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The Cheapest and Most Expensive States and Metros to Have a Baby

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

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Everyone knows that having a baby is incredibly expensive, from delivery or adoption costs to outfitting a household with strollers, bottles, cribs and layettes. But even if friends and family come together to provide everything needed on day one, there are ongoing costs of raising a child. So how much should a typical couple expect to budget each month?To find out, we looked at some average costs (and one tax credit), both by state and for the 100 largest metros in the U.S.:

  • The difference in rent between a typical one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartment
  • Average cost of a day care center
  • Average cost of baby apparel, diapers and wipes
  • Average additional food costs
  • Average cost of adding a dependent to workplace insurance
  • Federal tax credit

These are just the basic costs. Parents who prioritize higher-end goods, parent-and-me classes, baby sitters and other little luxuries to help with parental stresses can expect to spend more.

Hover over a state to review its costs and tax credit.

Key takeaways

  • The average monthly cost of raising a baby across all 50 states is $1,037.
  • San Jose, Calif., is the most expensive metro to raise a baby, with an average base cost of $1,705 a month. Little Rock, Ark., is the cheapest of the 100 largest metros, with an average base cost of $707 a month.
  • Massachusetts is the most expensive state for raising a baby, at an average cost of $1,521 a month. Arkansas is the cheapest state, with an average monthly cost of $723.
  • Day care costs are far and away the largest monthly expense, representing 72% of monthly costs, on average. The proportion is highest in New York state at 85% and lowest in Alaska at 59%.
  • New parents in 22 out of the 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia, can expect their monthly costs to go up by at least $1,000 — just for the basics.
  • Parents in 63 of the 100 largest metros can expect to increase their monthly costs by at least $1,000.

People in the 10 most expensive states (and District of Columbia) to raise a baby can expect their monthly budgets to balloon by over $1,200 a month.

Living in a large metro can mean having to set aside more money each month for a new baby. Residents in the 10 most expensive metros can expect their bills to increase by between $1,368 and $1,705 a month.

Here is a breakdown of average baby costs in every state. The difference in cost between the most expensive and least expensive state is almost $800 a month.

How baby budgets compare in the 100 largest metros

Why parents struggle with the cost of a baby

A lot of new families incur significant debt when having a baby. Those who get pregnant may face hefty maternal and prenatal medical bills and those who adopt may see high legal and travel bills. Parents may also rack up credit card charges, such as to get a car seat, bassinet or maternity clothes.

Many families don’t have access to paid parental leave, so they are forced to forgo several weeks of at least part of their income. All this can put new parents into debt even before their monthly expenses increase, and those families can add monthly debt payments (including interest) to the very basic monthly cost increases we describe here.

That — combined with any other pre-existing debt, such as car payments or credit card bills ripe for consolidation — can create daunting challenges to people who are expecting or planning for a first child. In a perfect world, everyone would be on secure financial footing before having a baby, but that’s not always realistic, and most American parents find managing the additional monthly expenses to be challenging.

How to reduce these costs of having a baby

Here are some of the ways that parents can trim costs in each of the categories we surveyed.

Difference in rent between a 1- and 2-bedroom apartment

Couples can get away with living in a one-bedroom apartment for a while with a small infant (it’s recommended that infants stay in the same room with their parents for at least six months). Most parents prefer a separate nursery, but it will be a while before the baby cares.

Average cost of a day care center

For two-income and single-parent households, child care is essential and expensive. While some couples may decide that one parent should leave the workforce to stay home with the child so they don’t feel like they’re working just to pay for day care, it’s important to remember that stay-at-home parents can suffer long-term and compounding economic consequences by leaving the workforce for a period, including loss of career and wage advancement, Social Security contributions and retirement fund contributions. (Of course, there are other reasons why a parent may decide to stay home with a child.) Other parents can negotiate child care with family and neighbors. There are also federal, state and (sometimes) local child care subsidies based on income.

Average cost of baby apparel, diapers and wipes

After the initial purchase of clothes for an expected baby, most Americans don’t spend much on infant apparel, but they do spend some. But diapers and wipes are unavoidable. Couples who have access to a washing machine may opt for a larger initial outlay to invest in cloth diapering, although it’s growing in popularity and people donate, trade or sell discounted used cloth diapers when their kids are potty trained. Similarly, used children’s clothing is easy to come by, and because babies grow so quickly, they’re usually barely worn or brand new.

