Great, affordable places to live

Job Opportunities a Big Lure

Housing is a major factor in making a place affordable—and attractive. According to recently released results from the Census Bureau's 2010 Current Population Survey, housing is the main reason people relocate: Of people who moved in 2010, 43.7 percent did so for such housing-related reasons as finding a new or better home, cheaper housing, or a neighborhood with less crime.

That's just part of the picture. "People follow jobs and not low-cost housing," says Lawrence Yun, chief economist and senior vice-president of research at the National Association of Realtors. "North Dakota has been doing well because of job growth while Las Vegas and Cleveland continue to struggle—all [are] very affordable markets," he says.

About 16.4 percent of people in the U.S. who moved in 2010 did so for employment-related reasons, says the Census Bureau's survey.

Even in these best affordable places, it's wise not to expect Utopia. In Cass County, for example, flooding is common in the Red River Valley. This year, the river crested in the Fargo area at 38.75 feet in April, according to the National Weather Service, making it the fourth- highest flood on record. It has since declined slowly.

Still, when it's not flood season, Cass County can be an attractive place to live. Unlike many places with nice homes, clean air, low crime, and a strong job market, it's accessible to the average income earner, too.

Here are the 10 American best affordable places to live:

No. 10 - Cumberland County, ME.
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No. 10: Cumberland County, Maine
Population: 276,529
Median family income: $68,707
Households spending more than 30 percent income on housing: 37.3 percent
Unemployment: 6.4 percent
Adult population with bachelor's degrees: 38.3 percent
Major cities: Portland, South Portland, Yarmouth

Luxury homes can be found in Cumberland County areas such as Freeport, Falmouth, and Yarmouth, shows a search on luxuryportfolio.com, but Zillow.com estimates the median list price in the area is about $250,000. The Portland area is the state's main economic hub and provides high-quality, affordable housing and excellent school systems, according to Maine Medical Center. It also has a low violent crime rate—not to mention great shopping: Freeport is home to L.L. Bean and numerous outlet stores.


No. 9 - Lafayette Parish, LA.
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No. 9: Lafayette Parish, Louisiana
Population: 212,684
Median family income: $59,910
Households spending more than 30 percent income on housing: 25.4 percent
Unemployment: 6.6 percent
Adult population with bachelor's degrees: 27.7 percent
Major cities: Lafayette, Scott

The population of Lafayette Parish has expanded quickly, growing by 16.3 percent from 2000 to 2010, above its 15.6 percent growth rate from 1990 to 2000, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. The area has several communities that have been recognized for quality of life, including Youngsville, Lafayette, and Broussard.


No. 8 - Pulaski County, AR.
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No. 8: Pulaski County, Arkansas
Population: 383,347
Median family income: $57,324
Households spending more than 30 percent income on housing: 26.2 percent
Unemployment: 7.3 percent
Adult population with bachelor's degrees: 31 percent
Major cities: Little Rock, North Little Rock, Jacksonville

The Arkansas River runs through Pulaski County, providing opportunities for boating, fishing, and hiking. U.S. Census data show that the health-care and retail sectors are major employers in the area, which is located in the geographic center of Arkansas. According to the county website, medical facilities and practices employ more than 34,000 people in Pulaski County. Little Rock is home to such major health facilities as the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Baptist Medical Center, John McClelland Veteran's Affairs Hospital, St. Vincent Infirmary Center, and the Arkansas Heart Hospital.


No. 7 - Yellowstone County, MT.
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No. 7: Yellowstone County, Montana
Population: 146,576
Median family income: $60,630
Households spending more than 30 percent income on housing: 28.6 percent
Unemployment: 6.3 percent
Adult population with bachelor's degrees: 27.7 percent
Major city: Billings

Home to Montana's largest city, Billings, Yellowstone County was named for the Yellowstone River that runs through it. The area has many natural park areas, including Pompeys Pillar National Monument, a sandstone rock formation, and Nez Perce National Historical Park, which spreads into Montana, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington. Billings is known for its quiet neighborhoods and business districts, the city website states.


