Metro population: 2,130,151
Residents ages 20-29: 13.3%
Cost-of-living score: 92.7
Monthly rent: $675
Starting salary: $41,800
Money stretches further in the Buckeye State. Cincinnati’s dirt-cheap rents and cost of living make the city hard to ignore for young adults seeking a Midwest alternative to, say, Chicago. Starting salaries are solid, particularly at Fortune 500 companies such as Kroger and Procter & Gamble, and the city expects to add nearly 90,000 jobs by 2016. Among its claims to fame are riverboat cruises, numerous pro and collegiate sports teams, the nation’s largest Oktoberfest, and a signature culinary creation of chili served over spaghetti.
Top selling point: Big-city sports at small-town prices
Biggest drawback: More carbs than culture?
Metro population: 3,349,809
Residents ages 20-29: 14.5%
Cost-of-living score: 116.1
Monthly rent: $942
Starting salary: $46,700
San Francisco and Silicon Valley can claim many of the biggest names in tech, but travel 14 hours north to find high-paying IT, aerospace and green energy jobs at a fraction of the Bay area living cost. Amazon, which has its headquarters in Seattle, began a hiring spree in March. Boeing, Microsoft and the University of Washington also employ thousands in the region. In the off-hours, Seattleites have their pick of theaters, coffee shops and concert halls. For all that, the rent and groceries remain reasonable: Seattle’s cost of living is 30% lower than San Francisco’s and 23% less than San Jose’s.
Top selling point: Like Silicon Valley, but with better coffee
Biggest drawback: Cloudy 226 days a year
Metro population: 802,484
Residents ages 20-29: 16.3%
Cost-of-living score: 94.1
Monthly rent: $714
Starting salary: $41,400
Consider Baton Rouge the cheaper and less congested cousin city of Houston. It boasts thousands of good-paying energy and petrochemical jobs, yet rents are rock-bottom and traffic is tolerable. A major hub of the U.S. oil industry, Baton Rouge has weathered the down economy better than many cities, and it continues to add workers at companies such as ExxonMobil and Dow Chemical, as well as in health care and information technology. While cultural offerings don't compare to those of a larger metropolis, tailgating at LSU football games and exploring Cajun music and cuisine have their charms. Many attractions along the Gulf Coast are within easy day-trip range.
Top selling point: All the hype of Houston without the traffic
Biggest drawback: It's not New Orleans
Metro population: 3,279,833
Residents ages 20-29: 14.1%
Cost-of-living score: 108.1
Monthly rent: $830
Starting salary: $44,400
A magnet for artists, bookworms and other creative types, Minneapolis promises some of the culture of New York without the big-city expense or pretense. Global corporations such as Target, General Mills and Xcel Energy have headquarters here, furnishing good jobs in finance, manufacturing, and professional and technical services. By the city’s count, 160,000 people work downtown. And with three professional sports teams, 6,732 acres of parks and one of the largest live-theater scenes in the country, there are plenty of places for young adults to have fun on a budget. Worth noting: A movie ticket in Minneapolis costs, on average, about 3 dollars less than in Manhattan.
Top selling point: Enough culture to fill a Franzen novel
Biggest drawback: Short summers, long winters
Metro population: 5,582,170
Residents ages 20-29: 14.6%
Cost-of-living score: 144.4
Monthly rent: $1,226
Starting salary: $49,000
Working for Uncle Sam means two things for young adults: big paychecks and job security. The federal government employs roughly 300,000 people in the District of Columbia. It also provides steady work for big-name contractors, trade associations, and lobbying groups. All this explains why unemployment for the D.C. metro area hovers at 6%, two-thirds the national average. While rent and living costs admittedly trend high, young college grads in D.C. can expect to make 17% more than their peers elsewhere. And many up-and-coming neighborhoods in the District offer great culture, relatively affordable housing and good transportation options. Consider Columbia Heights, Shaw-Howard and the newly developed H Street Corridor, all of which brim with bars, restaurants and music venues.
Top selling point: Government jobs galore
Biggest drawback: Nonstop politics can be party poopers
Metro population: 645,613
Residents ages 20-29: 15.1%
Cost-of-living score: 91.8
Monthly rent: $802
Starting salary: $42,300
For young adults, Colorado Springs offers a tempting combination of good starting salaries in a stable defense- and tech-based economy, plus low rents and living costs. Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin and Atmel rank among the city’s top employers, and large finance, defense and technology companies announced plans to expand this year. Located in the Rocky Mountains, 70 miles south of Denver, Colorado Springs is already well-known to outdoorsy types. The 14,110-foot Pike's Peak sits directly above town, and the city's bicyle-friendly "complete streets" policy makes it ideal for urban cyclists. Plus, groceries and other everyday expenses are less here than in any city on our list.
Top selling point: Live the Rocky Mountain high life
Biggest drawback: Urbanites need not apply
Metro population: 9,461,105
Residents ages 20-29: 14.0%
Cost-of-living score: 114.4
Monthly rent: $882
Starting salary: $44,300
Chicago added nearly 17,000 jobs last year, gaining jobs even as other big cities such as New York and Los Angeles lost them. That's not the only advantage Chicago holds over its coastal peers. While salaries skew high, as in similar metropolises, living costs remain reasonable by comparison. Rent, for example, runs about 20% less in the Windy City than in the Big Apple. Twentysomethings can expect to earn above-average wages at companies such as AT&T, United Continental and JPMorgan Chase, some of the city's largest private employers. Then they can put that extra take-home pay toward Chicago's storied nightlife and culture, the plethora of professional sports teams and arguably the country's best improv.
Top selling point: Better job growth (and pizza) than New York or Los Angeles
Biggest drawback: It really is windy
Metro population: 568,593
Residents ages 20-29: 17.3%
Cost-of-living score: 108.1
Monthly rent: $804
Starting salary: $41,200
Average paychecks for young adults aren't anything to brag about, but Madison does pride itself on other unparalleled pros: steady job growth, a perennially low unemployment rate and a huge population of twenty-somethings. The Wisconsin capital has added more than 24,500 jobs since 2000, and state officials recently announced plans to add 25,000 more bioscience jobs in the next five years. Madison is also known for its quirky, progressive and hyper-literate urban culture. Satirical stalwart The Onion got its start here in 1988, and the University of Wisconsin, a host of music venues and one of the country's largest farmers' markets call Madison home.
Top selling point: Equal parts idiosyncratic, ascendant and affordable
Biggest drawback: Nearly four feet of snow every winter
Metro population: 5,268,860
Residents ages 20-29: 13.6%
Cost-of-living score: 97.5
Monthly rent: $897
Starting salary: $43,300
Atlanta is one of the few major metropolitan areas where young adults can enjoy higher-than-average paychecks, plenty of opportunity at premier corporations, and world-class culture and nightlife — all at a cost of living below the national average. In fact, Atlanta boasts the third-largest number of Fortune 500 companies in the U.S. Outfits such as Home Depot, UPS and Coca-Cola tend to pay well: A young, college-educated Atlantan’s salary tops the national median by $1,400 annually. Hip, eclectic neighborhoods such as Little Five Points and Virginia-Highland keep twenty-somethings busy in the off-work hours.
Top selling point: Southern hospitality sans the expense
Biggest drawback: Unemployment is running higher than average
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