Born and raised in Las Vegas, moved to Seattle in 2004, and now living in Chicago as of 2014.
Living in the Midwestern U.S. has its appeal and its drawbacks, depending on your perspective.
Benefits to Midwest Life
The cost of living among Midwest states routinely ranks among the lowest in the country, compared to the higher costs in the big cities along the coasts and elsewhere. The big reason is supply and demand: citizens flock to big cities, and existing citizens need homes as well. The Midwest has few big cities, mostly consisting of small towns and smaller cities.
Denser cities like San Francisco, Chicago, and New York have a limited amount of space and unoccupied homes, driving up the cost. Other limits create costs as well. Big cities often charge for parking, which is free in smaller locales. Many densely populated states charge tolls on certain highways. Insurance premiums are higher in big cities, as heavy traffic creates more opportunities for accidents. Food and fuel cost more due to the demand.
In the Midwest, the cost of necessities is much lower, which makes life a lot cheaper than in Seattle, Detroit or Houston.
Less Traffic, Less Stress, and a More Casual, Open Environment
Midwest cities, let alone smaller towns, don't have the heavy traffic and bustle you see in popular locales in the East and West. The heaviest traffic in the Midwest may take a few minutes to navigate. Most of the time, traffic isn't significantly heavy. Compare this to the hours of citywide gridlock you encounter during rush hour (sometimes even beyond rush hour) in most major cities.
Less traffic makes getting around easier, which eases stress. The lower cost of living and less pressure in general also decreases the stress an average citizen has. Those seeking high-pressure careers frequently venture to the bigger cities elsewhere (where such careers are plentiful), leaving behind a generally easier-going populace that doesn't put as much pressure on themselves or others to succeed.
This creates a more open, casual social environment. People in big cities generally keep to themselves due not only to stranger danger, but due to the complex, stressful nature of their lives. People in the Midwest generally don't face those stresses, and people generally aren't that paranoid or dangerous. This fosters an open, casual sociocultural environment.
Relatively Low Crime Rates
The Midwest certainly has crime like anywhere else, especially in the cities, but crime rates are low in the Midwest compared to other regions. According to research from Sperling's Best Places, the Midwest saw an average of 3,883 offenses per 100,000 people, below the National rate of 4,118. The only region with a lower crime rate was the Northeast (2,889).
Part of the reason for this is the lack of dense population centers. The more people there are, the more criminals are likely to be among them and the more opportunities for crime there are. Unlike the East Coast's dense collection of cities, the Midwest has a handful of big cities, a handful of small cities, and a bevy of small towns. For various reasons, incidences in crime among small populations isn't high.
The Midwest has a lot of relatively safe places to live compared to major cities along the Coasts. Even the most dangerous Midwestern cities, such as Topeka, KS, aren't nearly as crime-heavy as the likes of Detroit, Houston, or Miami. Also (not that any crime is good crime) many of the offenses in the Midwest are relatively petty crimes, such as theft, vandalism, or drug possession. You don't see many murders, muggings, rapes, and other violent attacks. There's no great need to watch your back.
Drawbacks to Midwest Life
Car-centric Transportation Due to a Lack of Transit
Major cities elsewhere usually provide at least a bus system, if not rail transit via commuter train, light rail, or subway for citizens to get around if they don't own a car.
Midwest cities don't have the necessity for such transit, and many are lucky to have any sort of bus system at all. Like most locales, if you want to get around in the Midwest, you need to own a car.
Citizens in big cities who don't own a car would need to buy one (hardly a cheap proposition) to live in the Midwest. That doesn't include license, registration, and insurance. Fuel costs money, as does maintenance. Anyone looking to save money by moving Midwest may find some, if not all, of their savings counteracted by the additional expense of getting around by car.
Someone who already owns a car doesn't need to worry, and may even save on insurance and gas. But instead of being an option, as it is in the big cities, owning a car becomes a requirement in the Midwest.
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Conservative, Relatively Uneducated Population
Liberals may loathe living among a predominantly conservative population. If you have conflicting views on religion, abortion, birth control, etc., you may not get along or relate well with Midwesterners. Stating a view contradictory to the predominant conservative values may leave you alienated.
Someone from a big city may be college educated and used to living around similarly educated, savvy citizens. In the Midwest, such a person may be a fish out of water, with the vast majority of Midwest citizens possessing no more than a high school education. Many get their news from the TV or newspaper, both of which report on the local level from a conservative slant and give most national stories no more than a brief soundbite or mainstream treatment. As a result, their views of the world are often basic and homogenized.