Average additional food costs

Although babies don’t eat a significant amount of solid food for at least six months, some families use formula either by choice or necessity. Breastfeeding mothers often require significantly more calories, often complain of being constantly hungry and may be more conscious about the quality of food they ingest. Organizing meal plans around nutritious and inexpensive foods and coupon clipping may be the only way to save money on adult food, but it may be especially challenging for sleep-deprived parents. Money can be saved on avoiding prepackaged baby food by steaming and pureeing or mashing regular table food.

Average cost of adding a dependent to workplace insurance

Not every family has workplace insurance, and many who don’t will qualify for government insurance programs for their children, such as Medicaid. (It’s estimated that Medicaid covers nearly half of all births.) But even families that don’t qualify for state-sponsored insurance will feel the hit of adding a dependent to their employer-subsidized plans. One bright spot is that under the Affordable Care Act, there aren’t any copays for the frequent well-baby checks.

Federal tax credit

For 2018, parents will receive a $2,000 credit, which means that amount will be taken off the top of their tax bill. A portion of that will be refundable, so that even if a family owes less than $2,000 in federal taxes, they’ll get some money back. That’s not the only tax break available to parents, but it’s the only one that has a dollar amount that applies to every American.

Deductions — which is an amount of income on which people don’t have to pay any tax — are available for parents at both the federal and state level (although a few states don’t have income tax).

Pretax deductions can also be taken from paychecks through a dependent care flexible spending account for up to $5,000 for child care costs, and health insurance costs are also taken from paychecks pretax. And $2,650 can similarly be deducted from paychecks pretax for health care expenses. Families in 2019 can deduct health care costs from their taxes if they exceed 10% of their adjusted income (up from 7.5% in 2018).

That’s a high hurdle for most, and some married couples decide to file separately so that medical bills meet the threshold of one income versus their combined incomes. In general, parents should expect a significantly lower tax bill after the arrival of a child.

Methodology

Researchers used the following data to estimate the basic budget changes a family would experience with the arrival of a first child, both at the state level and for the 100 largest metropolitan statistical areas in the U.S.

  • Rent: The difference in cost between an average one-bedroom and an average two-bedroom from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.
  • Child care: The average cost of in-center child care, as reported by Care.com. In instances where an average was not available for a particular metro, the state average was used.
  • Baby apparel, diapers and wipes: The former was taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Expenditure Survey regional tables, and the latter two were reported by Walmart.
  • Additional food costs: This was calculated from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Expenditure Survey by indexing the average total food costs reported in the regional table and applying that multiple to the difference between married couples with no children and married couples with children younger than 6 from the household units table.
  • Insurance: The difference in cost between the statewide average employer-subsidized plan for an employee and the employee plus another person plan from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Medical Expenditure Panel Survey.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Kali McFadden
Kali McFadden |

Kali McFadden is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Kali at [email protected]

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America’s Biggest Millennial Boomtowns

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

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In August, we published our study of America’s biggest boomtowns. It looked at three categories of data — industry growth, population and housing changes and workforce opportunities. As a follow-up to our study, we are providing a look at the top 50 metro areas that are attracting millennials and helping them prosper.

Using four metrics (millennial population change, workforce participation, unemployment rate and median wages), we scored the top 50 cities. A 100 was the highest possible score.

Here is a look at our findings.

Hover over a metro in the map below to see how it performed between 2011 and 2016.

Key findings

  • San Francisco topped our list of millennial boomtowns with a final score of 89, thanks to top growth in the millennial labor force, wages and overall population.
  • Denver and Austin, Texas, come in second and third, with scores of 80.6 and 80. The two cities saw notable millennial population growth and dropping unemployment rates.
  • All but two of the top 10 metros lie west of the Mississippi River. Four are on the West Coast and two are in Texas.
  • Virginia Beach came last on our list, mostly due to its shrinking millennial labor force and lackluster unemployment numbers. It had a final score of 9.7.
  • Providence, R.I., and Philadelphia rounded out the bottom three with scores of 13.3 and 21.7, respectively. Providence actually lost almost 3% of its millennial population, and wages for millennials in Philly only rose by 2.4%.
  • Oklahoma City saw the biggest wage increase: Millennials in 2016 enjoyed 33.6% more in median earnings than they did in 2011, although that still leaves them behind 32 other metro areas in terms of absolute dollars.
  • Unemployment among millennials was nearly cut in half in Nashville, where the rate dropped from 10.3% to 5.3% (a 48.1% change).

