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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

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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Here’s Why Single Women Are Buying More Homes Than Single Men

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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Right after she turned 30, public relations pro Wendy Hsiao put in an offer on a cute brick townhouse in Atlanta. “For a lot of my friends, being an adult started either when you got married or had a baby,” she said. “I chose to buy a house.”

Why did she buy? She felt ready for a major life change, considered buying to be a smart financial decision and wanted a yard for her Pomeranian named Georgia. “I felt like it was time to make a place my home,” Hsiao said.

Her story is one example of a growing trend: the rise of single female homeownership. Single women are far more likely to become homeowners than single men, according to a study on singles owning homes by LendingTree, which owns MagnifyMoney. In fact, single women own 22% of homes on average, while single men own less than 13%.

This “gender gap” stems partly from the fact that single women prioritize homeownership when setting life goals. In fact, 73% of single women list owning a home as a top priority compared with 65% of single men, according to the 2018 Homebuyer Insights Report from Bank of America.

Single women are “skipping the spouse and buying the house,” according to the Bank of America report, which found that single women rank homeownership as a goal above getting married (41%) and having children (31%).

From homemaker to homeowner

While there’s still work to be done, women have taken huge steps toward professional and financial independence. Homeownership in particular contributes to economic stability, so it’s great that more single women are buying homes. There’s no doubt the increase in the number of women in the U.S. workforce, a figure that has more than doubled since 1975, has contributed to the trend. Here are some other driving forces behind the rise of single female homeownership:

Homeownership empowers women. Homeownership offers a place to live, stability and a way to build wealth, so it’s no surprise women view owning a home as empowering. In fact, 31% of single women (vs. 23% of single men) feel empowered when thinking about buying their first home. A licensed real estate agent in Chicago, Martina Smith bought a condo in her dream neighborhood of Streeterville after she broke off an engagement a few years ago. Her budget only allowed her to buy a “fixer-upper,” but she got a great deal and renovated her place. “It’s been very rewarding and empowering,” she said. And she thinks it reflects a bigger national trend. “We’re seeing more women taking charge,” Smith said.

Women are becoming more educated. Over the past few decades, women have become more educated than men. In 2017, 38% of women and 33% of men ages 25 to 64 had a bachelor’s degree. In that age group, 14% of women and 12% of men had an advanced degree. And women are putting off marriage to pursue that education, according to the 2018 Women in the Housing & Real Estate Ecosystem report. Educational attainment has a positive impact on homeownership rates.

Women are done waiting to marry. There’s been a cultural shift where women no longer feel they need to wait until they pair up to embark on certain aspects of “adulting,” said Kelley Long, a CPA and certified financial planner with Financial Finesse. “I will never forget a friend’s dad chastising me for doing ‘nesting’ things like buying nice furniture before I was married because of his perception that you just don’t do things like that until you’re married,” Long said, adding that women are “rejecting that idea because it’s not true.” If you want to marry in the future, the right partner will likely be impressed that you were financially secure enough to buy a home on your own, she said.

Single moms want a home base to raise kids. “Oftentimes, when people buy homes it’s for lifestyles reasons,” said Tendayi Kapfidze, chief economist for LendingTree. Getting married is one big reason, but having children is the other, he said. About 21% of U.S. kids live with single moms, a number that has almost doubled since 1968. In contrast, just 4% of kids live with single dads. “Children prompt people to buy homes,” he said. “So that might be one of the factors at play.” And it’s not just kids. As many as eight in 10 caregivers for elderly parents are women. The median age of a single female buyer is mid-50s, points out Jessica Lautz, vice president of demographics and behavioral insights for the National Association of REALTORS. A single female homebuyer “may be coming from a past relationship and purchasing a new home for herself, her children and her parents,” Lautz said, adding that single females are “willing to make sacrifices” to purchase a home.

So what does the future hold for single women owning homes? If marriage rates among all U.S. adults continue to drop, it’s likely the number of single women purchasing homes will rise even more, Lautz said.

Turn your homeownership dreams into reality

Strict lending standards can make it more difficult to qualify for a mortgage on a single income. Considering women also only make 80% of what their male colleagues earn, getting to a financially secure enough position to afford homeownership may feel daunting. Here are three tips for single women looking to buy a home of their own:

  1. Prep your finances for homebuying. It’s important to check your credit and your debt-to-income ratio before you start the homebuying process. If you spot problems, work on increasing your credit score and paying down your debt before you try to get preapproved for a mortgage. Getting the best possible rate can save you money over the life of the loan, which is especially important when your household depends on a single income. The upside is that single women have complete control and don’t need to worry about anyone else’s shaky credit or loads of debt. “If you’re in a couple, somebody is going to be dragging the other person down,” Kapfidze said.
  2. Build your nest egg before you buy. Forty-eight percent of women say they haven’t purchased a home yet because they haven’t saved enough for a down payment. But that’s not the only savings barrier to breach before taking the leap into homeownership. “Make sure you have a robust emergency fund,” Kapfidze said. Because single homeowners are on their own, they should set aside at least three months of mortgage payments as part of their emergency fund, Kapfidze suggested. “If you’re single, you’re the only one with income coming in to pay the mortgage,” he said.
  3. Pick a home that comes in under budget. Single women have lower household incomes than single men, so they may need to consider buying a smaller home, taking on a house that needs some work or settling in a lower priced neighborhood. The good news is that single women may be doing exactly that. In fact, the average home purchased by a single woman cost $173,000 compared with over $190,000 for a single man. Single women “may need to make price concessions when purchasing to find a home for themselves and their families,” Lautz said. And buying less house than you can afford can help you make your mortgage payment more easily if you hit financial hard times in the future.

Finally, it’s normal to feel stressed when you think of buying a home. In fact, more women (40%) than men (30%) feel overwhelmed by the idea of homeownership. But even though the homebuying process was scary, Hsiao said she has zero regret about buying a home of her own: “If you love the house, it’s 100% worth it.”

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.

Allie Johnson
Allie Johnson |

Allie Johnson is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Allie here

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