The Best Cities For Veterans to Live
Active service members nearing retirement or discharge often feel like they are about to start a whole new life, and in many respects they are. They have the opportunity to find a new career, find a new place to live, explore new hobbies, and spend a more time with their family. The feeling you get may be very similar to how you felt when you graduated high school – except this time you may have children and a spouse, more facial hair (for men), a lot more life experience under your belt, more distrust for politicians, and most importantly, you appreciate a good nap.
As every service member discovers during their time in the military, not all cities are created equal (though all BX’s are). Many cities and areas are more friendly to veterans and their situations than others. The USAA (United Services Automobile Association) has put together a list of the best cities for veterans. The choices they made depended very heavily on job creation and unemployment rates, as well as cost of living. We’ll go over their top ten, and throw in extra information about the cities that can help you determine which one is the best fit for your situation. We’ll also wrap up with some honorable mentions found from livability.com.
#10 – Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Coming in at the #10 spot for the best cities for veterans to live in is Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Fort Lauderdale has not made the USAA list before, but has made it now due to the large number of employment opportunities available for veterans. In addition to the employment opportunities, Fort Lauderdale also has low home prices, a low cost-of-living, and strong economic growth. The USAA reports that the median price of a typical home in Fort Lauderdale is $137,700, the economy grew at 3.1% over the last year, and has an unemployment rate at 5.7%, which is lower than the national average. Something big must be happening in Florida, because this is just one of three Florida cities on the top 10 list.
#9 – Orlando, Florida
Orlando, Florida boasts similar advantages to Fort Lauderdale – solid economic growth, a fair amount of employment opportunities, and low home prices. While its unemployment rate is a bit higher than Fort Lauderdale (6.6%), and the economic growth over the past year a bit lower (2.5%), the median home price is significantly lower at $117,600. In addition to the very low cost of housing, veterans living in Orlando benefit from all of the luxuries a large city provides. Orlando is extremely close to numerous theme parks and major tourist attractions. Living in Orlando is living every day in a place that other people pay thousands of dollars to vacation to. Whatever phase of life you are in when you leave the military, Orlando has something for you. From one of the largest schools in the U.S. (University of Central Florida), to a massive leisure and hospitality industry, to a warm climate, to low housing costs, Orlando is a great place for veterans to live.
#8 – Salt Lake City, Utah
As a resident of Salt Lake City, it comes as no surprise to me that it is on the USAA’s top 10 list of best cities for veterans. Salt Lake City has an astoundingly low unemployment rate of 4.5% and great economic growth of 4% in the last year. While Salt Lake has a fairly high average household incomes, homes are also far more expensive on average. The median price for a typical home in Salt Lake is $222,300.
Here’s the resident’s insider perspective: Salt Lake City is a great place to live – and the suburbs of Salt Lake City are even better. As you probably know, Salt Lake City is the world headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (the Mormons). Regardless of your religious beliefs, the presence of the LDS church in Salt Lake is a major benefit: downtown Salt Lake is very safe (even at night), very clean, and has plenty of things to do. During the Holidays, Temple Square in the middle of downtown is meticulously and grandly decorated with tens of thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of lights with free tours of historic buildings. Even residents who’ve lived in the area for 30+ years try to find a time every year to go down to walk around Temple Square to see the lights.
Salt Lake City sits at the base of part of the Rocky Mountain range, and as far as you can see both to the North and to the South are majestic views and gorgeous canyons. Whether you’re looking for a beautiful place to quietly retire, or looking for a place to start the next phase of your life with your family, Salt Lake City offers fantastic leisure opportunities and a patriotic environment very friendly to veterans.
#7 – Tampa, Florida
Completing the Florida trifecta is Tampa. Tampa’s major strength lies in its cost-of-living; Tampa boasts extremely low housing prices (a median of $106,600), and very high job growth, tying with Salt Lake City for the top spot at 4%. However, Tampa does have a higher unemployment rate than any other cities on the top 10 list (but still lower than the national average). Tampa’s unemployment rate is 6.9%. Tampa and the surrounding area has several universities and colleges that can provide opportunities for younger veterans, and is convenient to many relaxing vacation places for those looking to pamper themselves in retirement.
#6 – Norfolk, Virginia
Norfolk offers several unique benefits compared to the cities we’ve already discussed. First, it’s the only one so far that can really be considered on the east coast, so for those who have family in that area or have other reasons to want to head to the east coast after leaving the military, Norfolk could be a great candidate. Second, it’s got the highest concentration of federal jobs, military installations, and VA facilities. As far as the numbers go, Norfolk does well with a 5.7% unemployment rate, but has a higher median home price of $194,700. Norfolk is a beautiful city and not a far drive from gorgeous scenery.