The scope of our research

Using the Pew Research Center’s definition of millennials (those born between 1981 and 1996) means that a portion of millennials would have been minors or pursuing an education or job training in 2011. To avoid including the working statistics of high schoolers, we limited this study to people born between 1981 and 1991, meaning people who would be between the approximate ages of 20 and 30 years old in 2011.

Even with that restriction, it’s important to remember that in general, people enjoy better employment opportunities and see higher wages as they gain experience, skills and workplace sophistication. Also, more people enter the workforce as they complete their educations, which often happens in their early 20s. Therefore, at least some of the increases in workforce participation and earnings are due to the natural age progression of this cohort.

Even so, we find that the millennial population is growing – and prospering – more in some places than in others. Millennials who live in the metros at the bottom of our list may be at risk for accruing more debt and less wealth over their lifetimes, thanks to opportunity losses. Those who move to the cities at the top of the list may find that they’re better equipped to pay down debt and gain assets at a faster rate as they gain toeholds in more lucrative job paths.

The elements of a millennial boomtown

More millennials

We tracked the five-year (2011-2016) population changes of those born between 1981 and 1991. Interestingly, millennial populations actually decreased in nine of the 50 metros we analyzed, which demonstrates that many millennials are actively migrating.

Labor force participation

It’s a truism in economics that when local working conditions and opportunities improve, many people who don’t participate in the workforce will decide that it’s a good time to pursue outside employment. Therefore, we wanted to see not just the change in overall population, but the change in the number of people who work or are actively seeking work. The size of the labor force generally increased, even in places where the millennial population shrank, except in Providence and Virginia Beach.

Unemployment

How much has the unemployment rate declined for millennials over that five-year period? Unemployment for the nation as a whole has dropped significantly since 2011, but there’s a big difference between the 19.6% drop for millennials in Las Vegas and the 48.1% drop in Nashville.

Median wages

We calculated the change in median wages for those born between 1981 and 1996. As discussed above, we would expect wages to go up for this group, generally, simply because they aged and gained worked experience during the intervening years. However, we found that median wages actually dropped a smidge in Richmond, Va., and Washington, D.C.

The biggest millennial boomtowns

1. San Francisco

Final score: 89.0
Housing is a struggle in San Francisco, but that isn’t deterring millennials. While the overall population of millennials increased by 16.2%, the millennial workforce jumped by 31.1%. To put that into context, the workforce increase represents about 5,000 more people than the population increase. That could be because so many people in the Bay Area have secondary and advanced degrees, meaning they may not have entered the workforce until they were well into their 20s, or may have dipped out of the workforce to further their education.

The unemployment rate for millennials dropped 40.3%, which is fairly impressive. That still only put San Francisco at No. 15 for highest unemployment rate drop among millennials. Fourteen other metros had bigger drops, including Detroit (42.9%), Minneapolis (44.4%), and Columbus, Ohio (45.7%).

But for millennials who are working, median wages have skyrocketed 32.4%, to $40,304. That’s the second highest wage on our list after neighboring city San Jose, and the second largest wage increase after Oklahoma City.

2. Denver

Final score: 80.6
Denver boasts the biggest increase of the millennial population between 2011 and 2016, at 18.7%.

Its 27.9% increase in labor force is second to San Francisco. But about 13,000 of the new arrivals aren’t working or are looking for work. That may be because despite the second sharpest drop in millennial unemployment (46.3%), median millennial wages have only increased 13.1%, to $32,243. That increase is the 15th smallest jump on our list.

3. Austin, Texas

Final score: 80.0
Austin has changed immensely in recent years. It has seen a population explosion over the last few years, and millennials were certainly part of that burst. Their numbers increased by 17.5%, the second biggest gain on our list behind Denver.

Despite an impressive workforce gain of 22.6% (5th highest), more millennials simply moved to Austin over joining the workforce. However, that’s not surprising for a major university town with extensive graduate and undergraduate programs.

Further, unemployment dropped 45.1% for millennials — the fourth biggest decline on our list — and median wages increased 21.7%, to $30,228.

