Located in central Massachusetts, Worcester is a town dominated by the healthcare and education industries. Formerly a center of New England manufacturing, the town was originally founded in 1674 as an English settlement. During the American Revolution, Worcester served as an important location where the Continental Army stored supplies, and many Boston industries relocated there to be farther from the fighting. In recent years, this previously quiet town has become a far-out suburb of Boston, to the extent that the Census Bureau counts economic activity here along with both Boston and Providence, RI.
Worcester residents could be considered your typical New Englanders: they’re hardy, and they don’t mind living in four distinct seasons. Although there aren’t as many things to do in Worcester as in Boston, people move to Worcester for education, or to work in healthcare. Worcester Polytechnic Institute and the UMass Medical School are top-notch institutions in their fields. Besides the abundant job opportunities in health and education, locals can enjoy the fact that traffic isn’t as bad here as in Boston. However, when you’re ready to visit Boston, you won’t have far to travel. In some ways, living in Worcester provides the best of both the big city and a smaller town.
Living in Worcester, MA: What to Know Before Moving to Worcester
Worcester, MA is the 2nd largest city in New England, with a population of around 185,000. Due to the variety of higher educational institutions in the city, a lot of cultural activities are open to the public. Unlike many former industrial towns, Worcester has managed to revamp its economy for the 21st century. In addition to the education and healthcare industries, Worcester’s start-up scene attracts many budding entrepreneurs. Overall, Worcester quality of life is excellent, which is why so many people love calling the “Heart of Massachusetts” home.
The Pros and Cons of Living in Worcester
Like any city, Worcester has some great things you’ll appreciate, and a few things that aren’t so great.
First, the good news:
- Lots of things to do: Worcester has a wealth of museums, theatres, and outdoor activities from which to choose.
- Healthy economy: Right now there are plenty of quality jobs to be had, so don’t expect fierce competition from other workers.
- Parks: Worcester is home to lovely parks, one of which is big enough for hiking. Don’t forget to visit the outdoor ice rink in winter.
- Diner city: Remember those train car diners? Worcester previously manufactured these iconic cars, and a few still serve meals.
- Center of innovation: With one of the best American technical schools located here, Worcester is home to many inventors.
Next, the not so good news:
- Higher than average crime rate: Although it’s decreasing, the crime rate in Worcester is one of the worst in Massachusetts.
- High taxes: Massachusetts, in general, is an expensive place to live, but the amount of tax-exempt land in Worcester doesn’t help either.
- Not much respect: Everyone thinks of Boston when they talk about Massachusetts, and Worcester is the annoying sibling that people often forget.
- Rundown areas: Like most former industrial cities, Worcester has a lot of abandoned factories. Luckily, the city is trying to improve these areas.
- Harsh winters: This con is true of most of New England, and Worcester has its share of snow and ice during the winter. Be prepared to layer from head to toe.
- State income tax: Massachusetts charges a flat income tax rate of 5.05%. There is no additional tax for Worcester city.
- Sales tax: Worcester doesn’t impose a local sales tax. The state sales tax rate is 6.25%. Certain items, such as food and inexpensive clothing, are tax exempt.
- Property tax: For Worcester County, the property tax rate is 1.378% of a home’s assessed value. This compares to a 1.181% average for Massachusetts, and 1.211% nationally. If you own a home assessed at $250,000, expect to pay about $3,400 each year in property taxes.
- Other: Worcester MA charges an excise tax on vehicles, which is $25 per $1000 value of the car.
Currently, the majority of Worcester residents own their homes, and less than 36% choose to rent. Perhaps that’s because of the low apartment vacancy rate, which is about half the national average and tends to keep rental prices high.
In 2019, the average rental price for a one-bedroom apartment was about $1000 per month, and a two-bedroom was around $1250. By contrast, buying a home in Worcester is a good investment right now. Home prices are rising at a significant pace, and this is expected to continue as Boston becomes ever pricier. Still, the average house price as of July 2019, is a fairly affordable $243,000. For those who need a cheap place to live, check out the North Side neighborhood. The schools are still pretty good, and it’s away from the center of town. Beware of the higher crime rates, however.
Cost of Living
Overall, the cost of living in Worcester is slightly higher than the national average of 100, with a Bestplaces.net index of 109 but less than Massachusetts’ cost of living of 139/100. Bestplaces reports that the cheapest basic expense in Worcester is healthcare at 84.6/100, but housing is much more expensive than average at 121.5/100. Groceries, utilities, transportation, and miscellaneous (repairs, eating out, clothing, etc.) are also higher than average. According to the Economic Policy Institute, a family of four should be earning $96,720 to enjoy a modest, yet adequate, standard of living in Worcester. Single adults need about $40,000 for comparable living standards.
