An area defined by its cutthroat politics and gridlocked traffic doesn’t exactly scream “welcome.” But according to and, D.C. is the best city in America for recent college graduates.

With a $39,000 average entry-level salary and low unemployment rate, the District has the highest opportunity and earning potential of cities in the U.S., says Jennifer Sullivan Grasz, a spokeswoman for

The websites revamped their methodology from last year’s ranking, which placed the District at seventh in 2011. This year, they ranked Washington above Boston and New York even though it has one of the highest costs for a one-bedroom apartment at $1,696.

Which may be good news for the District’s position in the rankings, but it doesn’t necessarily help any recent grads afford the rent.

“I probably would not be able to live in D.C. alone, but I’m living in an apartment with my girlfriend, so I only have to pay half the rent,” says William Craft, who’ll earn below the average starting salary when he begins work in June. Craft graduated from St. Mary’s College of Maryland earlier this month.

For those without a college degree, though, quality of life in the District isn’t so sweet, according to the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute. Twenty-five percent of D.C. residents without a college degree are unemployed. That’s in comparison to just a 4 percent unemployment rate for those with a college degree.

“Since D.C.’s economy is so driven by the government and contracting I think the difference is a more pronounced than in other areas,” says Caitlin Biegler at the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute. “The general trend is going to be common, but in general, throughout the District it’s harder.”

For example, to afford a one-bedroom apartment at fair market rent, D.C. employees need to make $26 an hour, $12 more than the average salary for someone without a bachelor’s degree, Biegler says.

As affordable housing has been cut in half over the past decade, housing for this demographic has become more difficult, she says. But it’s not that much easier for college grads who also make less than the average wages.

“[My girlfriend and I] did a lot of searching before a family friend alerted us to a rent-controlled apartment becoming available in Northwest,” Craft says. “If it weren’t for that, we would have had to find an apartment outside D.C. and live with longer commutes and less access to all the exciting opportunities in the big city.”

Maybe the ranking should have been “Best City for Recent College Graduates with Above-Average Income?”

Photo of diploma via Shutterstock