4. Nashville, Tenn.

Final score: 76.4
Nashville seems eager for new millennial employees, as demonstrated by the biggest drop in unemployment of any metro on our list (48.1%). The city also has the 6th lowest millennial unemployment rate (5.3%). Overall, the millennial population increased by 11.4% (9th highest), and the labor force rose by 16.7% (15th highest).

Although Nashville also saw the third highest median wage increase (30.4%), that still only increased median wages up to $29,220. That median wage puts Nashville in the middle of the pack in terms of absolute dollars.

5. San Jose, Calif.

Final score: 74.7
The seat of Silicon Valley is the first place on our list where more millennials entered the labor force than actually moving into the metro. The millennial population increased by 13.3%, and 27.5% more are working or looking for work. That comes out to a difference about 4,000 people.

That’s somewhat surprising considering the relatively mediocre millennial unemployment rate of 6.7% (18th lowest) and comparatively modest median earnings increase of 25.9% (10th highest on the list). Of course, millennials in this city see the highest earnings of any metro on our list, with a median wage of $42,319.

The most sluggish cities for millennials

50. Virginia Beach, Va.

Final score: 9.7
Virginia Beach came in last on our list by performing dismally across all four metrics. The metro did enjoy a small bump (3.2%) of millennials between 2011 and 2016, but 2% fewer millennials were engaged in the labor force, the worst showing on our list. That could be because while the 7% unemployment rate isn’t the highest on our list (Riverside, Calif., takes home that honor), the 20.3% reduction was actually the smallest across the 50 metros.

Median wages for millennials have only increased 6.6%, which is 7th lowest among metros we reviewed, to $28,212. That median is distinctly middle of the pack, but the growth rate suggests there may be wage stagnation, as we would expect this age group to see wage gains just by moving from entry-level to more experienced levels over that five-year period.

49. Providence, R.I.

Final score: 13.3
Providence saw its millennial population drop by 2.8%. Part of this may be attributed to the fact that Providence is a college town. Thus, this drop may represent millennial students who have moved on after completing their undergraduate and graduate degrees. However, we did find that this metro area had one of the smallest population increases in our previous study.

Similarly, the millennial labor force shrank by 0.3%. The high millennial unemployment rate of 8.5% (8th worst) may have something to do with that, along with the 11th lowest income increase (9.9%).

48. Philadelphia

Final score: 21.7
Perhaps it’s no surprise that the millennial population of Philly only increased by 0.7%. Unemployment for that age group is 8.8% and median earnings only increased by 2.4%. That earnings increase represents a paltry five-year cost of living raise for most people.

The millennial workforce did rise by 10.6% during that period, however. It seems that local residents are picking up whatever new jobs are becoming available.

47. Richmond, Va.

Final score: 26.3
Richmond has the ignominy of the worst wage change for millennials. Median earnings went down by 2.1%. Washington, D.C., was the only other metro to see a negative earnings change, at 1%, but still managed to rank 18th overall, thanks to strong showings in other categories.

Although Richmond has a respectable millennial unemployment rate of 7.6%, an unemployment decrease of 32.3% was 12th lowest on our list and thus didn’t earn many points. A workforce increase of 12.4% was dead center of the pack, and the millennial population growth of 3.9% ranked 32 out of 50.

46. St. Louis

Final score: 26.8
St. Louis saw its millennial population shrink by 1.1%. Workforce participation was up by 6% (40th out of 50), but some or all that can probably be attributed to young adults entering the workforce after school or training, rather than attractive economic conditions.

Even though median earnings in 2016 were the 16th highest at $30,228, the earnings increase of 14.2% ranked 33rd highest on the list of 50. Despite these findings, a March 2018 study we conducted found that St. Louis was one of the best places for working women.

Top 5 and bottom 5 cities in each metric

Top 50 metro areas in the U.S.

Methodology

Using data from the U.S. Census American Community Survey, hosted on American FactFinder and by IPUMS USA, we tracked the five-year change between 2011 and 2016 (the last year for which all data was available) for those born between 1981 and 1991. This represents a subset of millennials, who are generally defined as those born between 1981 and 1996 (the reason for limiting the population to this subset is described above). These millennials would have been between the approximate ages of 20 and 30 in 2011 and 25 and 35 in 2016.

