Your 20s and 30s are a fun and exciting time — but also foundational for the rest of your adult life. As a young professional, you have the opportunity to set a firm foundation for your future, by beginning the process of saving money and making sound financial decisions. One of the best ways to do so is by living in a city with reasonable rent costs, a low cost of living, and a low unemployment rate. That way, every dollar you make will go a little bit further, allowing you to begin saving for retirement, create a savings account, and simply have a little extra margin for everyday costs.
Earlier last year, SmartAsset released their list of the Best Cities for Young Professionals. Eight of the country’s 10 best cities for young professionals are located in the Midwest. And even further, two of those cities are situated right here in the state of Nebraska — specifically, Omaha and Lincoln, which ranked as #4 and #10, respectively. These cities provide the lower costs young professionals are after — not to mention, the lifestyle that appeals to Gen Z and young millennials. This means each city has plenty of hip restaurants, lively bars, dog parks, coffee shops, music venues, and more, to create a thriving environment for young professionals to reside.
Omaha Named #4
Best City for Young Professionals
At no surprise to us, Omaha was named the #4 best city for young professionals. This was primarily due to the average rent in Omaha being just under $750 per month, which was the 25th-lowest amongst the cities included in the study. This rent makes up just 18.29% of the median earnings for full-time workers in Omaha, which is the 14th-lowest. Plus, unemployment is also low in Omaha — just 2.2%, which is the 14th-lowest across the study. The cost of living in Omaha is $23,767, which includes housing, food, transportation, healthcare and other basic budget needs.
Omaha is an excellent place for young professionals to live, as it has all the big-city amenities with a small-town feel, where it’s easier (and more affordable) to get involved in the community and get to know other like-minded people. The Greater Omaha Chamber Young Professionals council makes it even easier for young professionals to get connected, through programs and initiatives, volunteer opportunities, and annual events.
Plus, Omaha has a variety of new restaurant concepts, breweries and cocktail bars, shops and boutiques, parks and trails, live music and entertainment venues, art galleries, and other places for young people to meet other young people.
Lincoln Named #10
Best City For Young Professionals
Just down the road from Omaha, Nebraska’s capital city also made it on the list, coming in at the #10 spot. While Omaha was on SmartAsset’s 2021 list, this is the first time Lincoln has made the cut — as this city is consistently growing and improving. Most notably, Lincoln and surrounding Lancaster County have the fifth-lowest unemployment rate (at 1.8%) among the 144 cities included in the study. And the average rent of $763 in Lincoln comprises just 20.04% of a full-time worker’s median earnings in Lincoln, which is the 22nd-lowest. And the cost of living in Lincoln is slightly lower than Omaha’s, coming in at $23,419.
As the home of the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, the city is well-equipped for students and young professionals, with a creative culture, incredible restaurants and bars, plenty of coffee shops, amazing parks and trails, and much more. And yet, it remains relatively affordable for those just starting out in their careers. The Lincoln Young Professionals Group provides additional support for young professionals in the city through educational, leadership and networking opportunities. Lincoln YPG has over 2,000 members, which makes it the largest young professionals group in the state and one of the top ten largest in the country! That also means there are plenty of people to connect with in the area.
Data + Methodology
To rank the best cities for young professionals, SmartAsset considered the 150 largest cities in the U.S., 144 of which had complete data. These 144 cities were compared across the following nine metrics:
Percentage of the population between ages 25 and 34
April 2022 unemployment rate
Labor force participation rate for young professionals
Average rent, calculated using the average rent of a studio, one-bedroom apartment, and half of the average two-bedroom apartment
Estimated annual cost of living, including housing, food, transportation, healthcare and other basic budget needs for an individual
Entertainment establishment density, which means the percentage of all establishments in the area dedicated to the arts, entertainment or recreation
Median earnings for full-time workers
Four-year change in median earnings, which is the percentage change in median earnings for full-time workers from 2016 to 2020
Median rent as a percentage of full-time workers’ earnings
SmartAsset first ranked each city in every metric, weighing all metrics equally. They then found each city’s average ranking and used that average to determine a final score. The city with the best average ranking received a score of 100, while the city with the lowest average got a score of 0.
Overall, the top cities shared one thing in common: affordable rents. The average rent across all 144 cities was $1,130 per month, while the average rent across the top 10 was just $868 per month. This amount made up just 19.91% of full-time workers’ earnings, which is significantly lower than the average of 27.89% across the whole study. Of those places, five cities have unemployment rates that rank among the 10 lowest across the whole study.
The top 10 cities shared another quality: their location in the Midwest. Midwestern cities made up eight of the top 10, spanning from Madison, Wisconsin to Kansas City, Missouri and Cincinnati, Ohio to right here in Omaha and Lincoln.