The best—and worst—U.S. metro areas for the middle class

About 50% of the American population is considered middle class, according to 2022 data from the Pew Research Center. And if you’re part of that class, where you live in the U.S. can greatly impact your quality of life — for better or for worse.

The research group Ludwig Institute for Shared Economic Prosperity (LISEP) ranked the 50 largest U.S. Metropolitan Statistical Areas that offer the best and worst quality of life for the middle class.

The study ranked the livability of each city based on the following:

  • True living cost (housing, food, childcare, etc.)
  • True weekly earnings (wages for the cost of living for all workers)
  • True rate of unemployment out of the population (the percentage of the population unable to find a full-time, living-wage job)

“Across the nation we are seeing both ends of the spectrum — communities where middle- and working-class families are faring well and others where financial survival remains a struggle,” Gene Ludwig, chair of the LISEP, said in an analysis of the study’s findings.

No. 1 U.S. metro area for the middle class: San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara

The San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara metro area in California is the best place for the middle class, according to the LISEP report.

While the cost of necessities for a family of four in the area has increased some 75% since 2005 — from about $67,000 to $117,500 — the typical worker has gained nearly 20% in purchasing power during that same time.

Households in the area have, on average, more than 25% of their income leftover after paying for essential expenses including childcare, transportation and groceries, according to the report.

San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara is the best metro area in the U.S. for the middle class, according to LISEP.

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10 best U.S. metro areas for the middle class

Austin, Texas ranked as the second-best U.S. city for the middle class, according to LISEP.

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Similar to San Jose, Austin has emerged as a tech hub in recent years,as companies like Amazon, Google, Meta, SpaceX, and Tesla have expanded their presence in the city. In 2019, Apple invested $1 billion to build a new campus.

A recent Bankrate report states that the median sale price for a home in Austin as of January 2023 was $530,000, according to Redfin data. Although that was a 5% year-over-year decline, it’s still well above the national median price of $359,000.

The worst U.S. metro area for the middle class: Fresno

Fresno, California is the worst city for the U.S. middle class, according to the LISEP study.

The cost of living has increased by two-thirds and the typical worker’s buying power has fallen 3% since 2005, according to LISEP. The study also finds that 60% of middle-class, working households in Fresno cannot cover their basic needs.

The true rate of unemployment in Fresno is close to 60%, while, on average, true weekly earnings are $753.

Fresno, California ranked as the worst U.S. city for the middle class, according to LISEP.

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10 worst U.S. metro areas for the middle class

Las Vegas, Nevada ranked as the second-worst U.S. city for the middle class.

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Nicknamed “Sin City,” Las Vegas, Nevada, is known for its massive casinos and hotels and is a global leader in the hospitality industry.

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