We limited the review to the 50 largest metropolitan statistical areas (“MSAs”) due to limited data availability.

The analyzed metrics were:

  • Population data included the age groupings of 20-24 and 25-29 for 2011; and 25-29 and 30-34 for 2016.
  • Labor force data included the age groupings of 20-21, 22-24 and 25-29 for 2011; and 25-29 and 30-34 for 2016.
  • Employment data included the age groupings of 20-21, 22-24 and 25-29 for 2011; and 25-29 and 30-34 for 2016.
  • Median wage data is for those born between 1981 and 1991.

Because the U.S. Census has changed the boundaries of some MSAs in the intervening years, we collected the data from FactFinder at the county level and then mapped it to the current MSA borders.

Each data series was scored relative to the other metros so that the biggest positive change received a score of 100 and any 0 or negative changes received a score of 0 (except for unemployment rate, where this was reversed). The highest possible score for each metric was 100 and the lowest was 0. The four metric scores were then summed and divided by four for a final score. The highest possible final score was 100 and the lowest was 0.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Kali McFadden
Kali McFadden |

Kali McFadden is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Kali at [email protected]

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America’s Biggest Boomtowns

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

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The story of the United States is the story of people migrating to different cities and towns to build new lives through new opportunities. From the promise of gold to the promise of big tech in Northern California; from trading furs to building cars in Detroit; from the prosperity of shipping to the prosperity of hospitality in Charleston, the country is built on boomtowns.

We wanted to find out where Americans are gathering now to take advantage of growing prosperity and improved lifestyles to achieve the American dream.

Key findings

  • Austin, Texas; Provo, Utah and Raleigh, N.C., top our list of America’s boomtowns.
  • Scranton, Pa.; Syracuse, N.Y. and New Haven, Conn., fall to the bottom.
  • Americans are flocking to and prospering in Texas.
    • Texas metros take up one-third of the top 15 spots.
  • Parts of the Mountain region are also booming, comprising four of the top 15.
    • Two of the three Utah metros we reviewed are in the top 15 (Provo in 2nd place and Ogden in 12th), with Salt Lake City not far behind in 18th.
    • Denver came in 6th, and Boise, Idaho came in 8th.
  • The Carolinas are also attracting workers and businesses, with Raleigh taking the 3rd spot, Charleston the 4th and Charlotte the 13th. Durham, Raleigh’s neighbor, is in 16th place.
  • On the other end of the spectrum are the Northeast and some neighboring states, including Ohio, where four of six metros in our study saw their labor forces and the number of businesses shrink, and only one saw appreciable growth (Columbus, Ohio).
  • Every metro in Connecticut and Pennsylvania falls in the bottom quarter of our list, as did every metro in New York except for New York City. In fact, the only Northeast city to fall in the top half of our list was Boston.

The elements of a boom

To find out which of America’s metros are booming, we looked at how much each metro has changed between 2011 and 2016 (the most recent year for which all data is available at the metro level) in three different categories, which we scored independently before combining the results to reach a metro’s final score.

Growing industry

The first thing we looked at was how much business and industry has grown locally. We not only wanted to know how many new businesses there are but also how businesses in general are doing, as measured by their increase in hiring and — for businesses that don’t have employees, known as non-employers — how much revenue has increased.

More people and housing

The most essential component to a boomtown is this: Are people coming, and is the metro growing to keep up? To figure that out, we used the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS) to measure changes in total population and the number of housing units.

Growing workforce and employment opportunities

People generally enter a local workforce because they seek better opportunities, so we wanted to see how that changed, along with improvements to the unemployment rate and the increase in earnings.

Why some of our results might surprise you

Some of the metros that have been declared among the “fastest growing” in the news may fall lower on our list on than one would expect. For example, Greenville, S.C., has been touted as one of the fastest growing cities in America, but we see a population growth of 5.5% over the five-year period. Nothing to sniff at, but it’s the 13th highest on our list rather than in the top five.

One reason is that we looked at the five-year growth period rather than one year. Another is that the Census changed the area of some metros, so additional counties were added between 2012 and 2013. To make sure we were actually talking about the exact same footprint, we used and compared the data for counties that are currently in each metropolitan statistical area.

The biggest boomtown in America

These are the metros that are seeing the biggest influx of people, work opportunities and business growth.

