Best cities for young professionals in 2022

Are some cities better for older Gen Z and younger Millennial workers than others? We crunched the data to find the best cities for young professionals in 2022.

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Derek SilvaLogan Sachon

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Derek Silva

Derek Silva

Senior Editor & Personal Finance Expert

Derek is a former senior editor and personal finance expert at Policygenius, where he specialized in financial data, taxes, estate planning, and investing. Previously, he was a staff writer at SmartAsset.

 & Logan Sachon

Logan Sachon

Senior Managing Editor, Research

Logan Sachon is the senior managing editor of research at Policygenius, where she oversees our insurance and financial data studies and surveys. Previously, she co-founded The Billfold, a groundbreaking personal finance site for millennials named one of TIME's 25 best blogs of the year.

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Early in their careers and often without families or other obligations, young professionals may have a degree of freedom when it comes to choosing where they will live. But how to choose? There are cities with buzz, cities with friends, cities with attractive company HQs — but we wanted to dig into the data and see what the numbers say about which cities are the best for younger adults, a cohort which is currently composed of older Gen Zers and younger Millennials. 

We ranked 250 cities for cost of living, average housing costs as percent of income, and the number of “fun” businesses — including bars, restaurants, and other entertainment venues. We also looked at three different numbers to indicate how healthy the city’s economy is and how available jobs are to early career workers and the population at large. While the proliferation of remote work may allow some young adults to be agnostic to available jobs when choosing a city, most people will need to live in the city where they work. In fact, one Stanford researcher estimates that as pandemic protocols end, just 10% of workers will work remotely full time. [1] Another 40% will likely be able to have a hybrid model that requires them to come to an office sometimes, and 50% of workers have to work in person. 

For the 250 cities in our study, here are the averages for the metrics we measured: 

  • Population of young adults (20-34): 30.3%

  • Labor force participation rate for that age group: 81.71%

  • Employment rate for that age group: 75.68%

  • Total unemployment rate: 4.03%

  • Cost of living, using the regional price parity, an index measuring cost of living in which the national average is set to 100: 101.4 

  • Income per capita: $61,160

  • Average housing costs as percentage of income: 25.77%

  • Average number of “fun” businesses (food, drink, arts, and entertainment establishments): 4,531

The top 25 cities for young professionals in 2022

1. Minneapolis, Minnesota

With young adults (20-34) making up 38.6% of the population, above-average labor force participation (88.1%), and an above-average employment rate (84.1%), Minneapolis, MN is a great place for young professionals to be among their peers — and find a job. Other leading indicators that Minneapolis is a good place for young professionals: a below-average unemployment rate (2.2%), an above-average average income ($69,822), and average housing costs (26% of income), and 3,275 “fun” businesses. Cost of living is above average  (103.2 using the regional price parities metric, versus the national average of 100). 

2. Nashville, Tennessee

Young adults (20-34) make up 34.4% of the population in Nashville, TN, above the average of 30.3%. Labor force participation for that age group is above average at 87.2%, and the percent employed is also high at 83% (versus an average of 75.68%). Total unemployment for the city is 2.6%, below the national average of 4.03%. Cost of living is below average at 97 (versus the national average of 100, using the regional price parity metric), income is just above average at $62,076, and housing costs are lower than average at 23% of of income, on average. Nashville has 2,719 “fun” businesses. 

3. Madison, Wisconsin

Madison, WI has a young adult (20-30) population share of 40.4%, well above the average for the cities in our study of 30.3%. Labor force participation and employment rates are both above average for that age group: 87.5% and 85.5%, respectively. Total unemployment is below average at 1.4%, cost of living is below average at 97 (versus the national average of 100, using the regional price parity metric), income is above average at $64,280, and housing costs are below average at 23% of income. The number of “fun” businesses in Madison is 1,569. 

4. Sioux Falls, South Dakota 

Young adults (20-24) are 28.6% of the population of Sioux Falls, SD. Their labor force participation rate is above average at  91.7%, and their employment rate is above average at 88.7%. Unemployment rates in the city are below average at 1.8%, and income is above average at $67,117.  Cost of living is below average at 94.1 (versus the national average of 100 using the regional price parity metric). Housing costs are well below average at 17% percent of income. The number of “fun” businesses is 603. 

