Where the middle class thrives

These eight places have low unemployment, a good quality of life and decent incomes, according to government data compiled by CNNMoney and nonprofits Opportunity Nation and Measure of America.

Richland County, Wisconsin

middle class thrive richland center
  • Population: 17,983
  • Median household Income: $42,971
  • Unemployment rate: 4.9%

The county's main town of Richland Center may be small, but it has plenty of global ambition. The local branch of the University of Wisconsin has two exchange programs with Chinese universities, and community leaders are working on a project to build a dairy facility that would make products for the Chinese market, said Paul Corcoran, the town's mayor and a local pharmacy owner.

The town's main employers include a maker of factory automation equipment, two existing dairies and a foundry.

For recreation, Corcoran said locals enjoy the outdoor activities, like hunting, fishing, and hiking, as well as a variety of motor sports. The town even hosts something called the "Hybrid Redneck Rally," a combination tractor pull/demolition derby/drag race/ATV event all rolled into one.

Source: Census Bureau, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Department of Education
In addition to the above statistics, CNNMoney worked with the nonprofits Opportunity Nation and Measure of America and considered inequality levels, preschool enrollment, college degree attainment, housing costs, violent crime rates, school drop out rates and access to banks, doctors and grocery stores in compiling this list -- which is not all inclusive but rather a sampling of towns across the country. To qualify, the county needed to be at least 20 miles from a large city and have a population over 10,000. In addition, the median household income needed to be close to the national average, and the county had to beat the national average in the areas of unemployment, poverty and inequality levels. Unemployment levels are for December, the most current available at the county level.
- Last updated February 20 2014 06:22 PM ET