This article is by staff writer Megan Wells.

Millennials are weird. I should know; I am one. For years, our unorthodox lifestyle choices and money habits have been confusing to our elders. And perhaps the most unprecedented millennial-ish move we’ve been making is the avoidance of home ownership.

With home-buying at an all-time low according to the Census Bureau, the finger is easily pointed at us as a likely cause. But instead of leveling the typical charges that we’re lazy and stuck in wanderlust as the root of why we still live at home, perhaps it’s because we’re just trying to learn from the mistakes of the past.

Consider what we’ve witnessed: As millennials, we lived through the late ’90s and early ’00s, we’ve seen our parents go through tech bubbles bursting and the entire housing market crashing. We saw firsthand what can happen if you buy a home when you can’t afford it or if your job just suddenly vanishes.

A different tack

Maybe it’s fear that drives our lack of home ownership. But maybe some of us do want to settle down and start a family but finding a reliable and affordable hometown is part of the problem. So we looked at the issue from a different point of view.

We decided to research cities just beyond the major metro areas typically showcased to see if a smaller town would be a more realistic way to make a start. The good news is that the data suggests there are a lot of places that could offer a more secure lifestyle and still be within reach.

Our quest to find locations with job opportunities as well as reasonable home prices led us to this list of small (but still realistic) cities millennials should consider moving to.

Methodology

Get Rich Slowly analyzed several data sets to determine which cities could be deemed the best small cities for millennials:

  • Census population data to narrow down cities with a population between 50,000 – 150,000 that were at least 25 miles away from a major metro city center.

  • Census population data to find the amount of millennials living in a city as a percentage of total population.

  • Zillow data to find the median price of a single home family and the amount of change in market value from last year.

  • Bureau of Labor Statistics data to measure the percent of change in median wage data in the U.S. since 2012. Cities with the most positive percentage change over the last four years was deemed the winner.

  • Unemployment rate. As of June, the national unemployment rate was 5.5.

  • We used FBI crime information to find the crime rate per capita (taking into consideration both property and violent crime).

  • We partnered with Redfin and Walk Score for a measurement of the walkability of each city on the list. Scores are ranking from 0-100 (100 being the most walkable).


#18 (Tie) Waterbury, CT (near Hartford)

Downtown Hartford, CT

Downtown Hartford, CT

2014 median wage: $46,180

4-year average percent of wage change: .16%

Median home value: $104,300

Change in home value over last year: -2.2%

Unemployment rate: 6.8

Percentage of millennials to total population: 15.30%

Highest measured Walk Score: 89 out of 100

Crime per capita: 1334

In 2008, Waterbury was named one of the 100 best places to raise a family on the Today Show. Waterbury offers a diverse range of job opportunities — the largest employers of residents in Waterbury are government and health entities with a newspaper and AT&T sprinkled into the mix.

[Source: http://www.today.com/parents/100-best-places-raise-family-2D80554955]


#18 (Tie) Brentwood, CA (near Oakland/San Francisco)

Mount Diablo, Brentwood, CA

Mount Diablo, Brentwood, CA

2014 median wage: $44,100

4-year average percent of wage change: .73%

Median home value: $479,600

Change in home value over last year: +8.8%

Unemployment rate: 8.6

Percentage of millennials to total population: 15.55%

Highest measured Walk Score: 32 out of 100

Crime per capita: 489

Brentwood is a quick trip away from San Francisco and Oakland — so if you’re willing to commute, the job market is unbounded. Brentwood has offerings to keep restlessness at bay too. It’s home to many wineries that have been highlighted in the Bay Area wine scene. Also, in 2009, the city broke ground for a new civic center, which has quickly become a large money maker for the city. Non-profit organization Kaboom, nominated Brentwood as one of the most playful cities in the U.S. in 2015.

[Source: http://kaboom.org/playability/playful_city_usa/communities]


#17 Novi, MI (near Detroit)

Downtown Detroit, MI

Downtown Detroit, MI

2014 median wage: $47,920

4-year average percent of wage change: .60%

Median home value: $238,300

Change in home value over last year: +4.4%

Unemployment rate: 6.6

Percentage of millennials to total population: 17.21%

Highest measured Walk Score: 26 out of 100

Crime per capita: 568

Novi is located about 25 miles away from the center of Detroit, which helps to explain the relatively high unemployment rate. However, home value is increasing, which lends itself to a brighter future. There’s a large number of businesses within the area and a rapidly growing population. Apart from its school district, the two largest employers of Novi residents are Magna International, and Ryder — both transportation parts manufacturers. Money magazine ranked Novi as one of the top 100 best places to live in 2008.