5. Omaha, Nebraska

Omaha, NE boasts a young adult (20-34) population of 29.3%. That cohort has a labor force participation rate of 86% and an employment rate of 89.4%. Unemployment is below average at 1.5%, and income is average at $61,040. Cost of living is below average  at 95.3 (versus the national average of 100 using the regional price parity metric), and housing is below average at 21% of income. There are 1,574 “fun” businesses in Omaha. 

6. Kansas City, Missouri 

Young people (20-34) make up 30.3% of the population in Kansas City, MO. Their labor force participation rate is above average at 86.3%, and so is their employment rate at 83.1%. Total unemployment is below average at 2.7%. Though incomes are below the average for the cities in our study at $58,057, cost of living are also below average, at 94.7 (versus the national average of 100 using the regional price parity metric). Housing costs are also below average at 21%. There are 1,668 “fun” businesses in Kansas City. 

7. Columbus, Ohio

Columbus, OH has a young adult (20-34) population rate of 36.6%, well above the average. Labor force participation is above average for that age group at 85.3%, as is the employment rate at 81.3%. The total unemployment rate is below average at 3%. The average income per capita is below average at $56,252 (versus the average of $61,180), and cost of living is below average at 94.2 on the regional price parity scale (versus the national average of 100). Housing costs are also low at 22% of income. There are 3,052 “fun” businesses in Columbus. 

8. St. Louis, Missouri

Over 32% of the population of St. Louis, MO is 20-34. Labor force participation for that cohort is above average at 84.9%, and employment rates are also above average at 80.3%. Total unemployment is below average at 2.9%. Income is just about average at $60,844, and cost of living is below average at 95.7 (versus the national average of 100 using the regional price parity metric). Housing is below average at 17% of income. St. Louis has 2,337 “fun” businesses. 

9. Indianapolis, Indiana

Indianapolis, IN boasts 30.7% of its population as 20-34, with labor force participation rates for that age group at 82.7% and employment rates at 76.9%. Total unemployment is below average at 2%. Average income is just below average at $60,431, and cost of living is below average at 94.7 (versus the national average of 100 using the regional price parity metric). Housing costs are 18% of income, versus the average of 25.77%. There are 2,285 “fun” businesses in Indianapolis. 

10. St. Paul, Minnesota 

St. Paul, MN has a young adult (20-34) population rate of 33.1%. Labor force participation for that age group is above average at 85.9%, and employment is also above average at 82.4%. Total unemployment is below average at 2.2%. Average income per capita is above average at $67,214, and cost of living is above average at 103.2 using the regional price parity metric (the national average is 100). 

11. Lincoln, Nebraska 

With 32.8% of its population between the age of 20 and 34, Lincoln, NE is another great city for young professionals. The 20-34 cohort has higher than average labor force participation (87.6%) and employment rates (84.2%), and total unemployment is below average at 1.1%. Income per capita is below average and lower than many other cities on our list at $53,057. Cost of living is below average at 93.8 using the regional price parity metric (versus the national average of 100), and at 21%, housing as a percentage of income is also below average. There are 777 “fun” businesses in Lincoln.

12. San Francisco, California

San Francisco's young adult (20-34) population makes up 32.5% of its residents. Labor force participation and employment are both high for the cohort, at 87.4% and 84.3%, respectively. Income per capita is well above average at $111,050, though cost of living is also above average at 117.4 using the regional price parity metric (versus 100 national average). Housing is 23% of income, on average, and the number of “fun” businesses is 4,550. 

13. Tulsa, Oklahoma

Tulsa, OK counts 28.5% of its residents in the young adult cohort (20-35). Labor force participation for that age bracket is 83.2% and employment is 77.5%, both above average. Total unemployment is below average at 2%, and though income at $58,071 is below the average for the 250 cities in our study, cost of living is also below average at 92.9 using the regional price parity metric (100 being the national average). Housing costs are below average, at 18% of income. There are 1,765 “fun” businesses in Tulsa. 

14. Salt Lake City, Utah 

Salt Lake City, UT has a young adult (20-34) population of 38.8%. Labor force participation for that age cohort is 86%, and employment is 84.6%. Total unemployment is below average at 1.4%. Income per capita is below average at $58,008, but cost of living is also below average (97.7 on the regional price parity metric, versus 100 for the national average). Housing is 24% of income. There are 2,563 “fun” businesses in Salt Lake City. 

15. Reno, Nevada 

Reno, NV’s population is 31.6% young adults (20-34). Of those, 87.5% participate in the labor force, and 84.9% are employed. Total unemployment for Reno is below average at 2.9%. Income is above average at $66,075, and cost of living is below average at 98.9 (versus the national average of 100 using the regional price parity metric). Housing is 22% of income on average, and there are 1,240 “fun” businesses in Reno. 

