 4.8% 16.1 5% 35.6 713.9 $153,230 $1,217 70.1
44 Sierra Vista, Arizona $63,844 8.1% 15.1 8.3% 40 1013.1 $202,290 $1,466 70
45 Superior, Wisconsin $43,187 4.5% 15.5 4.7% 35.6 740.3 $122,650 $1,211 69.9
46 Eau Claire, Wisconsin $46,982 4.1% 16.8 4.3% 35.5 784.3 $153,230 $1,308 69.9
47 St. Cloud, Minnesota $49,187 4.9% 18.2 5.1% 35 776.6 $156,970 $1,311 69.7
48 Jamestown, New York $34,276 5.8% 15.4 6% 37 661.1 $69,410 $985 69.4
49 Oshkosh, Wisconsin $45,642 3.4% 17 3.6% 35.9 721.6 $125,400 $1,240 69.3
50 Appleton, Wisconsin $57,630 3.6% 17.8 3.8% 37.7 712.8 $151,140 $1,401 69.1
51 Niagara Falls, New York $34,595 5.2% 18.5 5.4% 36.3 679.8 $73,370 $1,046 69
52 Lewiston, Idaho $47,806 3.4% 15.5 3.6% 37.7 690.8 $183,040 $1,278 68.7
53 Georgetown, Kentucky $65,498 3.3% 18.9 3.5% 39.4 800.8 $162,580 $1,258 68.6
54 De Pere, Wisconsin $64,606 4.9% 17.9 5.1% 37.7 914.1 $185,570 $1,507 68.4
55 Cape Girardeau, Missouri $41,941 4.2% 15 4.4% 36.2 715 $138,820 $1,188 68.4
56 Cumberland, Maryland $33,670 4.6% 16.1 4.8% 36.6 618.2 $98,340 $1,096 68.3
57 Altoona, Pennsylvania $38,819 3.3% 16.2 3.5% 36.4 609.4 $90,200 $969 68.3
58 Russellville, Arkansas $38,752 3.6% 13.4 3.8% 36.4 710.6 $134,090 $1,038 68.2
59 Newark, Delaware $57,981 16.1% 22 16.3% 31.8 1073.6 $296,340 $1,839 68.1
60 Prescott, Arizona $46,399 8.1% 17.8 8.3% 35.4 849.2 $281,050 $1,610 68.1
61 Owensboro, Kentucky $43,357 3.3% 15.1 3.5% 38.4 697.4 $115,170 $1,060 68
62 Newberg, Oregon $57,570 7.9% 23.4 8.1% 36.2 992.2 $219,450 $1,760 68
63 Manitowoc, Wisconsin $44,765 4% 15.7 4.2% 38.2 680.9 $117,260 $1,153 68
64 Bangor, Maine $37,202 5.1% 14.8 5.3% 36.7 800.8 $154,440 $1,477 68
65 Watertown, South Dakota $49,623 1.6% 14.1 1.8% 39.1 663.3 $150,040 $1,202 67.9
66 Norfolk, Nebraska $46,718 2.8% 13.8 3% 38.4 641.3 $128,920 $1,254 67.8
67 Florence, Alabama $40,357 1.6% 18.1 1.8% 35.3 611.6 $145,530 $1,191 67.8
68 Great Falls, Montana $46,736 4% 14.3 4.2% 37.9 668.8 $173,580 $1,225 67.7
69 West Fargo, North Dakota $73,422 0.5% 16.9 0.7% 39.8 782.1 $174,020 $1,499 67.7
70 Austin, Minnesota $44,294 2.4% 13.1 2.6% 37.1 739.2 $104,060 $1,081 67.7
71 Neenah, Wisconsin $56,911 2.1% 17.7 2.3% 37.8 739.2 $146,630 $1,383 67.7
72 Goshen, Indiana $44,821 5.2% 17.1 5.4% 38 821.7 $124,190 $1,026 67.6
73 Hazleton, Pennsylvania $32,585 5% 18.7 5.2% 37.7 708.4 $89,760 $1,019 67.4
74 Quincy, Illinois $42,686 3.5% 14.4 3.7% 38.1 652.3 $108,570 $1,058 67.3
75 Staunton, Virginia $41,966 4.9% 19.2 5.1% 37 828.3 $178,420 $1,225 67.3
76 Coeur d’Alene, Idaho $44,484 3.3% 17.9 3.5% 36.8 848.1 $179,080 $1,265 67.3
77 Marion, Iowa $71,040 0.8% 18.8 1% 38.7 706.2 $158,620 $1,432 67.2
78 Richland, Washington $75,708 2.8% 20 3% 37.6 959.2 $223,630 $1,564 67.2
79 McMinnville, Oregon $45,689 12.7% 19.2 12.9% 36.4 949.3 $200,640 $1,516 67.1
80 Bartlesville, Oklahoma $52,721 2.7% 15.2 2.9% 38.9 697.4 $123,420 $1,107 67.1
81 Burlington, Vermont $47,982 20.1% 17.3 20.3% 33.3 1085.7 $288,420 $1,910 67
82 Flagstaff, Arizona $51,955 10.9% 16 11.1% 35 1136.3 $283,030 $1,719 67
83 Biddeford, Maine $51,669 9.1% 22.6 9.3% 35.8 931.7 $217,030 $1,613 67
84 Keene, New Hampshire $55,648 6.5% 15.9 6.7% 35.6 1092.3 $205,370 $1,907 66.9
85 Rapid City, South Dakota $50,868 3.4% 15.4 3.6% 38.7 830.5 $170,720 $1,359 66.9
86 Northampton, Massachusetts $63,699 11.2% 21.3 11.4% 33.8 1015.3 $316,140 $2,015 66.9
87 Butte-Silver Bow, Montana $42,182 3.5% 15.7 3.7% 38.1 682 $142,010 $1,065 66.9
88 Jefferson City, Missouri $50,542 2.5% 15 2.7% 38.6 627 $150,810 $1,201 66.8
89 Corvallis, Oregon $43,431 10.6% 18.5 10.8% 32.4 907.5 $297,880 $1,747 66.8
90 Springville, Utah $64,166 1.1% 20.9 1.3% 36.2 984.5 $200,420 $1,494 66.8
91 Alliance, Ohio $35,492 4.7% 18.3 4.9% 36.2 678.7 $88,990 $965 66.7
92 Kaysville, Utah $92,538 1.3% 23.5 1.5% 35.7 702.9 $304,370 $1,858 66.6
93 Schenectady, New York $40,642 6.2% 23 6.4% 36.3 885.5 $123,420 $1,445 66.6
94 Idaho Falls, Idaho $48,615 2.1% 16.9 2.3% 37.5 732.6 $152,130 $1,255 66.6
95 Hays, Kansas $44,541 2.3% 11.2 2.5% 38.1 677.6 $168,740 $1,278 66.5
96 Burlington, Iowa $40,746 2.5% 14.9 2.7% 37.5 720.5 $94,820 $988 66.4
97 Ashland, Oregon $51,245 11.1% 17.2 11.3% 32.8 1015.3 $353,320 $1,812 66.3
98 Winter Haven, Florida $41,341 3.4% 21.6 3.6% 37.4 826.1 $106,260 $1,252 66.3
99 Findlay, Ohio $44,813 3.7% 15.3 3.9% 36.8 682 $131,560 $1,274 66.3
100 Marshalltown, Iowa $54,111 2.4% 15.7 2.6% 38.6 699.6 $112,970 $1,124 66.3