#16 Pittsburg, CA (near Oakland/San Francisco)

Downtown Oakland, CA

Downtown Oakland, CA

2014 median wage: $49,410

4-year average percent of wage change: -.42%

Median home value: $316,200

Change in home value over last year: +12.8%

Unemployment rate: 5.9

Percentage of millennials to total population: 23.64%

Highest measured Walk Score: 14 out of 100

Crime per capita: 650

Pittsburg is close enough to the San Francisco and Oakland technology scene to be commutable, but far enough away to avoid the high price of living in the Silicon Valley. Public transportation connects residents of Pittsburg to San Francisco and Oakland with ease, making home ownership in Pittsburg more of an option. Recently, Pittsburg has been undergoing several redevelopment projects to promote easy access into the city of San Francisco and more pedestrian friendly neighborhoods, specifically along the waterfront.


#15 Casa Grande, AZ (near Phoenix)

Downtown scene, Phoenix, AZ

Downtown scene, Phoenix, AZ

2014 median wage: $42,540

4-year average percent of wage change: .23%

Median home value: $133,600

Change in home value over last year: -2.2%

Unemployment rate: 5.9

Percentage of millennials to total population: 18.63%

Highest measured Walk Score: 26 out of 100

Crime per capita: 612

Arizona may be generalized as a nice place to retire, but don’t dismiss it as a nice place to start out. The median home value in Casa Grande, AZ, is incredibly affordable; and with a positive wage change year over year and a low crime rate, Casa Grande looks very comfortable.


#14 Surprise, AZ (near Phoenix)

Phoenix, AZ, at dusk

Phoenix, AZ, at dusk

2014 median wage: $45,840

4-year average percent of wage change: 1.36%

Median home value: $194,000

Change in home value over last year: +4.0%

Unemployment rate: 5.4

Percentage of millennials to total population: 18.33%

Highest measured Walk Score: 22 out of 100

Crime per capita: 787

Census data shows that Surprise grew 281 percent between the 2000 and 2010 census population survey. This growth is great for residents because it generally means more job creation and a strong economy. This idea is supported by the year-over-year growth in median wages and the improvement to the housing market. The 22 out of 100 Walk Score is a slight disappointment, though. Being able to run errands by foot is always an added bonus.


#13 Lake Elsinore, CA (near Orange County and San Diego)

Lake Elsinore, CA

Lake Elsinore, CA

2014 median wage: $44,190

4-year average percent of wage change: .74%

Median home value: $260,400

Change in home value over last year: +5.8%

Unemployment rate: 6.5

Percentage of millennials to total population: 22.62%

Highest measured Walk Score: 24 out of 100

Crime per capita: 545

Once considered primarily a resort town, Lake Elsinore has grown into a medium-sized city with all the bells and whistles you’d want to settle down for good. The lake itself is one of the largest natural freshwater lakes in Southern California, which lends itself to cheap entertainment during peak seasons. The median home value is incredibly low for a Californian town, and the change in home value is enough to make a new property purchase enticing. The only negative is the relatively low median wage. Even with year-over-year wage growth, Lake Elsinore is one of the lowest-paying cities to make this list.


#12 Flower Mound, TX (near Dallas)

Cowboy boots

Cowboy boots - Texas style

2014 median wage: $49,060

4-year average percent of wage change: 1.16%

Median home value: $380,400

Change in home value over last year: +10.8%

Unemployment rate: 4

Percentage of millennials to total population: 10.78%

Highest measured Walk Score: 16 out of 100

Crime per capita: 609

Flower Mound’s close proximity to the Dallas-Fort Worth airport has attracted new businesses to open up shop in and around Flower Mound. Although the percentage of millennials to total population is relatively low compared to other cities on the list, Flower Mound has received high rankings in each of the other categories.

The most notable win for Flower Mound is the unemployment rate. Flower Mound and the number one city on our list (read on to find out who that is) are both tied at four for the lowest unemployment rates on this list.


#11 Homestead, FL (near Miami)

Speed boat near Miami

Speed boat near Miami

2014 median wage: $44,140

4-year average percent of wage change: 1.23%

Median home value: $107,200

Change in home value over last year: +7.8%

Unemployment rate: 5.3

Percentage of millennials to total population: 27.80%

Highest measured Walk Score: 35 out of 100

Crime per capita: 1,070

Homestead has notoriously been pegged as a rural town — but this farming area has seen some major changes over the last few years. Miami is about an hour away, and according to the Redfin agent, Jessica Johnson, construction has been on the rise in recent years.