#5 – Austin, Texas
In many things, Austin is better-than-average, and in most others, it’s at least average. Overall, Austin is a great place for veterans to live. Austin is even better for those younger veterans looking for jobs with technology companies, since it is home to quite a few of the major players in the tech industry. In Austin, the unemployment rate is only 5.3%, while the growth rate is at a fantastic 3.4%. The median home price is on par with the national average at $186,600, and household income is very high. While Austin has a warmer climate, it is nowhere near the oppressive desert heat often associated with Texas. With average highs in July and August around 95 degrees Fahrenheit, and average lows in December and January around 40 degrees Fahrenheit, Austin gets hot, but not deathly, in the summer, and pleasantly cool in the winter, not cold.
#4 – Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Like Austin, Oklahoma City is the state capital, and as such there are a lot of state government employment opportunities for those coming out of the military. Oklahoma City also has an extremely low cost-of-living, and claims the lowest median home price of the entire list. The median home price in Oklahoma City is just $105,800. The economy in Oklahoma City is doing great with the oil, gas, and mineral developments that have been taking place recently. For veterans looking to increase their education, the University of Oklahoma provides fantastic and varied educational opportunities.
Oklahoma City is a higher population area, but the state of Oklahoma has a great deal of mountainous areas and wilderness. Living in Oklahoma City, you’ll have all the benefits of being in a large city, but you won’t have to go far to see beautiful forests and varied wildlife. Without driving too far, you’ll be able to see the milky way clearly in the night sky and enjoy some time out-of-doors. Like many of the places on this list, Oklahoma City has a good offering in the way of employment and the economic situation, and also offers great recreational activities and ways to relax.
#3 – Minneapolis, Minnesota
Minneapolis, Minnesota has steady and consistent job growth, a low 5.3% unemployment rate, a good median house price ($167,000), and the highest average household income of any city on this list. Minneapolis holds its own on all of the basic indicators that the USAA looked for in creating this list, but it has several unique factors that bring it high up on the list. Minneapolis’ economy is not only very strong, it’s also unusually diverse, catering to a large variety of professionals. This diversity makes it great for veterans because chances are that no matter what your specialty in the military was, you’ll be able to find a job that utilizes your special talents. Minneapolis also has an extremely low crime rate – the lowest crime rate of all the cities on this list. For the younger veterans still looking for a place where they can find a job to support their families, and for older veterans looking for a place they can retire without too much worry, the safe streets and strong, diverse economy of Minneapolis, Minnesota have a lot to offer.
#2 – Dallas, Texas
As we get down to the top two cities in the U.S. for veterans, the things that make these cities stand apart get more apparent. Dallas, Texas finds a fantastic balance between an affordable cost-of-living and a well-performing economy. The median home price in Dallas is a respectable $123,741; not the lowest, but still a very easy amount to work with compared to many other places in the United States. Living in Dallas, however, is not for someone looking for a rural place to settle down. Dallas is the seventh largest metro area in the U.S. and has everything you’d expect in a massive city. In Dallas there is a not only a large number of employment opportunities, but also a great variety of them, which makes Dallas a good bet for most veterans looking for work.
Dallas is one of many cities getting a large benefit from the oil and gas development in that area, and has had a healthy job growth of 2.9% over the last year as well as an unemployment rate of 6.2%. One thing Dallas does extremely well: stability. The recession and housing crisis have not hit Dallas nearly as hard as other places in the country, and the city has been consistently growing for a while. With several major hospitals, an international airport, and a great deal of leisure services and activities, Dallas can be a fun place to retire for those wanting the big city life, and a great place to find new work as you leave the military.
#1 – Houston, Texas
Houston and the area around it are the state’s own personal Florida in terms of both climate and recreation. Houston has a warm climate that doesn’t usually see snowfall but gets an above-average amount of rain. The average July high is in the low 90s and the average January low is in the mid 40s. However, you need to know that Houston is quite humid, which can make the low 90s seem a lot more uncomfortable than you would think. Therefore, Houston does not do too well on the “comfort index”, but can be fantastic for older veterans looking for a warm place to retire and enjoy. Houston is right on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, and is a great place to go for those who want to enjoy saltwater fishing, cruises, or caribbean vacations.
On the economic side of life, Houston is very strong. Houston’s economy is both diverse and strong, and has an unusual concentration of job opportunities that correspond with skills that those transitioning from the military have. Houston’s unemployment rate is a very respectable 6.1%, and the job growth is holding steady at 2.6%. Even though Houston’s economy is booming, the cost-of-living is staying relatively low, with the median housing price below the national average. Houston is even bigger than Dallas, however, and is the 4th largest metro area in the United States. There’s a great deal to do in Houston, and many places to work.
So there you have it! Those are the USAA’s top-rated cities for veterans. As promised, here are some other cities to look into that livability.com put on their top 10 list: Cheyenne, Wyoming, Colorado Springs, Colorado, and Fayetteville, North Carolina. If those cities are closer to where you’re hoping to live after leaving the military, they should have a lot of potential for you.