What Are the Best Illinois Cities to Work In?

Planning to work in Illinois? BestColleges highlights the ins and outs of where you should work in the great state of Illinois.

portrait of James Mielke
by James Mielke

Published August 8, 2022

Edited by Colin Weickmann
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What Are the Best Illinois Cities to Work In?
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Cities in Illinois come in various forms, each with its own character.

Chicago, for example, is a cosmopolitan metropolis next to Lake Michigan. While the Champaign-Urbana area is a big college community in the heart of America's agricultural breadbasket.

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This geographic and cultural diversity results in an array of Illinois living options — perfect for most personal and professional needs.

We take a look at why Illinois is a great place to work while highlighting 10 cities that stand out as good places to live and work. When evaluating Illinois cities, we review job growth, employment data, and the various attributes that make a place unique.

Why Work in Illinois?

Illinois is a big state. And there's a dramatic difference between working and living in Chicago versus downstate in the capital city of Springfield.

Because of the varying opportunities available in Illinois, this state offers career options for just about anyone. If you're seeking some of the highest-paying or most in-demand jobs, the Prairie State's fastest-growing fields include tech, education, and healthcare.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Illinois has a median household income of over $68,000 annually. And over the past year, the state has seen job growth of about 4%, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports. Additionally, Illinois has an unemployment rate that mirrors that of national numbers.

Prospective Illinois residents should go in knowing that the state has a relatively high tax rate, similar to that of California. Along with taxes, the cost of living in Illinois largely depends on where you settle. Like other big cities, the cost of living in Chicago is dramatically higher than locations downstate.

Whether you're from Illinois and job searching for a post-graduation position in the state or weighing a potential new job in the Windy City, Illinois is home to cities that include affordable college towns, industrial centers, and suburban locations with quick access to sizable cities.

10 Best Illinois Cities to Work In

Determining if a city is right for you is a personal choice, but metrics can help by offering an objective perspective.

When highlighting the best cities in Illinois to work in, BestColleges not only highlights unemployment and job growth data but also elements like diversity, entertainment, and affordability. Keep reading to see which Illinois cities mirror your personal and professional needs.

Moline

Population Estimate (July 2021): 42,418
Job Growth (June 2022): 4.5%
Unemployment Rate (May 2022): 3.8%

Moline is part of the Illinois-Iowa Quad Cities area that also includes Illinois' Rock Island and Iowa's Davenport and Bettendorf. Moline is the home of John Deere, the ubiquitous agriculture machinery manufacturer. Not surprisingly, John Deere is the town's largest employer.

In addition to significant manufacturing employment, Moline and the greater area are home to higher education opportunities, including Black Hawk College, Augustana College, St. Ambrose University, and the Trinity College of Nursing and Health Sciences.

Springfield

Population Estimate (July 2021): 113,394
Job Growth (June 2022): 4.1%
Unemployment Rate (May 2022): 4.7%

Springfield is the state's capital. So it is no surprise that the area's biggest employer is the state of Illinois. This central Illinois city is home to the University of Illinois' Springfield campus, also one of the area's significant employers.

In addition to being the center of state politics, the city offers the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, numerous historic homes, and various public parks and gardens. Springfield also benefits from a lower cost of living than the national average.

Chicago

Population Estimate (July 2021): 2,696,555
Job Growth (June 2022): 4.9%
Unemployment Rate (June 2022): 4.9%

Not only is Chicago the state's largest city, but it also stands alone as the Midwest's cultural hub. Chicago is home to elite schools like Northwestern and the University of Chicago, has a standout public transportation system, and offers the amenities and attractions associated with big coastal cities.

The Windy City has job growth and unemployment numbers that mirror other cities in Illinois. The city's largest employers include Chicago's public schools, Cook County, and the University of Chicago.

Evanston

Population Estimate (July 2021): 77,517
Job Growth (June 2022): 4.9%
Unemployment Rate (June 2022): 4.9%

About a dozen miles north of downtown Chicago, Evanston is home to one of the best schools in the United States: Northwestern University. In addition to its college-town vibe, residents have easy access to all that Chicago has to offer.

Some of Evanston's top employers include Northwestern University, NorthShore University HealthSystem, and the Evanston/Skokie school district. This prominent suburb has a relatively high cost of living, including housing costs that are higher than the national average.

Glenview

Population Estimate (July 2021): 47,856
Job Growth (June 2022): 4.9%
Unemployment Rate (June 2022): 4.9%

Situated near Chicago, Glenview is a relatively affluent suburb with median household incomes and home values that dramatically outpace state numbers. Glenview's largest employers include the pharmaceutical company Astellas, Abt Electronics, Glenbrook Hospital, and various government jobs.

Glenview is also home to a deep roster of public recreation options, including parks, pools, golf courses, and various historical landmarks. Residents can easily access Chicagoland through public transportation.

