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.

Santa Barbara County, California

middle class thrive santa maria
  • Population: 426,874
  • Median household Income: $60,003
  • Unemployment rate: 6.2%

Santa Barbara County benefits from both laissez faire and government-heavy policies.

The city of Santa Maria has a thriving agricultural sector, where strawberries, broccoli, lettuce, and grapes for the wine industry are all grown. The town is home to one of the world's largest greenhouses complexes -- four buildings each spanning 40 acres that grow hydroponic vegetables. Each building employees 200 people, said Dave Cross, the local director of economic development.

Santa Maria is also home to several manufacturers, including firms that make turbines for the energy sector, baby furniture, fire hoses and do aircraft retrofits.

Cross credits business-friendly policies from the local government for the success, including a fast track approval process for new or expanding enterprises.

But Santa Barbara County also benefits from the thriving technology sector and tourism dollars generated from its more tony coastal town of the same name. Strict building codes there have maintained the area's natural beauty, and keep the visitors coming.

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
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