7 Distinctive Traits of U.S. Capital Cities

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If you’ve ever thought about moving to a capital city, these 7 distinctive traits of U.S. capital cities could make them serious contenders in the search for your perfect retirement location!

To identify these traits, I researched, analyzed and compared key data points on all 50 U.S. capital cities against each other, their respective states and the nation overall.

Among the data points I studied were: population, median age, colleges, median home sales price and household income, unemployment rate, and Fortune 500 company headquarters. I also highlighted the 3 capital cities that ranked at the top and bottom of each category.

And now, without further ado, let’s take a closer look at the 7 distinctive traits of U.S. capital cities!

Capital cities tend to be smaller.

According to American Community Survey estimates for 2016-2020, the vast majority of U.S. capital cities are not their state’s largest city. In fact, only 17 out of the 50 capital cities are the largest city in their state.

The 3 largest capital cities are: Phoenix, Arizona (1,658,422), Austin, Texas (965,872) and Columbus, Ohio (889,079). The 3 smallest capital cities are: Montpelier, Vermont (7,434), Pierre, South Dakota (13,908), and Augusta, Maine (18,662).

Capital cities are typically younger.

U.S. capital cities tend to skew younger than their respective states and the nation overall. Eighty percent (80%) of capital cities have a lower median age than the national median age of 38.5, and 74% have a lower median age than their respective state.

The 3 capital cities with the highest median age are: Augusta, Maine (45.6), Montpelier, Vermont (45.4) and Santa Fe, New Mexico (44.4). The 3 capital cities with the lowest median age are: Tallahassee, Florida (26.9), Columbia, South Carolina (28.5) and Providence, Rhode Island (30.6).

Capital cities are also college towns.

Forty-eight out of 50 U.S. state capital cities (96%) are college towns, which could also explain their younger populations.

The 3 capital cities with the most colleges are: Boston, Massachusetts (15), Atlanta, Georgia (11) and Nashville, Tennessee (7). Cheyenne, Wyoming and Pierre, South Dakota are the only two capital cities that do not have a college.

Even Montpelier, Vermont – the smallest capital city – has one college. Woodbury College is known for its law, social work, and liberal arts programs. It has a lot of female students ages 40 and over. (Montpelier also has the second-highest median age of all state capital cities.)

Capital cities often have more affordable housing.

Housing costs in most U.S. capital cities are more affordable than the national average. The median home sales price is lower in 37 out of the 50 capital cities (74%) than the national median home sales price of $408,100.

The 3 capital cities with the highest median home sales prices are: Honolulu, Hawaii ($1,054,500), Boston, Massachusetts ($635,700) and Denver, Colorado ($617,600). The 3 capital cities with the lowest median home sales prices are: Springfield, Illinois ($153,700), Charleston, West Virginia ($164,800) and Topeka, Kansas ($175,400).

Capital cities often have a higher median income than their state.

The median household income of just over half (52%) of U.S. capital cities is lower than the national median household income of $67,340.

A larger proportion (58%) of capital cities have a higher median household income than their respective states. The capital city with the widest gap in median household income is Raleigh with $88,763, compared to $59,616 for North Carolina.

The 3 capital cities with the highest median household incomes are: Annapolis, Maryland ($105,979), Honolulu, Hawaii ($89,584) and Juneau, Alaska ($89,204). The 3 capital cities with the lowest median household incomes are: Charleston, West Virginia ($47,830), Montgomery, Alabama ($49,607) and Augusta, Maine ($53,876).

Capital cities tend to have a lower unemployment rate than the U.S.

The majority (74%) of U.S. capital cities had a lower unemployment rate than the national rate (4.4%) as of January 2022. But capital cities don’t fare as well when compared to their states. More than half (58%) of capital cities have a higher unemployment rate than their respective states.

As the government seat of their state, capital cities typically have a more stable job market. However, the pandemic really did a number on the government sector. A March 2022 analysis by the Center for American Progress found 695,000 fewer people employed in state and local government jobs than before the pandemic.

The 3 capital cities with the highest unemployment rates are: Dover, Delaware (5.8%), Olympia, Washington (5.1%) and Springfield, Illinois (5.1%). The 3 capital cities with the lowest unemployment rates are: Indianapolis, Indiana (2.2%), Lincoln, Nebraska (2.3%) and Pierre, South Dakota (2.3%). Madison, Wisconsin is tied with Lincoln and Pierre with a 2.3% unemployment rate.

Capital cities are as likely as not to be Fortune 500 headquarters.

Fifty percent (50%) of U.S. capital cities are the headquarters of at least one Fortune 500 company; the other half do not have any.

Most capital cities that are the headquarters of a Fortune 500 company are larger in population size, but not all. The smallest capital city with a Fortune 500 company (MDU Resource Group) is Bismarck, North Dakota (73,435).

The 3 capital cities with the most Fortune 500 companies are Atlanta, Georgia (23), Columbus, Ohio (12) and Boston, Massachusetts (10). Denver, Colorado also has 10 Fortune 500 companies.

Let data guide your decision about where to move!

You’ll have more success with your search when you’re clear about the location qualities that matter most to you and which data will best inform your decision. Want a handy, FREE companion tool to guide and inspire your online research?  Grab the PlaceFinding Cheat Sheet here and get an exhaustive reference list of community data points to help you gather all the information you need online!

Not a data geek? Not a problem!

You don’t have to be a data geek to find your dream location! Let Your Place Finder handle all your online research and prepare a customized, interactive report that details your most compatible retirement locations. Click here to learn more about the one-on-one PlaceFinder Program!

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About the Author

I founded Your Place Finder in 2017 to help retirees and almost retirees like you anticipate and overcome the pitfalls and challenges – and reap the rich rewards – of finding the perfect location to move for retirement.

1 Comments

  1. KJ on May 25, 2022 at 4:01 am

    Excellent blog!

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