Weather and Natural Disasters
Like most of New England, Worcester experiences a lot of snow during the long, cold winters. January and February are the coldest months, with highs averaging in the low 30s and lows into the teens. In January of 1981, the temperature reached -12 degrees Fahrenheit, which still holds as the record low. Snowfall averages 64 inches each year, with snowplow drivers clocking a lot of overtime during the snowy months. Winters are heavily affected by Nor’easter storms, which are severe snowfalls with significant wind. Conditions during these storms are quite dangerous, and many businesses will close until the road crews have cleared the streets.
Locals often refer to March and April as “mud season,” because the spring thaw causes everything in sight to turn into one giant mud hole. Summer in Worcester is pleasant, with average temperatures ranging from July and August highs in the upper 70s to lows of around 60. July of 2010 saw a record high of 95 degrees, so summer can get hot!
Occasionally, tornadoes and tropical storms will hit, but these are uncommon this far from the coast. Worcester sees about 48 inches rainfall per year, mostly during the spring and fall. Speaking of fall, the foliage tends to be beautiful during September and October, especially in the hills.
Economy and Job Market
The unemployment rate is about 4%, very slightly higher than the national average of 3.9%. Job creation is significantly higher here than the national average, in part because of the emphasis on startup companies. However, the median income for individuals is only $46,000, compared to the national average of $58,000. Part of the disparity is that salaries are higher in Boston, but it still shows that many Worcester families struggle financially.
If you want to find a job in Worcester, MA, try the education sector. In addition to the public and private K-12 schools, Worcester boasts several institutions of higher education. One of them, Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) is a famous technical school focusing mainly on science and technology. Perhaps to complement the presence of WPI, there is a heavy manufacturing sector in Worcester, and many notable inventions, like rocket fuel and the typewriter, come from this area. One of the primary employers is Polar Beverages, the largest independent bottler in the country. Unsurprisingly, there’s also a significant healthcare industry, as the University of Massachusetts operates several local hospitals.
Traffic and Transportation
Compared to Boston, which has some of the worst traffic in the nation, Worcester’s traffic is fairly tame. Locals report that rush hours range from around 6:45-9:00 a.m. and 3:30-6:00 p.m. During these hours, traffic is fairly heavy but comes to a complete halt.
Several major highways serve Worcester: Interstates 190 and 290 go mainly north-south, though 290 has an east-west section. The Massachusetts Turnpike runs just south of the city in an east-west direction, leading to Boston. Overall, you’ll find that Worcester is fairly easy to navigate by car.
Public transportation options are favorable for a city of this size. There’s a local/regional bus system, the Worcester Regional Transit Authority (WRTA), which serves Worcester and its surrounding towns. If you’d like to get to Boston quickly, the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA) runs a commuter rail line with a stop in Worcester.
There’s also a small regional airport, Worcester Regional Airport, which has limited commercial service available. For most travel outside the region, most locals find Boston Logan International Airport (BOS) most convenient.
Worcester earns an above-average rating of 56/100 by Walkscore, 33/100 for public transit, and 36/100 for biking. The city is currently installing bike lanes all over town, so the bike score should soon be on the uptick. If you like getting around on your own two feet, the best areas for walking are the central business district and near any of the college campuses. While you can’t entirely get around without a vehicle, there are plenty of areas where walking is doable.
What to Do in Worcester
Worcester recreation centers around urban activities. Dining, both fine and casual, is a popular pastime. There are a few larger parks: Bovenzi Conservation Park and Green Hill Park, which allow residents some much-needed open space. Some of the parks even feature hiking trails. Hardy outdoor enthusiasts still get out and hike in winter. If you prefer indoor adventures, try the Central Rock Gym for some climbing fun, or take the kids to the playground in Elk Park.
The Worcester Art Museum, the second-largest in New England next to Boston, has an extensive collection of art, dating from antiquity to modern. For lovers of antique books, the American Antiquarian Society is a cool place to visit. Their huge collection of books and documents focuses on researching early American history and culture. Local artists can display their work at Arts Worcester, which runs several galleries open to the public. If you’re into various performing arts, you’ll enjoy the Hanover Theatre. More than just a venue, the theatre hosts a dance studio and offers music and acting lessons for all ages.
The local professional sports teams are the Wildcats (football), Bravehearts (baseball), and Blades (ice hockey).
Schools and Universities
No matter your preference for K-12 education – public or private – Worcester has good options. Worcester Public Schools is an above-average K-12 district that serves the entire city of Worcester. Public options also include a specialized science and tech high school, and several charter schools. Advanced Placement classes are available as well. There’s a large Catholic school system through the local Diocese of Worcester. Worcester has two prep schools: Worcester Academy (WA) and Bancroft School. Prestigious WA, one of the oldest boarding schools in New England, covers grades 6-12 and also admits day students. Bancroft School serves students K-12.