Intellectually, as harsh as this sounds, life in the Midwest may be a step down for someone very educated. At best, it could get boring. More so, it could create inherent conflicts and even stifle your lifestyle if you don't share the predominant view.
Few Options and Lack of Commercial Variety
Most big cities have countless independent businesses, restaurants, shops, coffeehouses, and the like. In a Midwest city, expect to see a lot of drive-thru fast food chains, Chili's and Applebee's locations, chain department stores, strip malls with more chain stores, and Starbucks locations. The multiple independent film festivals and theaters you'd have available in a major West Coast city would give way to multiplexes showing nothing other than nationwide Hollywood blockbusters.
As for nightlife, you may possess countless options in Los Angeles, Dallas, or New York City, but the nightlife of an entire mid-sized Midwest city may run through two or three bars and multiplex movie theaters. In a small town... forget it. Going for a hike may be as exciting as it gets.
Weaker Industries and Job Markets
Workers flock to big cities because of the wealth of industries and job opportunities. Obviously, in a small town or a mid-sized Midwest city, the job market isn't nearly as large. If you don't have a job lined up when you move there, it may take a while just to find a useful opportunity.
Plus, in line with the lower cost of living, the wages in the Midwest are typically lower than you'd see in major coastal cities. The salary you'd command in Kansas for a job is often a fraction of the salary you'd command for the same work in Seattle.
Having few industries in an area magnifies the effect on the population when one industry is struggling. If the fishing industry, for example, flagged in Seattle, there would still be a strong finance industry, a strong computer industry, Boeing powering the aircraft industry, etc. But if a small town relies on factory production of cars, for example, and demand for that car falls... the entire job market of that town is in jeopardy.
Occasionally Violent Weather
On the West Coast, you see little more than occasional periods of extended rain. The East Coast sees snowstorms and the occasional hurricane. The Midwest, however, is the motherland of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes.
If you see dark clouds on the horizon in most locales, you know rain is coming... but it likely doesn't affect your plans significantly, because the worst than can happen is a moderate rain shower. If you see clouds on the horizon in the Midwest, you have a few hours to get inside, and hopefully your home is structurally sound, because a huge thunderstorm is on the way, and it definitely will bring high winds therewith. Funnel clouds are a possibility, and if one reaches the ground... watch out.
Flooding is common. The flatland does little to break up incoming storm systems, and leaves homes very vulnerable to damage.
Living in the Midwest, like anywhere else, has its pluses and minuses. Factor them all into your decision making should you consider a move to the Midwest.
Krista on May 17, 2020:
Please do not move to Kansas City. My degrees are fake and this large home is just a facade. I don’t actually have enough disposable income to travel because everything is reasonably priced here. I haven’t spent time with world renowned artists who performed at our sad little intimate venues... that pic of me doing yoga with sting is fake. All of the protests against Trump are just fake news. All women are housewives with 10 kids ... and birth control is not allowed. Get back Satan! The men like to get together to do meth and talk about how college is for dummies, even though it’s financially accessible to everyone here. We are hicks, women belong in the kitchen, and commuting just 30 minutes a day sucks. You’re so lucky to have so much time for audiobooks! Better stay where you are.
Jake on February 26, 2019:
If you're worried about political bias, you don't have to worry about that much in the cities. Many of the cities lean liberal.
Alyssa Normandy on October 18, 2012:
I found this article informative and helpful. I really appreciated that it was two sided and let the reader decide for themselves, weighing the pros and cons by themselves.
Robert on January 11, 2012:
My perspective is from having lived 2/3 of my life in the slow suburbs outside St. Louis, MO, and 1/3 in the middle of hectic Los Angeles, CA. In general I think this is a helpful article. I do take issue with the section titled '- Less traffic, stress and a more casual, open environment'
Paragraph 2, sentence 3 – refers to "Those seeking high-pressure careers…" Another way of looking at it is people who are seeking to make the most impact with their lives – that is actually closer to the mindset of those I know in big cities on the coasts. High-pressure is certainly a part of it, but each person has to weigh what's important to them. Measuring experiences in terms of the pressure to be avoided (or stress or risk) seems to me to be a uniquely midwestern quality, at least in our nation.