The rural stereotype has not been entirely dissipated, though; but Johnson reiterates that affordability is a huge draw for buyers. You can get a brand new, large home for significantly less than [the homes] in Miami or the closer suburbs. For a farming town, the percentage of millennials to total population is shockingly high.


#9 (Tie) Castle Rock, CO (near Denver)

Learning to snowboard

Learning to snowboard

2014 median wage: $38,640

4-year average percent of wage change: .98%

Median home value: $302,200

Change in home value over last year: +16.6%

Unemployment rate: 4.3

Percentage of millennials to total population: 18.05%

Highest measured Walk Score: 10 out of 100

Crime per capita: 464

Gentrification typically makes housing prices increase, and it appears that Castle Rock is starting to see this scenario unfold. As the 17th most populous municipality in Colorado, Castle Rock has been reported as the center of burgeoning urbanization of the county. Although the housing market is still relatively affordable, it will be interesting to see if the 16.6% increase from last year becomes a pattern.


#9 (Tie) Waukegan, IL (near Chicago)

Chicago skyline with Navy Pier

Chicago skyline with Navy Pier

2014 median wage: $51,250

4-year average percent of wage change: 1.42%

Median home value: $89,400

Change in home value over last year: +3.6%

Unemployment rate: 6

Percentage of millennials to total population: 24.35%

Highest measured Walk Score: 45 out of 100

Crime per capita: 792

In 2003, Waukegan touted plans to redevelop their lakefront and downtown which will be a huge win for the community. Arts and culture are the up-and-coming scene for this area, which speaks to the high percentage of millennials to total population rate.

The median home value in Waukegan is notably low. In fact, it’s the only town on the list to have a median home value under $100,000, yet their median wage is higher than many cities on this list. More money, less toward a mortgage is always a good recipe.


#8 Lowell, MA (near Boston)

Sailboats in Boston Harbor

Sailboats in Boston Harbor

2014 median wage: $56,090

4-year average percent of wage change: .30%

Median home value: $189,700

Change in home value over last year: +3.5%

Unemployment rate: 4.5

Percentage of millennials to total population: 26.61%

Highest measured Walk Score: 70 out of 100

Crime per capita: 1,053

Home to a relatively large campus (UMass Lowell), the percentage of millennials to total population automatically sees a spike. Lowell hosts several festivals throughout the year celebrating diversity, art, and culture. With a relatively high median wage and a low unemployment rate, Lowell may be one of the most stable communities to make the list.


#7 Marysville, WA (near Seattle)

Rowing near Marysville, WA

Rowing near Marysville, WA

2014 median wage: $59,130

4-year average percent of wage change: 2.02%

Median home value: $271,100

Change in home value over last year: +8%

Unemployment rate: 4.5

Percentage of millennials to total population: 21.57%

Highest measured Walk Score: 23 out of 100

Crime per capita: 753

In 2004, Marysville voted to enhance the city. Everything from land use and community design to economic development was placed into the master plan. One of the most important aspects of the city’s makeover was to make its downtown more attractive for businesses and pedestrians. It looks like something is working. Marysville experienced the most wage growth over the last four years and currently the highest median wage to make the list.

In addition, Redfin agent Trina Torkelson states, “When it comes to affordability, Marysville cannot be beat. The further north you travel from Seattle, the more home you can get for your money. There is a lot of new construction in Marysville to keep up with demand and many of the original homes here have incredible views of the Valley. You can still buy a spacious home here for under $300,000.”


#6 St. Peters, MO (near St. Louis)

St. Louis skyline at dusk

St. Louis skyline at dusk

2014 median wage: $46,290

4-year average percent of wage change : 1.58%

Median home value: $153,900

Change in home value over last year: +7.8%

Unemployment rate: 5.6

Percentage of millennials to total population: 20.10%

Highest measured Walk Score: 29

Crime per capita: 477

As with many of the cities to make our list, St. Peters recently underwent community development to make the town more beneficial for its residents. The “rec-plex” was expanded in 2007 at a price tag of $18.5 million which was an incredible makeover for the town. Money magazine voted St. Peters as one of the best places to live in the U.S. back in 2008; and with the positive year-over-year change in wages and home value, it looks like St. Peters has only become more desirable since then.


#5 Haverhill, MA (near Boston)

Statue of George Washington in Boston

Statue of George Washington in Boston

2014 median wage: $46,820

4-year average percent of wage change: .94%

Median home value: $248,300

Change in home value over last year: +4.2%

Unemployment rate: 4.5

Percentage of millennials to total population: 20.46%

Highest measured Walk Score: 42

Crime per capita: 555

Apparently George Washington visited Haverhill in the 1790’s and announced it to be one of the most beautiful villages — so if that’s not an inclination into how fantastic Haverhill is, I’m not sure what is.

