Where-To-Live Indicators – FAQ

What's different about our ratings?
What do the reports cost?
How can I use them?
Do I really need to worry?

Where do the data come from?
How subjective are the ratings?
How 'local' are our measurements?
Why all this emphasis on moving?

What's different about our ratings?  There are plenty of "America's Ten Best Places To Retire," or "Great places to raise children." Criteria for good hometowns often feature amenities (art galleries, sports and recreation facilities), ambiance (riverside bike paths, sidewalk cafes), and history and heritage (beautiful buildings, historic districts). We think that's great - we like good libraries and nearby ski areas as much as anyone.

But our Where-To-Live Indicators reflect a different view - in two ways. First, we look at the predicted environmental, economic, and social challenges facing American families - their finances and quality of life. We judge hometowns by how likely they are to insulate their residents from these costs and dangers over the coming decade.

Second, we look for indicators of future conditions, not today's. Many localities are heading for dramatic change; we want to predict what it will be like to live there five to ten years from now.

Check out a sample report.

What do the indicators cost?   They're FREE. Read and download indicators on as many locations as you want. We make it easy to compare communities side-by-side.

How can I use them? If you're like most readers of Where-To-Live Indicators, you'll want to evaluate your hometown, compare it with others, or just wander from town to town getting the feel for the costs and risks that might affect your family. You might ask yourself:

"That place looks attractive. How about the neighboring towns?"

"As a senior, I'm interested in healthcare, low taxes, and a local safety net, not quality of education or the job market. I'm looking for towns that rank high for my needs."

"Our friends love their city. I wonder how it rates."

"I've heard all those good things about Portland, Austin, and Minneapolis. Let's check them out."

"Our son wants to live near ski country. What are some high-rated towns near the mountains?"

You will learn about factors predicted to affect your finances and well-being. Maybe discover some attractive communities you hadn't thought about. Learn how you can do more detailed and local research.

Do I really need to worry about all those negative things?    Maybe you don't. Maybe you have lots of savings and live frugally. Your town has plenty of hydro power and fresh water nearby. You're locked in to Social Security, and local healthcare costs are low. Your state and municipality are in good fiscal shape. And if fuel prices rise, you can walk most places!

These indicators are for the rest of us. For families who can visualize financial, environmental, and social challenges ahead. And for those who understand that some localities simply make it a whole lot easier for us to hold down our costs and improve our incomes.

Our indicators are also for families who may be OK, but who worry about what their grandchildren's lives are going to be like. And what they can do about that now.

Where do the data come from?   It's amazing, the sources that are out there!  Did you know there's a Hazards and Vulnerability Research Institute that rates US counties on their risks and costs of an environmental disaster? The Dartmouth Health Atlas records healthcare costs by hospital area. The American Institute of Physics highlights the big differences in Science and Engineering Readiness from state to state. The Network for New Energy Choices grades net metering regulations. Check the list at the bottom of this page.

All the indicators we use are from government and private-sector research organizations. Each source is discussed in the Indicators Notes that go with Where-To-Live Indicators. You can see an overview of some of them at the bottom of this page.

How subjective are the ratings? It's a good question. All our indicators come from reputable research organizations, but we select which indicators to apply and which to ignore, and we assign them weights, so we may be letting our subjectivity creep in. So you get to answer this one. Take a look at some Where-To-Live Indicators, and let us have your comments (at the bottom of most pages on this web site). Maybe you can help us see a town more objectively.

How local are our indicators?   As local as we can find, like

  • healthcare costs by hospital service area
  • drought risk by county
  • average WalkScore by Zip Code
  • school quality by town
  • heating/cooling needs, sunshine, and wind by nearest weather station

Where more highly-localized data are available to you but are not in our database, we tell you about those sources.

Why all this emphasis on moving?   It's true that staying where you are there are lots of smart financial and lifestyle moves you can make. The media are full of them, from high-mileage cars to backyard vegetable gardens to solar panels to flood insurance. Many of these tactics can help a family weather the challenges predicted for this decade. But it's almost impossible to

save gasoline costs if you have to drive everywhere

start a community garden in the wrong soil and climate

get your municipality out from under unfunded pension liabilities and fiscal pressures

install wind or solar power where wind and sunshine are below average

stretch your retirement savings in an area with high healthcare, housing, and living costs

keep municipal and state taxes down in a locality prone to natural disasters

For many families, moving to the right hometown can do far more to control financial, environmental, and social costs than any number of lifestyle changes.

Email us a question.  The answer may belong here.

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Reports are based on future indicators derived from
these and similar authorities:

US Census Bureau

        Intro to our Indicators            Sample report           ACCESS INDICATORS

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