Paragraph 3 of that section describes midwesterners as less paranoid and more open to others, and people in big cities as afraid of strangers and keeping to themselves. I don't know where you have lived, and what your information is based on. But having lived 13 years in one of the largest, fastest cities in North America, my experience is precisely opposite. People I know who live in hectic, stressful environments with lots of strange people just aren't that scared of those things anymore. When you deal with thousands of people everyday, you get used to people. When you can achieve diversity simply by stepping out your front door, diversity is no longer on the one hand a threatening idea, or on the other hand the elusive utopian goal it seems to be in the midwest. By contrast, most people I know in the midwest seem to prefer their space, their time and their privacy.
As far as openness goes, I think it depends on what you mean by that. If you mean people who are willing to say hello to strangers, that seems to be true. But when it comes to trying new things, eating new food, or doing things that are generally out of step with the norm, I notice resistance. Not that people are hostile, simply that they feel the need to comment when something is different…and generally things that really deserve no comment. Examples that I have seen of this include commenting when someone is eating "health food" (anything from Trader Joe's), when someone is still in good shape in their 40's or later ("Well, they're just exercise fanatics"), reluctance to using a new passing lane that could save time (because it's new, therefore risky? still trying to figure this one out), a 300-pound woman telling me the problem with California is that people there are all about image (entirely missing the irony), and a general malaise about building new friendships (something we notice a lot, having moved back here recently).
On a bit of a different note, I consider myself a small government conservative. I'm also fairly conservative socially. But I also understand you can't always get what you want, and it's good not to get too angry when other people get their way. I bring that up because of one thing I wouldn't have expected to see when I moved back here. People here being more closed off to new things actually gives ammunition to those on the liberal side of the aisle, providing more straw men for them to destroy.
A few caveats…First, I think about this stuff way too much, having lived significant portions of my life in such different places. Second, in trying to understand the differences in different regions, as soon as I think I've found a general rule-of-thumb, I find so many exceptions I wonder if there is any rule at all. Third, something can be true of the group that is not true of the individual…once you get to know someone on that level, a lot of the differences go away. In that sense, most of the people I know in LA are pretty much the same as most of the people I know in the St. Louis area. Last, and most importantly, I don't mean any offense to friends in the midwest. Sure it has its weaknesses – quicker to get aggravated over lack of space, time or privacy, and more sheltered from different people and experiences. But big cities are no garden-of-eden either, and can be really elitist and generally too-cool-for-school. So I hope none of this came off that way. A great thing about the midwest is that public services simply work. You don't know how big a deal that is. And big cities have a ton of fun things for families (yes, LA is a great family city…sure there are dangerous places…doesn't mean you have to go to them). Hope all that is somewhat helpful.
Kika Rose from Minnesota on October 06, 2008:
lol Thanks for clearing that up! :-P I was really starting to worry that the rest of the world thought we're just a bunch of idiots in cowboy hats! xD
Steven Gomez (author) from Chicago, IL on October 06, 2008:
Stupid and relatively uneducated, honestly, are two different things. One does not necessarily indicate the other.
Kika Rose from Minnesota on October 05, 2008:
Hey, there's plenty to do in a small town! Just read my hub on it! We're pretty smart, too, and I'm proof. ^_^
I will have to say I really liked your hub. It's well written and quite informative, despite calling us stupid. :-P
seamist from Northern Minnesota on October 02, 2008:
I'd like to leave you with an excerpt from "Educational Attainment in the United States" by Wikipedia. "Educational attainment among the population aged 25 and above varied rather slightly with geography region. The population of the Northeastern United States, which had the smallest population of any region with thirty-six million residents, had the highest percentage of high-school and college graduates. The western United States had the highest percentage of those with some college or an Associates degree and ranked second for college graduates. The South which had by far the largest population with roughly sixty-six million people had the lowest educational attainment at every level. The proportion of high school graduates was the largest in the Midwest while the proportion of those with some college or an Associates degree was the second and that of those with a Bachelor's degree or higher was the third largest of any region. Overall it is fair to assume that the Northeast followed by the Western states were the most educated regions in the US on the college level, with the Midwest leading on the High-school level and the South falling behind on all levels. This is not a completely accurate analysis of the study. While the Northeast as a region has a slightly higher number of college graduates, it has a lower percentage of high school graduates than the midwest, which also has a greater percentage of those with some college. Its not fair to assume the Northeast is the most educated region of the United States. Far more people attend high school or some college than graduate from college. Since the Northeast is also the smallest population group, it is only fair to say that there are more college graduates from the Northeast than any other region. Since there is a smaller percentage of high school graduates and those attending some college in the Northeast, at best its only fair to report that the Northeast has a much more polarized educational level than the rest of the country. Fewer high school graduates and more college graduates, giving it two more extremes that a region such as the Midwest."