1. Austin, Texas

Final Score: 87.8

Austin jumps way out ahead of all the metros we reviewed, showing the greatest five-year growth in population and housing, earning a perfect Population & Housing score of 100. Even so, the increase in housing units of 10% isn’t keeping up with the population growth of almost 16% over a five-year period. Interestingly, almost all of those gains in population have gone directly to the local workforce, and that, combined with a 23% drop in unemployment and an almost 9% increase in median wages, gives Austin the highest Workforce & Earnings score (70.3) on our list. While the metro comes in second for Business Growth, it’s with an A score of 93, thanks to a 21% increase in the number of businesses and a 24% increase in the number of employees those firms hired.

2. Provo, Utah

Final Score: 75.7

Business is booming in Provo, with 20% more businesses in 2016 than in 2011 employing 30% more workers. This gives the metro the top Business Growth score of 95.1. It also ranks high in Population & Housing, coming in third with a score of 79.9 thanks to a population increase of 12% and a housing increase of 8%. The Workforce & Earnings score is a respectable 52.2 (8th highest on our list), thanks to 13% growth in the workforce, and an OK drop in unemployment compared with other metros, at 20% (32nd). But wages don’t seem to be keeping up, as the median earnings for workers is only 3.5% higher than it was five years earlier (63rd).

3. Raleigh, N.C.

Final Score: 67.7

The second biggest population and housing increases — 13% and 9%, respectively — give Raleigh the second highest Population & Housing score of 84.1. North Carolina’s capital ranks No. 5 in Business Growth with a score of 70.8, boasting a 13% increase in establishments and a 21% increase in paid employees. Raleigh earned the 10th highest Workforce & Earnings score (48.3), thanks to 12% increase in the civilian labor force, which offset the mediocre (relative to the other metros on our list) 18% drop in the unemployment rate and a median earnings growth of under 4%.

4. Charleston, S.C.

Final Score: 66.4

Nipping at Raleigh’s heels, the historical coastal city saw its population jump by 11% between 2011 and 2016. The increase in housing units hasn’t kept up, at just over 6%, giving Charleston the fifth-highest Population & Housing score (66.9). The Business Growth score is the fourth highest on our list, at 71.7, due to a 14% increase in business establishments and 17% increase in paid employees (the fifth and 18th highest gains on our list, respectively). Charleston shines even more in Workforce & Earnings category, with a score of 60.6, the third highest on our list. The healthy 22% drop in unemployment and an 11% increase in the workforce (closely matching the overall population increase) are matched by the seventh-highest median wage increase of over 9%.

5. Nashville, Tenn.

Final Score: 60.7

Business is good in Nashville, where firms grew their staff by 21% (fourth highest), numbers that seem to be in excess of the 10% increase in establishment (22nd highest). That earned Nashville a Business Growth score of 72.9, the third highest among the metros we reviewed. It follows that the metro, which has long been diversifying from its country music legacy, has the fifth highest Workforce & Earnings score of 54.6, thanks to a 9% increase in workforce (ninth highest), a 25% drop in unemployment (14th highest), and 7% increase in median earnings for workers (16th highest). An interesting note is that the increase in the workforce is actually greater than the overall increase in population of just under 9% (14th highest), suggesting that the boom may be luring people to work. Although at 5%, housing growth isn’t keeping up with the influx of people, it is the 13th biggest increase on our list and adds up to a Population & Housing score of 54.5.

The most sluggish places

Not every metro is growing, and some are even contracting. These are the five most sluggish of the metros we reviewed.

100. Scranton, Pa.

Final Score: 9.9

Believe it or not, Scranton’s 0.4 Population & Housing score wasn’t the lowest on our list (Toledo, Ohio earned a perfect 0.0), but it is the result of a population drop of 0.4% and a 0.1% increase in housing units. At 14.3, Scranton had the third lowest Business Growth score (Pittsburgh and Syracuse, N.Y. fare worse at 13.2 and 14.1 respectively), thanks to an incremental 0.6% increase in business establishments. However, businesses did slightly better in hiring 5.5% more employees, the 15th lowest on our list. One bright spot is the rise in median earnings for workers — at 8.4%, it was the 11th highest of all the metros we reviewed. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to counter the 1.4% drop in labor force that presumably followed the drop in population, or the slight increase in unemployment (the fifth and sixth smallest gains on our list). That adds up to a Workforce & Earnings score 15.1, the 12th lowest on our list.

