Salt Lake City is No. 24 on U.S. News list of best places to live because it’s not as ‘Mormon’ as it used to be

( Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune ) Salt Lake City is No. 24 on U.S. News & World Report's 2019 list of the best places to live in America.

Salt Lake City is the 24th-best place to live in America, according to U.S. News & World Report, in part because it’s not just a “religious community” anymore.

Utah’s capital — home to the headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — has fallen off in the rankings over the past two years. It was 10th in 2017 and 15th in 2018.

That has less to do with any changes happening in Salt Lake City and more to do with changes to the list.

“One factor contributing to Salt Lake City’s difference in rankings looking at the last three years is the introduction of 25 additional metro areas to the list in 2018,” said U.S. News real estate editor Devon Thorsby. “These additions are slightly smaller in population, and in many cases score particularly high for affordability, where Salt Lake City has historically performed best.

"Not only has affordability become more competitive as a category, but Salt Lake City’s cost of living has climbed slightly in the last year.”

But it remains one of the country’s best places to live, U.S. News said, because “while remnants of its Mormon heritage — including the striking Salt Lake Temple — are still prominent downtown, Salt Lake City is not as devout as it once was. The Latter-day Saints’ health code won’t keep you from enjoying a cup of coffee in the morning, and many restaurants now have a liquor license. Today, Salt Lake City offers much more than a strong religious community.”

The magazine lauds the city’s access to “five national parks” and “several world-class ski resorts," along with “everything from professional sports like Utah Jazz basketball to kid-approved attractions like the Loveland Living Planet Aquarium.”

And the area's “job opportunities are as enticing to newcomers as its entertainment options.”

For the second year in a row, Austin, Texas, was at the top of the list. Two cities in Utah's neighbor to the east, Colorado, were second (Denver) and third (Colorado Springs).

Among the cities that moved past Salt Lake City in the rankings are San Francisco (up 13 spots to No. 7); Asheville, N.C. (up eight spots to No. 16); and Sarasota, Fla. (up 16 spots to No. 18).

The list is focused on the nation’s 125 most populated metro areas and used data from the U.S. Census Bureau, FBI, Bureau of Labor Statistics and U.S. News’ “internal resources” — its rankings of the nation’s best high schools, best hospitals and more. It categorized the data into five indexes — job market (20%), value (25%), quality of life (30%), desirability (15%), which asked people if they want to move to a place, and net migration (10%), which factors whether people have been moving to a city.

Salt Lake City’s quality-of-life number remained the same from 2018 to 2019 (a 6.9 on the U.S. News index). Net migration (from a 6.4 to a 6.6) and job market (6.9 to 7.0) both improved slightly year to year; housing affordability (7.9 to 7.4) was down, as was overall desirability (6.7 to 6.4).

The 25 best places to live in America are:

1. Austin, Texas.

2. Denver.

3. Colorado Springs, Colo.

4. Fayetteville, Ark.

5. Des Moines, Iowa.

6. Minneapolis-St. Paul.

7. San Francisco.

8. Portland, Ore.

9. Seattle.

10. Raleigh/Durham, N.C.

11. Huntsville, Ala.

12. Madison, Wis.

13. Grand Rapids, Mich.

14. San Jose, Calif.

15. Nashville, Tenn.

16. Asheville, N.C.

17. Boise, Idaho.

18. Sarasota, Fla.

19. Washington, D.C.

20. Charlotte, N.C.

21. Dallas/Fort Worth

22. Greenville, S.C.

23. Portland, Maine

24. Salt Lake City.

25. Melbourne, Fla.