2020’s Best State Capitals to Live in

Adam McCann, Financial Writer
Feb 17, 2020

State capitals aren’t just for lawmaking. Often, they’re thriving cities with a lot of economic and cultural value. In fact, they can be some of the best places to live in America. But not all state capitals are created equal. Though 17 of them are the largest cities in their states, the biggest population doesn’t always represent the best quality of life. Some have rampant poverty problems. For example, over 30 percent of the population of Harford, CT lives in poverty, compared to 11.8% of the entire United States.

In order to determine which state capitals make the best homes, WalletHub compared all 50 across 49 key indicators of affordability, economic well-being, quality of education and health, and quality of life. Our data set ranges from cost of living to K–12 school-system quality to number of attractions. Read on for our findings, expert insight from a panel of researchers and a full description of our methodology.

Main Findings

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Best State Capitals

Overall Rank


State Capital Index

‘Affordability’ Rank

‘Economic Well-Being’ Rank

‘Quality of Education & Health’ Rank

‘Quality of Life’ Rank

1Austin, TX67.6112134
2Raleigh, NC63.7233519
3Madison, WI62.14171028
4Denver, CO60.25372103
5Lincoln, NE59.971019723
6Columbus, OH59.2414182110
7Atlanta, GA59.12341285
8Salt Lake City, UT58.89317126
9Concord, NH58.738113217
10Oklahoma City, OK58.652143514
11Boise, ID58.55156928
12Bismarck, ND58.311162036
13Des Moines, IA56.565221832
14Nashville, TN56.262242815
15Montpelier, VT56.122631127
16Phoenix, AZ55.162592721
17Olympia, WA54.2632241124
18Boston, MA54.0949541
19St. Paul, MN53.8036251513
20Annapolis, MD53.6623331718
21Helena, MT53.6120171337
22Santa Fe, NM53.4633202422
23Pierre, SD53.099373133
24Sacramento, CA53.054615229
25Springfield, IL52.994342542
26Cheyenne, WY51.927214143
27Albany, NY51.6144381411
28Columbia, SC50.9729452616
29Frankfort, KY50.8911284735
30Honolulu, HI50.6350862
31Tallahassee, FL50.5443301625
32Lansing, MI50.3916293634
33Salem, OR50.3241132929
34Jefferson City, MO49.876434441
35Richmond, VA49.873936437
36Juneau and, AK49.6724233039
37Indianapolis, IN48.1727354030
38Topeka, KS47.8813404245
39Harrisburg, PA47.8728444820
40Augusta, ME46.2940411940
41Dover, DE46.0135263447
42Providence, RI45.4347323312
43Little Rock, AR44.8018423750
44Jackson, MS44.2921473846
45Montgomery, AL43.8019484544
46Hartford, CT42.8348392326
47Baton Rouge, LA42.1542464931
48Carson City, NV42.1338275049
49Charleston, WV40.6530504648
50Trenton, NJ40.4045493938

Ask the Experts

Living in a state capital offers many perks, but there are tradeoffs as well. For more insight, we asked a panel of experts to weigh in with their thoughts on the following key questions:

  1. What are the benefits and drawbacks to living in a state’s capital city?
  2. In evaluating the best state capitals to live in, what are the top five indicators?
  3. How does exempting government buildings from local property taxes affect the fiscal well-being of capital cities?
  4. Are residents of capital cities more likely to be politically engaged, all else equal?


In order to identify the best state capitals to live in, WalletHub compared all 50 across four key dimensions: 1) Affordability, 2) Economic Well-Being, 3) Quality of Education & Health and 4) Quality of Life.

We evaluated those dimensions using compiled 49 relevant metrics, which are listed below with their corresponding weights. Each metric was graded on a 100-point scale, with a score of 100 representing the most livable state capital. Data for metrics marked with an asterisk (*) were available only at the state level. For metrics marked with two asterisks (**), we used the square root of the population to calculate the population size in order to avoid overcompensating for minor differences across cities.

We then determined each state capital’s weighted average across all metrics to calculate its “State Capital Index” and used the resulting indexes to rank-order our sample.

Affordability – Total Points: 25

  • Cost of Living: Double Weight (~10.00 Points)
  • Median Household Income: Double Weight (~10.00 Points)
    Note: This metric was adjusted for the cost of living.
  • Housing Costs: Full Weight (~5.00 Points)
    Note: This composite metric was calculated as follows: (Median House Price / Median Annual Household Income); (Median Rent Price / Median Annual Household Income).