Higher education options are abundant in Worcester. Besides Worcester Polytechnic Institute, there are several four-year and technical schools. Assumption College and Holy Cross College are four-year Catholic liberal arts institutions; the latter is the oldest one in New England. Clark University is a private, secular liberal arts college with standard offerings, and Becker College specializes in technical and professional degrees. For those going into the medical professions, MHCPS University and UMass medical schools offer many options. Finally, public offerings include Worcester State for four-year degrees and Quinsigamond Community College. With all these post-secondary institutions, it’s no wonder the local government estimates over 36,000 students live in Worcester. Since many are international students, Worcester is a diverse city.
Like many former industrial towns, and towns with a lot of students, Worcester does have a crime problem. Bestplaces.net rates the crime index for violent offenses at 44.8, compared to the national average of 22.7. The property crimes index is 42.2, compared to the average of 35.4. Most crimes occur in the center of town, near the hospitals and universities. In general, while Worcester has some rough parts of town, overall the city is relatively safe.
Be sure to contact your service providers and set up your new accounts well in advance of your move to Worcester, MA.
- Water, sewer, trash, recycling: The city is your service provider. The Public Works and Parks Department administers all four services, and you can view details or start services through their
- Gas: For heating or appliances, you can purchase natural gas through Eversource; start service
- Electricity: The National Grid provides power, as well as natural gas in some areas. To contact customer services call or visit their website.
- Internet and cable services: The local cable franchise is called Spectrum, and they also offer internet, landline, and cell phone service. Recently, Spectrum bought and merged with the local phone company, Charter. Verizon (including FIOS), Dish, and DirecTV are also options for communications and media services.
Best Neighborhoods in Worcester, MA
When choosing the best neighborhood, you’ll want to consider several factors. What are the housing costs? Is the neighborhood made up mostly of renters or homeowners? Are the schools highly rated? What’s the neighborhood vibe? Commuting time should also be considered, of course. Hopefully, the following information will help answer some of your questions:
Indian Lake East
Nestled between Indian Lake and the I-190/290 interchange, this neighborhood of about 1,900 has an interesting mixture of urban and suburban characteristics. Indian Lake itself is a fairly large body of water to the north of downtown, and some properties have boat launches or lake views, especially on Sears Island.
Most freestanding residential buildings are single-family, but with Worcester Polytechnic Institute located here, there’s a good bit of student housing as well. Assumption College is located just outside the Indian Lake East borders. Due to the college crowd, a large shopping center has both supermarkets and big box stores. Other features of the neighborhood include Rural Cemetery, the American Antiquarian Society, and Worcester Public Schools district offices.
Public school students can expect to attend Flagg Street School for elementary (Greatschools.com rating 6/10), Forest Grove Middle (3/10), and Doherty Memorial High (3/10). Sound like your kind of place? Expect to pay $1,100 in rent or an average of $185,000 to buy a home.
College Hill and Quinsigamond
A fairly large neighborhood of 15,000, College Hill has a diverse character. Home to College of the Holy Cross on one end and a mobile home park on the other, it’s located just north of downtown along Route 122A between the MA Turnpike and I-290. You’ll find some welcome greenspace with Greenwood Playground, Cookson Field, and Blackstone Gateway Park. The Polar Beverage plant is here, and Blackstone Industrial Park is home to many local businesses.
Numerous casual restaurants and shopping centers also dot the streets, so locals have plenty of places to do their dining and shopping. With so many employers and businesses in this neighborhood, it’s not surprising that people love to live here. Students attend Quinsigamond Elementary (2/10), Sullivan Middle School (4/10), and South High Community School (4/10). Housing costs are $850 to rent and $238,000 to buy.
Green Island/South Worcester
As its name suggests, the neighborhood is just south of downtown Worcester, bordered by I-290 and Canterbury Street. This urban neighborhood includes the famed Canal District, which is home to many iconic shops and restaurants. The main bus and train terminal is conveniently located here, along with St. John’s Cemetery, Crompton Park, and the South Worcester Playground. Holy Cross College is located just outside this area, and Clark University is close by as well.
Because most of the 5,700 residents rent, the cost of $1,100 per month is very high compared to the purchase price of a home at $75,500. Most homes for purchase, however, are small condos or postage-stamp-sized houses. For couples or small families who enjoy the convenience of being able to walk or take the bus to nearly everything, and are looking to purchase an affordable home, this neighborhood is an excellent choice. Worcester Public Schools serves the area. Students attend Canterbury Street School (4/10), and University Park School from grades 7-12 (4/10).
