The Best Cities To Live In During A Recession

BusinessWeek asks, assuming that we keep sliding down into an official recession, where are the best places to live? They’ve pulled data from and the U.S. Census to make some educated guesses about local economies that will be least damaged by a large-scale downturn. They reason that no matter how the national economy fares, there will always be government jobs and a need for health care; higher education institutes provide a cushion for local economies, too.

Their top choice is Arlington, Virginia, because much of its labor force is connected to the federal government, lobbying, and the legal industry. Coming in second for pretty much the same reason is Washington, D.C., while #3 is Durham, North Carolina, because of its large education, medical, and research industries.

You get the idea: the more your city relies on education, health care, or the federal government for its local economy, the better off it will likely be.

Bizarre fact that proves how messed-up the economy is: #11 on the list is Lubbock, Texas, where I grew up. Yes, Lubbock is always that brown. Here is a photo my friend emailed me a few years ago during a particularly bad dust storm, no kidding:


See the entire list here: “The Best Cities for Riding Out a Recession”.

“Some Cities Will Be Safer in a Recession” [BusinessWeek]
(Photo: Getty Images, Brad Johnson)


Edit Your Comment

  1. Powerlurker says:

    As a friend of mine would tell people he knew who were bound for Texas Tech, “Lubbock isn’t the end of the world, but you can see it from there.”

  2. "I Like Potatoes" says:

    I would not have guessed New Orleans.

    • EarlNowak says:


      Energy industry, major port, transshipment, construction. Most, if not all, offshore rigs are accessed via New Orleans. A big legal center, too- the supreme court of louisiana and the federal fifth circuit court of appeals are both in Nola. The cost of living is ridiculously low considering the quality of life available (excluding education costs).

      Tourism may be a problem in a recession, but then again, it may pick up as people choose to vacation closer to home.

  3. Etoiles says:

    I moved to Arlington, VA (from NYC) in April and had much this same reasoning, heh. I figured, my current job isn’t in government but if everything goes to hell with my company, there will still be jobs here in the metro DC area.

    (And if the federal government goes out of business, I have WAY bigger problems than unemployment to worry about.)

    • lannister80 says:

      @EtoilePB: Good luck finding a free-standing home for less than $600,000 inside the beltway. That’s why we left.

      • Etoiles says:

        @lannister80: I’ve never lived in a single-family home and I don’t guess that I’ll get to start within the next decade or two. I grew up in Boston, then lived in Manhattan for three years, before I hit Arlington — as compared to the ridiculousness of New York, I’m still all, “woo-hoo! DC’s cheap!”

  4. 92BuickLeSabre says:

    Author notespossible ledes?

    “When life throws you a shit storm, you’re best off in a toilet.”

    “Turns out, it’s better not to have loved than to have loved and lost.”

    “There is no stock crisis in areas where stock is primarily live.”

    “I quickly forgot meting out credit default swaps as my default became credit at swap meets.”

  5. ChrisC1234 says:

    New Orleans has finally made it on a GOOD list!

  6. TracyHamandEggs says:

    Ahh yes, Bureaucrats and Bloodsuckers (lawyers and lobbyist) always survive.

    Hell, the class action types are just salivating over the lawsuits from this thing.

    • Ein2015 says:

      @TracyHamandEggs!: You know lawyers are like cops… not all cops are pigs. It’s really a shame that society focuses on the few and makes THAT their image of the group instead of just making them outcasts of the group and focusing on the best!

  7. Crabby Cakes says:

    Buffalo? Irvine? I have to beg to differ with those choices. Irvine was built on the home mortgage bubble, and it has imploded with it. The neighborhoods are clogged with for sale signs and it’s one of the worst places in CA for home foreclosures.

    • ionerox says:

      @Crabby Cakes: Exactly! All the sub-prime mortgage offices and related industry that had been opened there are long gone by now. I know a few dozen or so unemployed folks in Irvine that would disagree with this list.

  8. Powerlurker says:

    I myself am planning on riding out the recession in grad school, getting paid to burnish my credentials on the public dime.

  9. Grrrrrrr, now with two buns made of bacon. says:

    I think I picked a good year to leave private industry and go to work for state government (even with the $10,000 cut in pay).