Economic Well-Being – Total Points: 25

  • Population Growth: Full Weight (~1.85 Points)
  • Income Growth: Double Weight (~3.70 Points)
  • Median Credit Score: Half Weight (~0.93 Points)
  • Income Inequality: Full Weight (~1.85 Points)
  • Debt as a Share of Median Income: Double Weight (~3.70 Points)
  • Share of Population Living in Poverty: Full Weight (~1.85 Points)
  • Unemployment Rate: Full Weight (~1.85 Points)
  • Underemployment Rate: Full Weight (~1.85 Points)
  • Growth in Number of Businesses (2017 vs 2016): Full Weight (~1.85 Points)
  • Foreclosure Rate: Half Weight (~0.93 Points)
  • Bankruptcy Rate: Half Weight (~0.93 Points)
  • Building-Permit Activity: Full Weight (~1.85 Points)
    Note: This metric measures the number of new unit permits pulled per capita.
  • Share of State, Local & Federal Government Employees: Full Weight (~1.85 Points)

Quality of Education & Health – Total Points: 25

  • K–12 School-System Quality: Full Weight (~1.47 Points)
    Note: This metric measures the share of public schools rated by GreatSchools.org with above average score.
  • High School Graduation Rate: Double Weight (~2.94 Points)
  • Average University Score: Double Weight (~2.94 Points)
    Note: This metric is based on WalletHub’s “2020 Best Colleges & Universities” ranking.
  • Number of Universities in Top 1,003: Full Weight (~1.47 Points)
    Note: This metric is based on WalletHub’s “2020 Best Colleges & Universities” ranking.
  • Share of Adults with at Least a Bachelor’s Degree: Double Weight (~2.94 Points)
    Note: “Adults” include the population aged 25 years and older.
  • Share of Population with Health-Insurance Coverage: Full Weight (~1.47 Points)
    Note: “Population” includes ages 16 years and older.
  • Quality of Public Hospital System: Double* Weight (~2.94 Points)
    Note: This metric is based on data from Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
  • Hospital Beds per Capita**: Full Weight (~1.47 Points)
  • Premature-Death Rate: Full Weight (~1.47 Points)
    Note: This metric measures average years of potential life lost.
  • Infant-Mortality Rate: Full Weight (~1.47 Points)
  • Share of Adults in Good Health: Full Weight (~1.47 Points)
    Note: This metric is based on a health survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Good Health” includes responses of “good,” “very good” and “excellent” health. “Adults” include respondents aged 18 years and older.
  • Adult Obesity Rate: Full Weight (~1.47 Points)
  • Physical Inactivity: Full Weight (~1.47 Points)

Quality of Life – Total Points: 25

  • Share of Millennial Newcomers: Double Weight (~2.04 Points)
  • Number of Attractions: Full Weight (~1.02 Points)
    Note: “Attractions” include, for instance, zoos, museums and theaters.
  • Nightlife Options per Capita**: Full Weight (~1.02 Points)
  • Restaurants per Capita**: Full Weight (~1.02 Points)
  • Affordable Restaurants with Ratings of 4.5+ Stars: Full Weight (~1.02 Points)
  • Bars per Capita**: Full Weight (~1.02 Points)
  • Coffee Shops per Capita**: Full Weight (~1.02 Points)
  • Movie Theaters per Capita**: Full Weight (~1.02 Points)
  • Fitness Centers per Capita**: Full Weight (~1.02 Points)
  • Walkability: Full Weight (~1.02 Points)
    Note: This metric is based on data from Walk Score.
  • Access to Public Transportation: Double Weight (~2.04 Points)
  • Average Commute Time: Full Weight (~1.02 Points)
  • Driving Fatalities per Capita: Full Weight (~1.02 Points)
  • Average Weekly Work Hours: Double Weight (~2.04 Points)
  • Mildness of Weather: Full Weight (~1.02 Points)
    Note: This metric is based on WalletHub’s “Cities with the Best & Worst Weather“ ranking.
  • Air Quality: Full Weight (~1.02 Points)
  • Sports Fan-Friendliness: Full Weight (~1.02 Points)
    Note: This metric is based on WalletHub’s “Best Sports Cities“ ranking.
  • Violent-Crime Rate: Double Weight (~2.04 Points)
  • Property-Crime Rate: Double Weight (~2.04 Points)
  • Perception of Safety (Safety walking alone during daylight/night): Half Weight (~0.51 Points)
    Note: These data are based on perceptions of visitors of Numbeo website in the past 3 years. If the value is 0, it means it is perceived as very low, and if the value is 100, it means it is perceived as very high.

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Sources: Data used to create this ranking were collected from the U.S. Census Bureau, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Council for Community and Economic Research, Chmura Economics & Analytics, ATTOM Data Solutions (RealtyTrac), TransUnion, GreatSchools.org, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Health Resources & Services Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, County Health Rankings, Walk Score, Administrative Office of the United States Courts, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Yelp, TripAdvisor, Numbeo, United States Environmental Protection Agency and WalletHub research.

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