16. Des Moines, Iowa 

Young adults (20-24) are 30.6% of the population of Des Moines, IA. They have an above average labor force participation rate of 88% and an employment rate of 82.2%. Unemployment rates in the city are below average at 2.6%. Though income is below average at $58,076 (versus the average of $61,180), cost of living is also below average at 94.9 (versus the national average of 100 using the regional price parity metric). Housing costs are below average at 20% percent of income. The number of “fun” businesses is 1,214. 

17. Fargo, North Dakota 

Fargo, ND boasts a young adult (20-34) population of 37.6%. Labor force participation for young adults is above average at 91.4%, and employment is also above average at 87.2%. Total unemployment in Fargo is below average at 1.8%. While average income is below average at $58,158, cost of living is also below average at 94 using the regional price parity metric (versus 100 nationally). Housing costs are 17% of income. There are 497 “fun” businesses in Fargo. 

18. San Jose, California

Just 27.7% of the population of San Jose, CA is 20-34, one of lowest percentages on our list. Workforce participation and employment are both above average for the cohort at 83.8% and 79.6% respectively. Income per capita is the highest on our list at $121,619 (nearly double the national average), though cost of living is also above average at 112.1 on the regional price parity metric (versus 100 national average). Housing is 23% of income, and there are 4,965 “fun” businesses in San Jose. 

19. Seattle, Washington

Seattle, WA has a young adult (20-34) population of 38.6%. Workforce participation for the cohort is 86.5% and employment is 82.7%. Total unemployment is 3.2%. Average income is higher than average at $80,420, and cost of living is also above average  (112 versus the national average of 100 using the regional price parity metric). Housing is 28% of income, and there are 7,091 “fun” businesses in Seattle. 

20. Cincinnati, Ohio

Cincinnati, OH has a young adult (20-34) population of 34.7%. Labor force participation and employment are both above average for the cohort:  83% and 76.7%, respectively. Unemployment is 3%. Income per capita is below average at $59,607, but cost of living is also below average at 93.5 (versus the national average of 100 using the regional price parity metric). Housing costs are below average at 17% of income. There are 2,119 “fun”businesses in Cincinnati. 

21. Raleigh, North Carolina

Raleigh, NC has a young adult (20-34) population of 31.8%. Labor force participation for the cohort is 83.2%, and employment is 79.4%. Total unemployment is 2.8%. Income per capita is just below average at $60,884, and cost of living is also below average at 95.7 (versus 100 nationally using the regional price parity metric). Housing is 24% of income, and there are 2,719 “fun” businesses in Raleigh. 

22. Louisville, Kentucky 

Louisville, KY is one of the few cities on our list with a below-average share of young adults: 26.6% versus 30.3% average for the cities in our study. Labor force participation for the cohort is above average at 83.2%, and employment is 77.1%. Total unemployment is below average at 3%. Income per capita is below average at $55,676, and cost of living is also below average at 91.9 (versus 100 nationally using the regional price parity metric). Housing costs are below average at 20% of income. There Are 1,924 “fun” businesses in Louisville. 

23. Austin, Texas

An above-average percentage of Austin, TX residents are young adults (20-34): 36.2%. Labor force participation among the age group is above average at 83.5%, and employment is also above average at 80.6%. Total unemployment is below average at 3.2%. Income per capita is above average at $64,913. Cost of living is also slightly above average, 101.8 using the regional price parity metric (versus 100 national average). Housing costs are above average at 27% percent of income. There are 3,537 “fun” businesses in Austin.

24. Chattanooga, Tennessee 

Chattanooga, TN has an average percentage of young adults (20-34) at 30.2%. They have an above-average workforce participation rate at 88.7% and an above-average employment rate at 84.4%. Unemployment is below average at 2.7%. While income is below average at $49,865, cost of living is also below average at 92 using the regional price parity metric (versus 100 national average). Housing is 21% of income, and there are 957 “fun” businesses in Chattanooga.

25. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Oklahoma City, OK has a young adult (20-34) population of 29.6%. Labor force participation and employment are both above average for the cohort at 82.5% and 76.2%, respectively. Total unemployment is below average at 1.7%. While income is below average at $52,688, cost of living is also below the national average (93.8 versus 100 using the regional price parity metric). Housing is 21% of income, and there are 2,104 “fun” businesses in Oklahoma City.