  10. Ausoleil says:

    I thought that the entry on Durham and saying that people commute from there to jobs in Raleigh was amusing. It’s really the other way around. Don’t believe me? Come here and see which way the traffic jams in the morning: from Raleigh/Cary to RTP and from Chapel Hill to RTP. In the afternoon, it’s in the other direction: towards Raleigh and away from Durham…and towards Chapel Hill.

    To be sure, Durham is a nice town, but it ranks fourth in this region in liveability — behind Raleigh, Cary and Chapel Hill.

    • "I Like Potatoes" says:

      I live in Fayetteville/Fort Bragg area….to me, Raleigh and Durham are the same thing (that’s just my ignorance, of course).
      Great time to be in the Army, though. Job security, great benefits, and travel included! Fayetteville seems to be pretty secure.

      • baquwards says:

        The downtowns of Raleigh and Durham are like 30 miles apart, and vastly different culturally.

        • alysbrangwin says:

          @baquwards: Durham is the lesser of the three in the Triangle, just like High Point is the lesser of the Triad. There are a lot more people working at UNC and in RTP than commuting into Durham.

    • tenners says:

      I live in Carrboro and commute to RTP.

    • smith186 says:

      @Ausoleil: I suspect that for this evaluation, Durham/Raleigh/Cary/CH might as well be the same thing. They all share the same criteria that determine their ranking. Cary/CH/Raleigh just have a higher sense of self-importance, like thinking they’re that much more “livable”.

    • JulesNoctambule says:

      @Ausoleil: We almost bought a house in Durham when we moved to NC since my husband’s company wasn’t sure if they’d be opening the new branch in Chapel Hill or Raleigh and we didn’t want a long commute. Thankfully, before we bought they chose Raleigh; I don’t dislike Durham but I wouldn’t want to have ended up living there, either.

      • Eyebrows McGee (now with double the baby!) says:

        @JulesNoctambule: I lived in Durham when I was in law school, which wasn’t awful, but, yeah, Raleigh’s more livable and a neater town. (Cary I wasn’t such a fan of … McMansion subdivision after McMansion subdivision.) Downtown Durham is a shithole — a revitalizing shithole with a lot of interesting and innovative stuff going on, and some seriously awesome old buildings, but still pretty much a shithole. (I lived near the new mall.)

    • Rhayader says:

      @Ausoleil: I work in Durham and live in Carrboro. During the afternoon the heavy traffic is definately FROM Chapel Hill TO Durham, at least on 54.

  11. mythago says:

    IRVINE?! Are they smoking sweetgrass?

  12. Robobot says:

    My parents lived in Lubbock for a while. They said the entire industry- in the early 80’s, at least- revolved around manual labor. Wonder what drives the economy these days?

    The greater D.C. area definitely isn’t hurting nearly as much as the rest of the country right now. Even the arts and retail are going fairly strong, although restaurants are taking a hit. Funding is desperately needed for the D.C. school system and regional transit, but that’s nothing new and not related to the economy.

  13. carlogesualdo says:

    Lubbock is NOT always that brown (not even close). But it does get that way at least a couple of times a year. And Lubbock is fairly recession-proof.

    They left Oklahoma City off that list. It’s pretty recession-proof too. Lots of media people have been talking to various economists about that lately.

    Both cities have been insulated from the housing bubble by not engaging heavily in questionable lending practices. Housing prices have thus not been raised artificially high.

    • scootinger says:

      @carlogesualdo: Especially as a resident of Oklahoma City, I was surprised not to see OKC on there myself. I think it was Forbes that named OKC the most “recession-proof” city in the nation?

  14. Invective says:

    All I know is that you want to stay away from Idaho. The worst corruption in America, bar none. Toxic wasteland throughout the state and they *hate* anyone from out of state, or more specifically, Californians. Bunch of lead poisoned, undereducated, mean, nasty and prejudiced people. (As the Wolves found out recently.)
    Alaska I got to think is a close second…
    California has its problems, but I still think it’s probably the best place in the world to live.

    • Ein2015 says:

      @Invective: I’m going to assume you’re a liberal-minded person. Which is fine.

      Unfortunately for me, I’m going to hate every state. I think marijuana should be legalized, I love guns, I love freedoms, etc. I’m essentially a libertarian who thinks just barely to the left of middle.

      That’s why I don’t want to live in California. I don’t mind Texas… but then again I haven’t really experienced (or educated myself on) the policies of many other states.

