U.S. News & World Report ranks Des Moines 14th best place to live – Des Moines Register

U.S. News & World Report released its annual ranking of the Best Places to Live in the U.S. on Tuesday, and Des Moines came in 14th out of the 150 largest U.S. metropolitan areas — right behind Austin, Texas, and just ahead of Boise, Idaho.
That places Des Moines among the top 10% of the country’s largest cities. But it’s a step down from previous years. In 2018, U.S. News — a pioneer and leader in ranking lists — placed Des Moines fourth, and each year since, Iowa’s capital has dropped in the rankings, including this year, when it slipped one spot down from 13th.
But what, exactly, goes into those widely cited rankings? Is Des Moines actually slipping, or are other metropolitan areas stepping up?
One reason U.S. News’ rankings carry some weight in the overcrowded world of “listicle” journalism is that it publishes its methodology for each year’s report and strives to maintain a consistent method for arriving at its scores. That means users can take a closer look at where their cities score well and where they fall short.
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A quarter of the ranking is based on housing affordability — a combination of median household income and annual housing costs based on mortgages and rent prices.
Despite a competitive housing market, Des Moines housing prices remain below the national median, according to Zillow data cited in the U.S. News ranking. It received a housing affordability index score of 8 out of 10, its highest mark it in any subcategory.
Des Moines has long scored well in this category. Over the past three years, the city has ranked among the top five for in U.S. News’ Cheapest Places to Live report. This year, Des Moines dropped to 12th on that list, but still outperformed its overall ranking.
But scores were down for cities across the board in the magazine’s Best Places to Live rankings this year. The top composite score awarded last year was 7.6 out of 10; this year, it was 7.0, awarded to first-place finisher Huntsville, Alabama. A city with that score would not have made the top 20 last year. Des Moines’ score for 2022 was 6.6.
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Another part of the U.S. News rankings comes from what it terms the “desirability index.” It’s a survey of about 3,500 people from across the country, asking where they would like to live. It’s less scientific than other parts of the rankings, which use quantifiable measures such as median income or EPA air quality metrics, but it still accounts for more than a sixth of a city’s overall ranking.
Des Moines’ desirability ranking dropped from 5.9 out of 10 to 4.7 out of 10 in 2022, its largest decline among any of the five subcategories in the report.
A similar metric used in the report is net migration, a measure of how many people are moving to or from a given city, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. That data backs up the survey, to an extent. Over the most recent five years of available data from the census bureau’s American Community Survey, the share of Des Moines metro residents who moved from outside the metro area has declined each year, though it was the fastest-growing large metro in the Midwest over the last decade.
Net migration makes up 5% of the U.S. News composite ranking.
Other factors in the composite rankings include the unemployment rate, FBI crime rate and average commute time, as recorded by the census. The rankings also are based on other U.S. News rankings, including for hospitals and high schools.
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Despite declines in each subcategory, Des Moines still scored very highly, and was third among cities in the Midwest. Only Green Bay, Wisconsin (third) and Ann Arbor, Michigan (11th) scored higher.
“Being ranked in the top 15 of the most recent ‘Best Cities to Live’ ranking by U.S. News & World Report, and #3 in the Midwest, is one of many recent national rankings and positive economic metrics that show both long-term momentum for the Greater Des Moines region and set an expectation for a continued strong economic recovery,” said Jay Byers, president and CEO of the Greater Des Moines Partnership.
“DSM is again well-placed in the top 10% of all major metros, and we must continue to cultivate our competitive edge by investing in transformational placemaking projects including the Iowa Confluence Water Trails, the USL Pro Iowa Soccer Stadium and Global Plaza, the Des Moines International Airport terminal project and more.”
The Quad Cities, the only other Iowa metro area ranked in the report, placing 53rd. Nearby Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota (27th) and Omaha, Nebraska (29th) also performed well in the rankings, but Des Moines residents can exercise bragging rights  — if they’re willing to buy into the report’s methodology.
The top 10 metros in this year’s ranking were:
Tim Webber is a data visualization specialist for the Register. Reach him at twebber@registermedia.com, 515-284-8532, and on Twitter at @HelloTimWebber.

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