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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.

Addison County, Vermont

middle class thrive middlebury church
  • Population: 36,742
  • Median household Income: $55,454
  • Unemployment rate: 3.9%

At first glance, Addison County seems to have a lot of things working against its economy. It's got relatively high taxes and regulation, yet relatively poor infrastructure -- the nearest interstate is an hour away.

It's partly for these reasons that two of the more traditional industries -- a factory that made plastic broom bristles and one making tape for cash registers -- left the area, according to Andy Mayer, head of the local Chamber of Commerce.

Yet over the last several years, Vermonters have done a curious thing. They've leveraged some of the area's natural resources -- wood, apples, farms, mountains -- to build an economy that Mayer thinks is even healthier than before.

There's Conner Homes -- a company that makes high-end, architecturally accurate modular homes in the former tape factory. Vermont Hard Cider -- maker of the popular Woodchuck. And cheese maker Cabot Creamery. There's also a branch of UTC Aerospace Systems, DR Power Equipment, and Middlebury College -- the well-known liberal arts school.

The college employs a lot of people, as does the tourist industry, which capitalizes on the surrounding lakes and mountains.

Yet it's affordable. Karena Blair, hospitality manager at the Middlebury Inn, moved here a year ago after living in Colorado, Kansas and Texas. The total monthly payments on her four bedroom, two bath house are $550.

"Middlebury is awesome, it's breathtakingly beautiful," said Blair. "I'm pretty much in love with the place."

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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