      • Corydon says:

        @Ein2015: Depending on whether you’re more of a fiscal or a social libertarian, British Columbia (especially the interior) might just be the place for you. Just stay away from the big cities like Vancouver where your guns would attract suspicion.

    • thrillwill says:

      @Invective: ‘Bunch of lead poisoned, undereducated, mean, nasty and prejudiced people.’ – that’s every Californian’s review of anywhere I’ve ever heard.

      Still, from personal experience at least, it seems most Californians should just stay there. Why do they leave?

      God knows I’ll never go there – I like being welcome in place.

    • HogwartsAlum says:


      I love California. I wish like hell I could afford to go back. Missouri sucks. Talk about a culturally isolated, backward, meth-infested bunghole.

      And the weather sucks too.

    • SinisterMatt says:


      What part of the state did you live in? I lived in the eastern part of the state for almost 3 years doing my undergrad, and I thought that it was a decent place to live. People were pretty friendly. Yes, it’s very conservative, but I don’t think that on that basis alone the people qualified as a “bunch of lead poisoned, undereducated, mean, nasty and prejudiced people.” And I was what you term an outsider, being from Texas.

      Maybe it’s just that I’m not from/love California.


  15. BytheSea says:

    Yeah but it’s only a good city if you want to work in govn’t, health care, or education. (Since when is education lucritive? No teachers can find a job where I live.) These lists are pointless b/c they’re “the best cities for this imaginary set of people.”

    • Mary says:

      @BytheSea: Agreed. I live next to both #1 and #2 and since my husband is in architecture and I’m preparing for a career in film and/or television, I don’t really think our chances are as high as all this.

      The only saving grace is that right now I DO work in one of those industries.

    • heltoupee says:

      @BytheSea: My wife is a special ed teacher. Upon graduation she could have had any one of a number of positions in southern Florida and Texas with relocation expenses paid and a 5-figure ‘signing bonus’. She would have had to learn Spanish, though.

      If you’re willing to move, and aren’t put off by working in inner-city schools, there are some pretty lucrative jobs in teaching. Having summers off is nothing to sneeze at either.

  16. StutiCebriones says:

    Lotta good music out of Lubbock, anyway.

    But that isn’t enough to get people to stay. Including the musicians…

  17. textilesdiva says:


    Funny. I thought the state capital (you know, with so many of the government offices) was Raleigh.

    Durham’s a nice town (well, depends on who you ask and what part of town you’re in), and it won’t fare badly this in this economy, but Raleigh should be #3, in lieu of Durham.

  18. sleze69 says:

    I hate lists that span a page for each entry. Give it all up front and THEN have a page for each entry.

    1 – Arlington, VA

    2 – Washington, DC

    3 – Durham, NC

    4 – Madison, WI

    5 – Boston, MA

    6 – Pittsburgh, PA

    7 – Baltimore, MD

    8 – Baton Rogue, LA

    9 – New Orleans, LA

    10 – Philadelphia, PA

    11 – Lubbock, TX

    12 – Anchorage, AL

    13 – Lexington-Fayette, KY

    14 – Buffalo, NY

    15 – Lincoln, NE

    16 – Irvine, CA

    17 – Seattle, WA

    18 – Chesapeake, VA

    19 – Albuquerque, NM

    20 – Corpus Christi, TX

    21 –

  19. ShampaAsterius says:

    Seattle? We’re in economic freefall here in Seattle. The article mentioned WaMu, yes, but we’ve had major layoffs at Weyerhauser, an upcoming one at Alaska Airlines, Boeings CEO has no intention of resolving the machinist’s strike because it’s too damn expensive to build planes here, the City of Seattle will be getting rid of 255 positions, Microsoft has made hiring “adustments” (read:freeze), Safeco is no more in Seattle, the Sonics and associated revenue are no more, Redfin just laid off 20% of it’s force….
    The punchline? Forbes rates Seattle as the number one most difficult city in which to sell a house.

  20. CharlesApheidas says:

    I’m confused…why include DC and Arlington but leave out Alexandria City. Or Silver Spring and Bethesda. It probably would have been better to have top 10 metropolitan areas instead of specific cities. This way DC Metro and Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill were single entries, which is a better reflection of their interdependent economies.

