The best states for young job hunters

Nov 14, 2013

North Dakota

With unemployment among 18-to-29-year-olds stuck at a whopping 15.9% for months now, young people looking to get their careers started face a tough challenge -- but not, it seems, everywhere.

"North Dakota is not exactly a glamour spot, but it does have jobs," notes Richard Barrington, a senior analyst at finance website MoneyRates.com. In 2012, the state's economy grew five times faster than the national average, thanks in large part to its booming oil and gas industry, which has fueled demand for workers in other fields like health care, retail, and transportation. No wonder, then, that North Dakota's 5.1% youth unemployment rate is the lowest in the nation.

But that's not all. Barrington compared all 50 states using a list of eight youth-friendly criteria, including proportion of young people in each state's population, low cost of living, and "number of bars, pubs, and nightclubs per capita." North Dakota has more of those than any other state except Wisconsin. Here are four other promising states for young job seekers.

South Dakota

Youth unemployment stands at 9.1%, far below the national average, and the cost of living is modest. The median monthly rent, for instance, is $651.

Want a job in finance? Take a look at Sioux Falls, where Citibank (c), Wells Fargo (wfc), Capital One (cof), and other banks moved their credit card operations years ago to take advantage of relaxed usury laws. South Dakota now holds more bank assets -- $2.5 trillion -- than any other state.

Editor's note: A previous version of the slide incorrectly referred to Sioux Falls, S.D. as Sioux City.

Nebraska

Omaha is home to ConAgra (cag), Union Pacific (unp), and other big companies, but it also has a fast-growing tech startup community, dubbed Silicon Prairie by the locals, and a dynamic music scene, fostered by indie label Saddle Creek Records. The cost of living in the state is among the lowest in the U.S., and the youth unemployment rate, at 7%, beats every state except North Dakota.

Montana

Besides sharing in the oil and gas boom, Montana has a thriving mining industry -- coal, gold, silver, talc -- that needs young recruits to replace hordes of soon-to-retire Boomers. Tourism, at places like Glacier National Park and three of the five entrances to Yellowstone, is huge, too. The state's overall unemployment rate is just 5.6%. It ranked in the top five nationwide, on MoneyRate's list, for both bars and nightclubs and fitness facilities per capita.

Iowa

With unemployment at just 4.6%, Iowa has bounced back from the recession faster than most other states and recently announced a string of big economic development projects, including a $1.9 billion plan by power company MidAmerican Energy to increase the state's wind energy capacity. Last week, Microsoft (msft) announced it will invest $700 million to expand its data center in West Des Moines. MoneyRates gave Iowa high marks for its wealth of entry-level job opportunities and relatively low cost of living.

Wondering where your state ranks? Check out the full list. Some of the ratings may surprise you. California, for instance, is often thought of as a youth mecca, but MoneyRates ranked it 48 out of 50. (Only New Hampshire and Maine scored lower.) "The climate is nice," says Barrington. "But both unemployment and the cost of living are high."

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