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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.

Gillespie County, Texas

middle class thrive fredericksburg
  • Population: 25,114
  • Median household Income: $53,166
  • Unemployment rate: 3.4%

A little over an hour's drive north of San Antonio and west of Austin, Fredericksburg is the only sizable town in the county -- and it's making quite a name for itself on the tourism circuit.

Over 1.5 million visitors descended on the town of 10,000 last year, drawn to its beautiful countryside and burgeoning wine, food and arts scenes. It's also become a bit of a retirement destination.

All the out-of-towners give some residents pause. "There's a lot of boutique jewelry stores and trendy clothing, and your middle-class people can't afford that," said Fredericksburg native Evelyn Weinheimer.

But the influx of visitors is providing opportunities for people in town to start businesses, especially young people, said Tim Lehmberg, head of the local economic development commission.

It's not just tourism. The gourmet dining has prompted a mini-boom in specialty food makers churning out products like sauces and smoked meats. And staying true to its German roots, there's at least a half dozen advanced manufacturing shops in town, most making parts for the health care or aviation industries.

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.
  @hargreavesCNN - Last updated February 20 2014 06:22 PM ET

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