  21. Mary says:

    So, working in higher education in D.C. makes me golden, huh?

    If I wasn’t getting my degree in something shaky like film anyway.

  22. SableHemlock says:

    I’m totally not surprised that Lincoln made the list. I go to school there and yea, it’s a cheap place to live. People buy huge houses for the same price that you buy a more moderately sized one in my hometown in Oregon with like no yard. The people are super friendly here (and in Oregon too!) though.

  23. hotrodmetal says:

    The list forgot to include LIVING IN A VAN DOWN BY THE RIVER!

  24. katieoh says:

    pittsburgh, pa, i am convinced, is just the best city to live in, period. it’s always on those “most livable” lists and now this one.


    • am84 says:

      @katieoh: I live in Pgh, and I love it, but I disagree with the recession-proof statement. My BF has been out of work since getting laid off in July, and he has his master’s in science. There are just NO JOBS. I wouldn’t be surprised if we are forced to leave in the near future because of this.

  25. duffbeer703 says:

    Buffalo, NY? That place died 50 years ago… the city demolishes 50 abandoned homes a day. Buffalo is boom proof.

    The list should have listed Pompeii as recession proof, since the volcano killed everyone and all economic activity a thousand years ago.

    • elanne says:

      Just gotta’ chime in on this one.
      Buffalo is on the list because it has been in a recession for decades. In fact, Buffalo is the epitome of the Depression mentality. Unlike other rust belt cities that have made a turn-around (or two), Buffalo never did. So recession in Buffalo is “same old, same old”.

      The climate is Siberian so just the cost of trying to stay minimally warm is unaffordable. Taxes are horrendous. (New York State is THE tax state)

      And, finally, though it is called “The City of Good Neighbors”, in truth, it is a town of fair-weather friends.

      As I said when I left many years ago, “Last one out turn off the lights, the heat has been off for years.”

      The only thing good about Buffalo is being within a short drive to Toronto (which, from a Buffalo perspective, has everything that NY City has and is cleaner, safer, and about seven hours closer).

  26. topachic25 says:

    I lived in Lubbock, TX for a few (to many)years. I always heard people joke about “that song”. And you know it’s true…., “Happiness is Lubbock, TX in my rear view mirror”.

    I think I can tough it out here in San Francisco : )

  27. synergy says:

    You grew up in Lubbock?? I’m sorry for your loss!

  28. notbob50 says:

    No doubt working in Arlington, VA and Washington, DC are recession resistant. But most technical companies and government agencies require you to obtain a security clearance. Security clearances are very expensive. Even if you were willing to pay for the process you can’t just get one without employment. The security clearance is required by many companies for entry into a job fair. You can transfer from one company to another with a security but there are many restrictions. Also recently separated from the military can carry over their clearance for a short period of time. Besides the issues with obtaining a security clearance, your job really needs to pay well. Living in Northern Virginia and the entire DC area is very expensive. The area has a lot to offer including gridlock that never seems to quit.

  29. grih says:

    Why Lubbock? I have been there, its nothing to write home about, and the airport stinks

  30. kc2idf says:

    Buffalo? Really? I always thought Buffalo wasn’t doing that well, for some reason, compared to some smaller cities in New York like, for instance, Albany. Maybe smaller cities weren’t considered in the survey?

  31. JanetCarol says:

    I would say places in NoVa a little farther out would be better. Example – Manassas. Prices are generally lower on housing, gas and utilities while still being close to tons of federal projects/jobs and the city.

  32. pandroid says:

    No Austin? Big university, state capital, and low unemployment? Yeah, there’s a substantial tech sector, but the bubble already collapsed there. And there isn’t a housing bubble in Texas. This list is just weird.

  33. quail says:

    I always hate these lists. Someone gets a hypothesis that places/jobs/exercises/etc. with “x” must mean “y”. Then they go around and look for stats to generate a list. But they never sit back and prove that “x” must mean “y”. Oh, “x” and “y” might occur more often than not together, but there’s probably big exceptions to the rule.

    Always look at this stuff with a jaundiced eye.

    (That said, where’s my town ranked?)

  34. Daveinva says:

    I live in Arlington and work for Uncle Sam. Great place to live, as long as you don’t mind monolithic local government (the only Republicans here are commuters from Fairfax passing through).