99. Syracuse, N.Y.

Final Score: 10.8

Business isn’t great in this upstate college town; only one other metro (Pittsburgh) got a score lower than Syracuse’s Business Growth score of 14.1. The metro saw no change in the number of business establishments, and businesses only increased their staff by 4% (the eighth lowest on our list). The population stayed steady with a 0.1% increase and was slightly outpaced by new housing units (0.9%), earning the metro a Population & Housing score of 4.6, the 12th lowest on our list. A 0.4% decrease in workforce and a marginal decrease in the unemployment rate of 3.2% offset the metro’s respectable 5.9% gain in median earnings (33rd highest), leaving Syracuse with the eighth-lowest Workforce & Earnings score (13.6).

98. New Haven, Conn.

Final Score: 11.6

People aren’t moving to this Ivy League community, and the people there seem to be leaving the workforce. Unemployment was down almost 9%, which seems great, but 72 other metros on our list saw bigger improvements, and 66 other metros had their median earnings increase by more than the 3% New Haven did. Business establishments grew by almost 2% in New Haven in five years (80th out of 100), but they only took on 5% more workers (90th place). That general stasis earned New Haven a score of 3 for Population & Housing (10th lowest), 13.9 for Workforce & Earnings (ninth lowest) and 17.9 in Business Growth (ninth lowest).

97. Cleveland

Final Score: 13.1

People seem to be leaving metros in Ohio, and Cleveland is no exception, experiencing a population decrease of just under 1%. In fact, it was the biggest population loss of all metros we reviewed. There was a small increase of 0.2% in housing units (fourth lowest), which is why Cleveland’s Population & Housing score of 1.1 came in ahead of Toledo, Ohio and Scranton, Pa. The number of establishments actually went down by about 1% (second only to Toledo’s loss of 1.4%), and the remaining businesses only increased their staff by about 4% (the fifth lowest gain). Overall, Cleveland’s Business Growth score of 15.6 was the sixth lowest on our list. On a brighter note, Cleveland earned a Workforce & Earning score of 22.7 (71st out of 100), thanks to a substantial 17% reduction in unemployment (46th out of 100) and over 4% more in median earnings (52nd), but these results were dragged down by a workforce that shrank by 1.4%, the fourth biggest loss on our list.

96. Hartford, Conn.

Final Score: 13.3

The good news is that median earnings for workers in Hartford went up by 6.6%, the 23rd highest on our list. The drop in unemployment was almost 9%, which seems like a lot, but 74 metros on our list did better. That, combined with a barely perceptible 0.3% increase in the workforce gave Hartford a Workforce & Earnings score of 20.6, which ranks 76th out of 100. Unfortunately, it’s downhill from there, with 90th place in the Population & Housing score because of a population growth of 0.3% and a housing unit increase of 0.6%. Connecticut’s capital had the 5th lowest Business Growth score of 15.1, thanks mostly to a lackluster 7% increase in receipts by non-employer businesses (second lowest on our list).

Comparing the 100 biggest metros in the U.S.

Methodology

Limiting our research to the current 100 largest metropolitan statistical areas (“MSAs”), we tracked the five-year change between 2011 and 2016 (the last year for which all data was available) using data from the U.S. Census American Community Survey and County Business Patterns in the following categories:

Population & Housing:

  • Total population
  • Total housing units

Workforce & Earnings:

  • Total civilian labor force
  • Unemployment rate
  • Median earnings for workers (dollars)

Business Growth:

  • Number of establishments
  • Paid employees per pay period
  • Total receipts for non-employers

Because the U.S. Census has changed the boundaries of some MSAs in the intervening years, we collected the data at the county level and then mapped it to the current MSA borders.

Each data series was scored relative to the other metros so that the biggest positive change received a score of 100 and any zero or negative changes received a score of 0 (except for unemployment rate, where this was reversed). For each category, these scores were summed and then divided by the number of series in each category, for a highest possible category score of 100 and a lowest of 0. The three category scores were then summed and divided by three for a final score. The highest possible final score was 100 and the lowest was 0.

How the metros have changed

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Kali McFadden
Kali McFadden |

Kali McFadden is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Kali at [email protected]

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