No. 6 - Onondaga County, NY.
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No. 6: Onondaga County, New York
Population: 455,912
Median family income: $65,458
Households spending more than 30 percent income on housing: 26.4 percent
Unemployment: 8.2 percent
Adult population with bachelor's degrees: 31.5 percent
Major cities: Syracuse, Salina, Clay

With a cost of living about 18 percent below the U.S. average, according to Sperling's BestPlaces, Syracuse is an affordable city. While its population shrank slightly in the past 10 years, according to 2010 U.S. Census data, other areas in the county have grown, including Pompey, Cicero, and Lysander. Upstate University Health System and Syracuse University are among the area's major employers, according to the county website.


No. 5 - Olmstead County, MN.
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No. 5: Olmsted County, Minnesota
Population: 145,269
Median family income: $79,458
Households spending more than 30 percent income on housing: 25.6 percent
Unemployment: 5.9 percent
Adult population with bachelor's degrees: 39.3 percent
Major cities: Rochester, Marion

The largest city in Olmsted County is Rochester, home to the Mayo Clinic, earning the area the title, Med City. According to greatschools.org, Century Senior High School, Washington Elementary School, and Friedell Middle School are among the city's most highly ranked. The median home list price in Rochester was $145,900 in April, according to Zillow.com.


No. 4 - Story County, IA.
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No. 4: Story County, Iowa
Population: 87,699
Median family income: $73,702
Households spending more than 30 percent income on housing: 21.1 percent
Unemployment: 5 percent
Adult population with bachelor's degrees: 45.4 percent
Major cities: Ames, Nevada

Story County, north of Des Moines, is home to Iowa State University in Ames. Education, health care, and government are the largest employers in the county, show U.S. Census data. Ames also has several highly ranked public schools, according to greatschools.org, including Ames High School, Ames Middle School, and Fellow Elementary School.


No. 3 - Cleveland County, OK.
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No. 3: Cleveland County, Oklahoma
Population: 248,408
Median family income: $64,350
Households spending more than 30 percent income on housing: 23.3 percent
Unemployment: 5.7 percent
Adult population with bachelor's degrees: 30.1 percent
Major cities: Norman, Moore

Cleveland County is Oklahoma's third-largest in population and second-fastest-growing county, according to the Greater Oklahoma City Partnership. Farming, oil production, and horse breeding are important area industries, according to the county. The cost of living in Norman, the area's largest city and home to the University of Oklahoma, is 15 percent below the U.S. average and the district has several good schools, according to greatschools.org.


No. 2 - Brown County, SD.
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No. 2: Brown County, South Dakota
Population: 35,779
Median family income: $57,264
Households spending more than 30 percent income on housing: 23.4 percent
Unemployment: 4.2 percent
Adult population with bachelor's degrees: 24.1 percent
Major city: Aberdeen

Brown County, in northern South Dakota, has a very low unemployment rate and the cost of living is among the country's lowest, at 23 percent below average, according to Sperling's BestPlaces. Hunting, fishing, camping, boating, cross-country skiing, bird-watching, biking, and snowmobiling are popular outdoor activities in Aberdeen, the county's largest city.


No. 1 - Cass County, ND.
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No. 1: Cass County, North Dakota
Population: 145,303
Median family income: $67,120
Households spending more than 30 percent income on housing: 23.6 percent
Unemployment: 4.2 percent
Adult population with bachelor's degrees: 34.7 percent
Major cities: Fargo, West Fargo

Cass County is No. 1 in this year's ranking of best places. The cost of living in the area is about 12 percent lower than the U.S. average, according to Sperling's BestPlaces, the crime rate is low, and the job market is strong. The Greater Fargo-Moorhead Economic Development Corp. states on its website: "North Dakota boasts the lowest overall crime rate and the lowest violent crime rate in the nation. The air and water are clean, it's easy to navigate, housing is plentiful and affordable, and schools and medical facilities are outstanding." ACT scores in Fargo public schools are consistently higher than state and national averages, according to Fargo School District No. 1.

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