Although they are just a few minutes from each other with only the Missouri River dividing them, the neighboring cities of Omaha and Council Bluffs are quite different in a lot of ways. In fact, they don’t even have a state in common! And yet, the two do share a few things, like a relatively low cost of living and a strong sense of community. Plus, because they are so close, many choose to take advantage of both, by living in Council Bluffs and working in Omaha, or vice versa.
To help you decide whether you should live in Omaha or Council Bluffs, we’re delving into some of the pros and cons of each, so you know just what to expect. All in all, both of these cities are dear to our hearts, so you can’t go wrong!
Cost of Living
According to Sperling’s Best Places, when compared to the national average, both Omaha and Council Bluffs offer a lower cost of living across the board for nearly every category, including food and groceries, housing, utilities, and transportation. Most notably (as far as we’re concerned), housing in Omaha has a score of 76.5 and Council Bluffs has a score of just 55.5, compared to the national average of 100. To translate those stats into real numbers: the median home cost is $176,900 for Omaha and $128,400 for Council Bluffs, which are both significantly less than the national average of $231,200.
When compared to one another, the cost of living is 5.8% less in Council Bluffs than it is in Omaha — with housing costs being 27.5% less expensive in Council Bluffs than in Omaha. The only categories that are slightly more expensive in Council Bluffs include transportation and miscellaneous.
If you didn’t catch it, the cost of living in both Omaha and Council Bluffs are low compared to much of the U.S.! And between the two, CB is quite a bit lower. So if your move is purely based on finances, Council Bluffs just might be the better option.
It’s pretty obvious that Omaha has Council Bluffs beat when it comes to attractions. After all, the population of Omaha is around 500,000, while Council Bluffs has just 63,000 residents, so naturally, a larger city attracts more businesses, like restaurants, bars, theaters, museums and more. Omaha is home to the Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, the Joslyn Art Museum (temporarily closed for renovation), the Lauritzen Botanical Gardens, the many restaurants and bars dotting the historic Old Market, and much more.
But that doesn’t mean Council Bluffs residents can’t access those things! Many in Council Bluffs take advantage of all Omaha has to offer — finding solace in the small-town suburban feel on the Iowa side of the river. And the city has its own set of attractions, especially along the Historic 100 Block, which contains a variety of dining and nightlife options.
It’s true — both Nebraska and Iowa don’t score the best when it comes to taxes, although the relatively low cost of living more than makes up for this! Iowa has gotten an especially bad reputation for its high taxes, especially its income and property taxes. The state income tax range is 2.4–6.84% for Nebraska and 0.33–8.53% for Iowa, and both have the same average combined state and local sales tax rate of 6.94%. And the median property tax rate is 1.61% for Nebraska and 1.53% for Iowa.
However, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds recently signed a historic tax reform for the state of Iowa — the third major tax reform since 2018. In all, Iowans will save nearly $2 billion when all cuts are implemented. The process will take a few years, with the eventual goal of a flat rate for individual income taxes. There are currently nine tax brackets with a top rate of 8.53%, but starting in 2023, there will only be four brackets, with three in 2024, two in 2025, and one flat rate of just 3.9% in 2026! Plus, Iowa’s tax on retirement income will be repealed in 2023, which means all retirement income for Iowans over the age of 55 will be completely tax-free. You can get more details about this news here.
Unemployment Rate + Job Opportunities
From an employment perspective, both Omaha and Council Bluffs are a great place to be — especially in the age of remote work. After all, Omaha/Council Bluffs was named the #3 Best City to Relocate to in America for its economic stability. This impressive ranking was due to the cities’ low unemployment rates, which according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics are currently at 2.6%, which is almost a whole point less than the national average of 3.5%.
As the hometown of billionaire and businessman Warren Buffett, Omaha attracts businesses of all kinds. In fact, the Omaha area is home to seven companies among the Fortune 500 and 1,000. The four Fortune 500 companies in Omaha include Berkshire Hathaway, Union Pacific Railroad, Mutual of Omaha Insurance, and Kiewit Corporation.
As such, many Council Bluffs residents choose to work in Omaha, making the short commute across the river each day. And with so many remote or “hybrid” opportunities available, your place of work just might be your spare bedroom!
Both Omaha and Council Bluffs are surrounded by a serene landscape of rolling plains and cornfields. As such, much of the region is wild and free, packed with green space just waiting to be explored.
Nebraska has a variety of national and state parks, including some beautiful green spaces not far from Omaha. The 1,400-acre Fontenelle Forest in Bellevue has hiking trails, a nature center, children’s camps, picnic facilities and more. Eugene T. Mahoney State Park is home to an aquatic center and indoor playground, hiking and biking trails, a treetop ropes course, an observation tower, an indoor rock climbing wall, sledding, ice skating and the Peter Kiewit Lodge. And located a few miles from both Lincoln and Omaha, Platte River State Park is known for its magnificent waterfall, scenic hiking and biking trails, and dual observation towers featuring views of the Platte River Basin.
Council Bluffs is home to a number of exceptional parks as well, including Tom Hanafan River’s Edge Park, Lake Manawa State Park, Fairmount Park, Bayliss Park, and many more. But if you’re willing to drive a little, there are even more outdoor recreation destinations to visit throughout western Iowa, including the Hitchcock Nature Center, Preparation Canyon State Park, Wabash Trace Nature Trail, and more. Here, you can go hiking, fishing, camping, and more!
We can share all the statistics in the world, but at the end of the day, what’s most important is the sense of community you experience — that feeling of belonging that money just can’t buy. And we’re happy to report that both Omaha and Council Bluffs provide the priceless community you may be longing for.
Here, people take the time to get to know their neighbors, ask how you’re doing in the check-out line, or help you shovel your driveway after a snow storm. Since the population of both cities are relatively small, it’s easy to get involved in local efforts and make a difference in the lives of those around you. This is something many major cities are not able to provide, as residents may feel like a number amidst a crowd of busy commuters. But in both Omaha and Council Bluffs, residents feel a strong sense of community — just ask our Realtors who have lived and worked here for years!
Whether you’re leaning towards Omaha or Council Bluffs, you’re in luck! We have a team of knowledgeable agents working in both cities who can assist with your home search and help you get acclimated to the area.
In the meantime, check out these homes for sale in Omaha and in Council Bluffs!