Elmhurst

Population Estimate (July 2021): 45,326
Job Growth (June 2022): 4.9%
Unemployment Rate (June 2022): 4.9%

Situated on the western edge of Cook County, Elmhurst is a Chicago suburb incorporated in 1882. This suburban town has shown modest growth since the 2010 census, with a cost of living that's 43% higher than the national average.

This Chicago suburb is home to Elmhurst University. Some of Elmhurst's top employers include the university, the Edward-Elmhurst Hospital, and the McMaster-Carr Supply Co.

Champaign-Urbana

Population (as of 2019): 226,323
Job Growth (June 2022): 2.9%
Unemployment Rate (May 2022): 4.3%

The neighboring cities of Champaign and Urbana are home to the state's flagship public school, the University of Illinois. As a result, this large public research institution is the area's economic engine. Champaign-Urbana residents enjoy the various cultural hallmarks of a college town, including Big Ten football, music, and dining.

Some of the area's top employers include the University of Illinois, the Carle Foundation Hospital, and local government jobs.

Waukegan

Population Estimate (July 2021): 88,614
Job Growth (June 2022): 3.2%
Unemployment Rate (May 2022): 4.3%

Located less than an hour north of Chicago, Waukegan is a suburb long associated with industrial activity. In addition to its proximity to Chicago, Waukegan is also less than an hour from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Compared to other Chicago suburbs, census data shows that Waukegan is an especially diverse population.

Some of Waukegan's more prominent employers include manufacturing with Yaskawa America and PEER Bearing and the Lake County government.

Belleville

Population Estimate (July 2021): 41,751
Job Growth (June 2022): 2.3%
Unemployment Rate (May 2022): 5.4%

Located across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, Belleville offers quick access to big-city amenities while providing a slightly slower pace of daily life. Belleville is home to Southwestern Illinois College, one of the town's biggest employers.

Other significant Belleville employers include Scott Air Force Base, Memorial Hospital, and St. Clair County government jobs. Belleville offers relatively inexpensive housing options for individuals working in St. Louis who are hesitant about the cost of living in a bigger city.

Peoria

Population Estimate (July 2021): 111,666
Job Growth (June 2022): 3.0%
Unemployment Rate (May 2022): 5.5%

Based in the agriculture-rich heart of Illinois, Peoria is also a college town whose riverfront is one of the state's oldest urban centers. Peoria is home to Bradley University, the Saint Francis Medical Center College of Nursing, and nearby Eureka College.

Some of Peoria's biggest employers include machinery and equipment company Caterpillar, Illinois Central College, and OSF Healthcare. Peoria boasts a cost of living 13% lower than the national average.

Frequently Asked Questions About Working in Illinois Cities

Does Illinois have a good job market?

The job market for Illinois closely mirrors that of the United States as a whole. That said, employment data can vary dramatically between cities and regions. Most cities reporting job data have low unemployment rates similar to pre-pandemic statistics while revealing modest job growth.

The type of jobs available can also vary between regions and cities. Healthcare, education, and civil service jobs typically top the lists of the largest employers, but manufacturing companies in towns like Moline employ thousands.

Which city has the most jobs in Illinois?

The Chicago metropolitan area has, by far, the most jobs in Illinois. Over the past year, the Chicago-Naperville-Arlington Heights area added over 180,000 jobs. Additionally, Chicago is the state's economic engine with elite universities, hospitals, and numerous government jobs.

Some of Chicago's sectors that show the most employment growth include professional and business services, leisure and hospitality, and professional and business services. The Windy City's top employers include the U.S. government, Chicago public schools, and the city of Chicago.

Which Illinois city is growing the fastest?

While the COVID-19 pandemic saw big cities lose residents between 2020 and 2021, Chicago has grown throughout the decade between the 2010 and 2020 censuses. Other fast-growing cities include Naperville, Champaign, Elgin, and Glenview.

In addition to population growth, various Illinois cities are home to job growth rates that point to both career opportunities and a thriving place to live. Whether it's a metropolis like Chicago or an industrial river town like Moline, Illinois offers various career opportunities in diverse environments.

What is the best Illinois city for young professionals?

Without question, Chicago will top the list of the best cities for young professionals.

In addition to extensive career opportunities, Chicago is home to culture and entertainment options that are ideal for individuals jump-starting their careers. In Chicago, young professionals also can access public transportation, international airports, and a diverse population.

While Chicago is the obvious choice, locations rich in higher education can also offer the personal and professional attributes favored by young professionals. College towns like Champaign-Urbana, Peoria, and Evanston have youthful populations along with various cultural amenities.

What are the best cities to live and work in Illinois?

Determining which cities are best to live and work in is primarily determined by personal preference. Big-city living is ideal for one person, while a smaller college town is favorable for someone else. Additionally, not all cities offer the same career opportunities.

For individuals wanting access to the maximum number of job opportunities, a city like Chicago is a practical choice. Conversely, if someone is pursuing a public service career, Springfield's state Capitol also makes sense.

Economic factors like the cost of living and rent prices can also impact decisions when deciding where to live and work.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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