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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.

Union County, North Carolina

middle class thrive monroe
  • Population: 205,463
  • Median household Income: $62,831
  • Unemployment rate: 5.5%

Union County lies just southeast of Charlotte, one of the South's largest financial centers. It's geographic location -- two hours from the mountains, three hours from the beach, 30 minutes to Charlotte -- is just one of the things locals say makes the area an attractive place to live and work.

The western reaches of the county, closer to Charlotte, are seeing an influx of suburb-seeking city dwellers. The eastern parts of the county maintain an economy dominated by agriculture and manufacturing.

Near Monroe, the county's largest town, some big employers include the local hospital, chicken processor Tyson Foods, a maker of specialty metals for the aerospace industry, and a company that makes firefighting equipment.

Residents like the laid back atmosphere and the proximity to a major city.

"People are coming here because they like the quality of life," said P.E. Bazemore, a former city councilman. "It's clean, it's quiet, and there's a lot of recreational opportunities."

More on Opportunity Nation's and Measure of America's Opportunity Index

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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