Located to the north and west of downtown, this larger suburban neighborhood, with a population of 32,000, is home to both Assumption College and Worcester State. With Tatnuck Country Club, Elm Park, and Cascades Park, the West Side has lots of opportunities for outdoor recreation. Homes trend large, and most residents own their place unless they’re students. Some houses are brand new, while other parts of the neighborhood are more established. With two colleges here, it’s easy to enjoy a collegiate athletics game. Backyard barbecues are a common pastime, too. Shopping centers dot the area, though they tend to be small, and there’s even a retirement home here.
Several parochial schools are located in West Side, including St. Peter-Marian High, and Notre Dame Academy. Some families may send their kids to Bancroft Academy, located just outside the neighborhood. Public schools include Tatnuck Elementary (4/10), Forest Grove Middle (3/10,) and Doherty High (3/10). Home prices vary wildly; some are affordable, while others are going for over half a million. The average purchase price is $256,000, and you can expect to pay about $1,000 per month to rent.
In the northeast corner of Worcester, Green Hill is an attractive suburban neighborhood of 5,300 residents. Green Hill Park and a golf course dominate this neighborhood. With all this open space, Green Hill residents have plenty of opportunities for hiking and other outdoor activities. Residents who commute have easy access to Rte 9 and I-290. Several high-quality shopping centers, several hotels, restaurants, a long-term care facility and one of the UMass Medical Center campuses are a few of the amenities you’ll find. In short, this neighborhood has a little bit of everything, as long as you don’t mind driving.
Green hill is home to Worcester Technical High School, Lincoln Street School (elementary, 2/10), Burncoat Middle (3/10), and Burncoat Senior High (2/10). This selection of schools is one of the few downsides of living in Green Hill. However, the neighborhood is fairly affordable for such a scenic and safe part of the city. Buying a house costs about $206,500 while renting is about $1,100.
North Side is aptly named, being an arrowhead-shaped neighborhood far to the north of downtown. Its main thoroughfares are W Boyleston and Burncoat Streets (north to south), plus Mountain, South, and Ararat Streets (east to west). I-190 also cuts through this neighborhood of 17,600 residents.
Best described as suburban, North Side is home to Bovenzi Conservation Area and the Worcester Country Club. Kendrick Field also adds to the open spaces, as does the large campus of Bancroft School. Employers include Saint Gobain, several shopping centers, and the country club. Overall, the neighborhood enjoys a low crime rate, and most people own their homes.
On average, a home costs $228,000, with much more expensive homes near the country club. Interestingly, rent is cheap at only $585, though this may mean there are opportunities to rent an extra bedroom or a mother-in-law suite. For public schools, students attend the Worcester district: Thorndyke Elementary (4/10), Burncoat Middle (3/10), and Burncoat High (2/10).
Beaver Brook/Cider Mill
In the southwestern corner of town lies the Beaver Brook/Cider Mill neighborhood, with an estimated 17,000 residents. Tucked in the northwest reaches of the neighborhood, you’ll find a local airport. Goddard Memorial Highway cuts the neighborhood in half north-south; Park Avenue and June Street finish the circle around it.
Several employers call this neighborhood home, including Coes Wrench, a TJ Maxx distribution center, Worcester Youth Center, Fairlawn Rehab, Hermitage Healthcare, and a hospice. Like most suburban neighborhoods, there are also shopping centers and restaurants. Beaver Brook has no shortage of open space: Coes Reservoir, Hadwen Arboretum, Beaver Brook Park with its dog run, Logan Field, God’s Acre, and a handful of other small parks. Here you’ll also find General Foley Stadium, where local high school sports teams play.
House prices are similar to the Worcester average, with a purchase cost of $197,000 and rents at $1,000. Although the area is lovely, residents who work downtown will have longer commute times. Students attend Hiatt Elementary (5/10), Sullivan Middle (4/10), and South High (4/10), all administered by Worcester Public Schools.
Aptly named in relationship to downtown, the Southeast neighborhood of Worcester lies south of Route 9 on Lake Quinsigamond, between I-90 and 122A. Here, 28,000 people live in a mainly suburban environment, and about 60% own their homes. Besides the lakeshore, residents can enjoy the Broad Meadows Brook Savannah Park, Quinsigamond State Park, and Ecotarium Museum. A few small shopping centers are here, but with all this open space, major employers chose to go elsewhere. While this makes for several quiet areas, it also means most residents will have to commute to the industrial parks and hospitals located just outside the neighborhood boundary.
Besides the public schools, the Southeast is home to Holy Name High School, a quality Catholic school that features athletic fields and other facilities. Southeast homes often have quite large yards. Expect neighborhood parties and lots of children running around, or playing ball in the street. Served by Worcester Public Schools, students attend Vernon Hill School (3/10), Sullivan Middle (4/10), and South High (4/10). Does Southeast sound appealing? Expect to pay $217,000 for a home, or $1,000 in rent each month.
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