The best cities for young professionals, summed up

RankCityPercentage of city population 20-34Labor force participation (20-34)Employment rate (20-34)City unemployment rateIncome per capitaHousing as % of incomeCost of living (U.S. COL=100)No. of "fun" businesses
1Minneapolis, MN38.60%88.10%84.10%2.20%$67,21422%103.23,275
2Nashville, TN34.40%87.20%83.00%2.60%$62,07623%972,719
3Madison, WI40.40%87.50%85.50%1.40%$64,28023%971,569
4Sioux Falls, SD28.60%91.70%88.70%1.80%$67,11717%94.1603
5Omaha, NE29.30%86.00%80.40%1.50%$61,04021%95.31,574
6Kansas City, MO31.30%86.30%83.10%2.70%$58,05721%94.71,668
7Columbus, OH36.60%85.30%81.30%3.00%$56,25222%94.23,052
8St. Louis, MO32.90%84.90%80.30%2.90%$60,84417%95.72,337
9Indianapolis, IN30.70%82.70%76.90%2.00%$60,43118%94.72,285
10St. Paul, MN33.10%85.90%82.40%2.20%$67,21421%103.21,289
11Lincoln, NE32.80%87.60%84.20%1.10%$53,05721%93.8777
12San Francisco, CA32.50%87.40%84.30%3.80%$111,05023%117.44,550
13Tulsa, OK28.50%83.20%77.50%2.00%$58,07118%92.91,765
14Salt Lake City, UT38.80%86.00%84.60%1.40%$58,00824%97.72,563
15Reno, NV31.60%87.60%84.90%2.90%$66,07522%98.91,240
16Des Moines, IA30.60%88.00%82.20%2.60%$58,07620%94.91,214
17Fargo, ND37.60%91.40%87.20%1.80%$58,15817%94497
18San Jose, CA27.70%83.80%79.60%3.20%$121,61923%112.14,965
19Seattle, WA38.60%86.50%82.70%3.20%$80,42028%1127,091
20Cincinnati, OH34.70%83.00%76.70%3.00%$59,60717%93.52,119
21Raleigh, NC31.80%83.20%79.40%2.80%$60,88424%95.72,719
22Louisville, KY26.60%83.20%77.10%3.00%$55,67620%91.91,924
23Austin, TX36.20%83.50%80.60%3.20%$64,91327%101.83,537
24Chattanooga, TN30.30%88.70%84.40%2.70%$49,86521%92957
25Oklahoma City, OK29.60%82.50%76.20%1.70%$52,68821%93.82,104

Methodology

To find the best cities for young professionals in 2022, we considered the 250 biggest cities in the U.S. and compared them across eight factors:

City population of young adults (20 to 34): Showing the percentage of the city population that is aged 20 to 34 (out of the total population aged 16 and higher in the city), data comes from the Census Bureau and is for 2019. [2] We ranked cities with higher young adult populations higher. 

Labor force participation rate for young adults (20-34): This data comes from the Census Bureau and includes only individuals in the city who are aged 20 to 34. Data is for 2019. [3] We ranked cities with higher labor force participation rates for young adults higher.

Employment rate for young adults (20-34): Of all people aged 20 to 34 in the city, this number represents the percentage who are employed. Data is for 2019 and comes from the Census Bureau. [4] We ranked cities with higher employment rates for young adults performed higher.

Total unemployment rate: Data is for November 2021, is at the metro level, and comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. [5] y We ranked cities with lower unemployment rates performed higher.

Total per capita income: Real personal income figures are from the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) [6] and include all income sources, including wages, interest, dividends, rental income, and other sources of income in 2020 at the metro level. We ranked cities with higher per capita income higher.

Housing costs as a percent of income: Data for median housing costs comes from the U.S. Census Bureau and is for 2019. [7] Income data comes from the BEA and is for 2020. We ranked cities with lower housing costs percentages higher. 

Cost of living: Cost of living is represented by regional price parities, which come from the BEA and measure the relative cost of goods and rents in a metro area for 2020 on a scale where 100 is the national average. [8] We ranked cities with lower numbers higher. 

Number of food and entertainment businesses: The number of food, drink, art, and entertainment establishments in the county based on 2019 Census data [9] . We ranked cities with higher numbers of “fun” businesses higher.

We ranked cities based on their scores for each of the eight factors, weighing all factors equally. Then we found each city's average ranking across all factors.

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