Haverhill is 1 percent below the national average for unemployment, and the crime rate per capita is low. Redfin agent David Pollack told us, “Haverhill, which sits on the Merrimack River right by New Hampshire, is a very affordable community in the greater Boston area. The city has converted its old downtown factories into lofts and condos and put up a new boardwalk. Residents can also find nice restaurants and local breweries while still enjoying easy access to area beaches, hiking and biking trails. With a commuter train downtown and the interstate nearby, residents can get into Boston with ease.


#4 New Brunswick, NJ (near New York City)

Brooklyn skyline

Brooklyn skyline

2014 median wage: $54,210

4-year average percent of wage change: 1.50%

Median home value: $249,100

Change in home value over last year: -.6%

Unemployment rate: 5.3

Percentage of millennials to total population: 46.13%

Highest measured Walk Score: 73

Crime per capita: 547

Home to Rutgers University, and a medical mecca, New Brunswick has the ideal balance between young and professional scenes. Beyond the college town vibe, New Brunswick also has a highly concentrated medical area: Saint Peter’s University Hospital, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, and the Bristol-Myers Squibb Children’s Hospital all have campuses in New Brunswick. The size of each of these institutes provides a plethora of jobs for qualified candidates. Conglomerate Johnson and Johnson is also headquartered in New Brunswick which additionally adds to the local economy.

Redfin agent Jackie Wilfinger told us, “Rental housing abounds, given the large student population [from Rutgers], however, prospective homeowners are drawn to New Brunswick’s relative affordability, walkability and access to transit. It is a 45-minute train ride into New York City, making it a great option for commuters.”


#2 (Tie) Hempstead, NY (near New York City)

Statue of Liberty, New York skyline

Statue of Liberty, New York skyline

2014 median wage: $39,940

4-year average percent of wage change: 1.64%

Median home value: $279,300

Change in home value over last year: +1.6%

Unemployment rate: 5.3

Percentage of millennials to total population: 26.27%

Highest measured Walk Score: 71

Crime per capita: 394

Although the housing market hasn’t been booming in Hempstead lately, the stability and affordability of the city makes it highly desirable for millennials just starting out. Major airlines Lufthansa, and Swiss International Airlines have headquarters based near Hempstead, which have become major employers (behind the town of Hempstead) to its residents. The crime rate per capita is lower in Hempstead than in any other city to make our list. Its close proximity to Brooklyn and New York also open up additional opportunities to Hempstead’s residents.


#2 (Tie) Everett, WA (near Seattle)

Boeing 747 under construction

Boeing 747 under construction

2014 median wage: $59,130

4-year average percent of wage change: 2.01%

Median home value: $237,000

Change in home value over last year: +10.4%

Unemployment rate: 4.5

Percentage of millennials to total population: 26.15%

Highest measured Walk Score: 65

Crime per capita: 1,890

In 2002, Everett won the “All-American City Award” — an honor given by the National Civic League annually to ten communities. Everett has the second-highest median wage in 2014 behind Marysville, the other Washington city to make this list.

Redfin agent Julia Buckley gave us insight into Everett, “One big draw to Everett, aside from its affordability, is the revitalization of downtown. Everett’s comprehensive plan has included rezoning, streetscape improvements, and revamping historic overlay standards which have contributed to a more urban feel. Millennials crave walkability and convenience, and Everett has no shortage of coffee shops, farmers markets, bars, and great jobs.”


#1 Denton, TX (near Dallas)

Dallas, TX, skyline

Dallas, TX, skyline

2014 median wage: $49,060

4-year average percent of wage change: 1.16%

Median home value: $127,300

Change in home value over last year: +11.3%

Unemployment rate: 4

Percentage of millennials to total population: 37.26%

Highest measured Walk Score: 57

Crime per capita: 881

The downtown square in Denton is noted as the cultural and political hub of the city. In fact, Redfin agent Connie Durnal states that “Denton is a quintessential college town that is known for its local music scene. The historic Town Square has a variety of shops and restaurants and high Walk Scores. Homes in Denton are more affordable than many of the suburbs that are closer in to Dallas.”

The positive change in home value, positive change in four-year wage growth, and low overall median home values makes Denton an ideal place for millennials. Tied with nearby town, Flower Mound, these two Texas cities clench the lowest unemployment spot on our list of best cities for millennials. Denton also claims one of the top spots for the percentage of millennials to total populations.

Have you been searching for an affordable place to settle down? Did you know about these cities? How do they compare to where you live now, and would you consider moving to one of them?

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