Top 10 state capitals to live in

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In addition to serving as the seat of the state Supreme Court, the state legislature, and the governor’s office, state capitals can also be ideal places to live.

Some state capitals are more populous and bustling urban areas while others are sleepy cities where government is the largest industry. SmartAsset crushed the numbers in all 50 to determine the best state capitals to live in.

This is SmartAsset’s eighth study on the best state capitals to live in. Check out the 2020 version here.

To do this, we examined 10 metrics covering three categories: Employment and Education. Affordability. and live. For details on our data sources and how we bring all the information together to create our final rankings, read the Data and Methodology section at the end.

Here are the best state capitals to live in.

1. Madison, Wisconsin

Madison, Wisconsin
Sean Pavone /

Madison, Wisconsin, was named the Most Liveable State Capital of the Year.

It ranks first in the living category, with the fifth shortest average workweek (36.7 hours) and the tenth in terms of real estate crimes (2,474 incidents per 100,000 residents).

Madison also ranks fourth in our Employment and Education category, with the ninth best June 2021 unemployment rate (3.5%) and high school graduation rate (88.64%).

2. Pierre, dam

Pierre, South Dakota from above
Jacob Boomsma /

Pierre, South Dakota, is the second most affordable state capital to live in, according to the study.

The estimated cost of living per capita is $22,087 after taxes, the third lowest for this metric overall.

Pierre is also ranked seventh in terms of income after housing costs, with a total of $52,280. Job security in Pierre is relatively strong, with the city ranking second overall in terms of unemployment in June 2021, 2.6%.

3. Lincoln, Nebraska

Lincoln, Nebraska State Capitol
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Lincoln, Nebraska, is the sixth best-ranked capital city overall in the Employment and Education category.

It has the lowest June 2021 unemployment rate in the study (2.5%). It ranked mid-study for the other two scales in this category, including the 22nd best for its high school graduation rate of 83.17%.

Lincoln’s second best measure is ranked 13th in the overall property crime ranking.

4. Concord, New Hampshire

New Hampshire government
Jeffrey M. Frank /

Concord, New Hampshire, is the highest ranked eastern capital on this list, and ranks first overall in the Employment and Education category.

This includes a five-year change in income of 23.14% (the 11th highest in the study) and a June 2021 unemployment rate of 2.9% (the third lowest). Crime is relatively low in Concord, at the second lowest overall.

5. Helena, M.T.

Montana Capitol
Katherine Wells /

Helena, Montana, is another capital with great employment and education prospects, ranking fifth in this category.

The June 2021 unemployment rate was 3.4%, the seventh lowest overall level. Income has risen 21.89% over the past five years, the 15th highest jump we’ve seen on this metric.

Helena is also a good city for work-life balance, with an average of 36.8 hours worked per week, the sixth lowest in this study.

6. Frankfurt, Kentucky

Frankfurt Kentucky
Real Window Creative /

Frankfurt, Kentucky, ranks fourth in the affordability measure category, buoyed by an estimated cost of living of just $21,915, the second lowest we observe of all 50 state capitals.

Frankfurt has a relatively low down payment-to-income ratio (0.52). Frankfurt also has the ninth highest change in income over the past five years, up 23.61%.

7. Boise, Idaho

Boise, Idaho
Charles Knowles /

Boise, Idaho ranks eighth in the Employment and Education category. That includes the fourth lowest unemployment rate in this study, at 3.0% for June 2021.

The city’s income has increased by 22% over the past five years, the 14th highest jump observed overall. Boise’s cost of living is $23,123, the ninth lowest in the study.

8. Montpellier, VT

Montpellier, Vermont
Nagel Photography /

Montpellier, Vermont, is the second of New England’s two capital cities to rank 10th in the top 10. It ranked in the top twenty in the study for all three categories.

The unemployment rate in Montpellier was 3.2% in June 2021, the fifth lowest for this measure overall.

Montpellier also has the lowest violent crime rate in the study, around 149 per 100,000 residents. There are also 2,315 property crime incidents per 100,000 residents, the eighth lowest of all 50 cities.

9. Raleigh, North Carolina

Raleigh, North Carolina
Sean Pavone /

Raleigh, North Carolina, is the only capital in the southeast in the top ten, ranking third in the Employment and Education category.

This includes the 10th best ranking for both the strong five-year change in income (23.24%) and high school graduation rate (88.24%).

The city also ranks third on both crime metrics, with 256 violent crime incidents and 1,783 property crime incidents per 100,000 residents.

10. Des Moines, IA

Des Moines, Iowa
f11photo /

The last city in the top ten is Des Moines, Iowa, which ranks fourth in the affordability category.

This is because the city has the sixth-lowest down payment-to-income ratio (only 0.50) and 11-lowest cost of living per capita (about $23,212).

Additionally, Des Moines has the sixth highest overall high school graduation rate (89.01%).

Data and methodology

Man, analyzing data on a laptop
fizkes /

To find the best state capitals to live in, we considered metrics in three different categories:

Employment and Education

  • Unemployment rate. The data is from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics and is for June 2021.
  • income growth. Data is from the 2014 and 2019 5-year American Community Survey of the US Census Bureau.
  • High school graduation rate. Data is from 2021 County Health Rankings.


  • Income after housing costs. Data is from the 2019 5-Year American Community Survey.
  • The ratio of down payment to income. Data is from the 2019 5-Year American Community Survey.
  • Estimated annual cost of living. The data is for the individual and is from the MIT Cost of Living Calculator.


  • Dining and entertainment. Data is from the 2019 District Business Patterns Survey.
  • Working hours per week. Data is from the 2019 5-Year American Community Survey.
  • The violent crime rate per 100,000 inhabitants. The data is from the FBI and is for 2019.
  • Property crime rate per 100,000 residents. The data is from the FBI and is for 2019.

First, we ranked each state’s capital on each scale. Then we found the average ranking for each city in each of the three categories and ranked them based on that average. Unemployment received double weight, while each of the crime measures received half weight. Each city had an index score within each category, with the first city receiving a score of 100 and the bottom city receiving a score of 0. From there, we found the average index score for each city and formed a final ranking based on that.

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