    That said, this area IS expensive. So much so that we’re definitely one of those towns that laughs when politicians call people making more than $100K “rich.” Me and my nurse GF both make six-figures, and we live in a duplex, drive two old paid-off cars, and haven’t been on a real vacation in years. If I could ever make what I make here and live in Omaha, I’d be a king. Here? I’m clipping coupons.

    But yeah, sure, we’re rich.

    That said– as the reader said, unless the government goes down, there’s always a job here.

    • Shadowman615 says:

      @Daveinva: Huh? Do you mean you each are making >$100K (so a combined gross of more than $200K) and are having that kind of trouble? Even in Arlington one should be able to live quite comfortably on multiple six-figure incomes. (I’m not saying that would make you rich, though)

      If you meant that your salaries were >$100K combined, that makes more sense.

      • Daveinva says:

        @Shadowman615: Two words I left out: student loans. We’ve got $150K of those between us.

        I’m living comfortably, I wouldn’t argue otherwise. But it’s not rich by any stretch.

  35. Shadowman615 says:

    No, stay out of the DC area. There are too many people here already, and they’re all in their cars, on the highways. In front of me. Driving verrry sloooooooowly.

  36. Nighthawke says:

    Corpus Christi may do well in a recession, as long as the city council quits spending our hard-earned money on superfluous projects like fountains and sculptures, and concentrates on what is important for the community, like roads that we can travel on without worry of destroying our vehicles. The council has already gone through 2 city engineers over political infighting and one water supervisor due to lax inspection of the water supply, resulting in boil orders for the community twice in a handful of weeks.

    As a famous villain put it; “This town needs an enema!” Corpus Christi really needs to look at its priorities and rehash them.

  37. Corporate_guy says:

    I am surprised cost of living wasn’t a factor. An area where you can still make rent working at McDonald’s should be ranked higher than an area that requires a high paying job to make ends meet.

  38. zenigmatic says:

    Buffalo real estate didn’t bubble.
    It has a large University, good percentage of employment in Healthcare and Research, an international border to protect…

  39. J. Gov says:

    My father thought I was mad to spend so long working for the government, but not go to one of the three-letter agencies. (TSA’s hiring? Ahaha. No.) I always figured if I did get out of government, I’d go teach at a university.

    Who’s mad now?

  40. elanne says:

    Buffalo … of course, but …

    Buffalo is on the list because it has been in a recession for decades. In fact, Buffalo is the epitome of the Depression mentality. Unlike other rust belt cities that have made a turn-around (or two), Buffalo never did. So recession in Buffalo is “same old, same old”.

    The climate is Siberian so just the cost of trying to stay minimally warm is unaffordable. Taxes are horrendous. (New York State is THE tax state)

    And, finally, though it is called “The City of Good Neighbors”, in truth, it is a town of fair-weather friends.

    As I said when I left many years ago, “Last one out turn off the lights, the heat has been off for years.”

    The only thing good about Buffalo is being within a short drive to Toronto (which, from a Buffalo perspective, has everything that NY City has and is cleaner, safer, and about seven hours closer).

  41. MrEvil says:

    I’m surprised Amarillo Texas didn’t make that list. Most of the jobs here aren’t in more volatile markets like retail or investment banking. We also have an interstate that actually goes somewhere running through our city. (Lubbock just has I-27 which was built sole-ly to connect Amarillo and Lubbock)

  42. coolkiwilivin says:

    Ugh and this is what’s wrong with our federal government and it’s only going to get worse under the reign of our most benevolent messiah Obama. I grew up in the DC suburbs. It’s true that area will hardly ever feel bad times because the government is never going to shrink and once you get a federal job, you basically have to break laws in order to get fired. You can show up for 40 hours do nothing and not get fired. Yes there are some great gov’t employees but they do their 20 and then get rehired at twice their pay as contractors.

  43. factotum says:

    Don’t forget those open carry laws (firearms) in Virginny.

  44. The Great Aussie Evil says:

    I’m planning to move to Rokakku-Dai Heights, myself.

  45. Illuminado says:

    I’m surprised that Sacramento wasn’t on the list, with the amount of state jobs that will be available as soon as the hiring freeze ends, November ideally. Considering somewhere around 70% of state workers will be retiring in the next 5 years there are going to be lots of positions available.0000000000