50 Great Places To Raise A Family

You know how these personal finance posts we’re always publishing tell you to find a place where you can actually afford to live? But how people respond that it’s not that easy to find affordable, decent towns? Well, here you go: 50 not-too-shabby places around the country, presented in a clicky slide show and illustrated with satellite images for that Google Maps/Homeland Security look that feels so now.

The list was created by ranking candidates according to the following five criteria:

  • test scores
  • cost of living
  • recreational and cultural activities
  • number of schools
  • crime rate

It’s too early in the morning to transcribe all fifty towns, so we’ll cut to the chase. Here are the top five places to live out the American Dream, or what’s left of it.

“Great Places to Raise Kids–for Less” [BusinessWeek]
(Image: BusinessWeek)

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  1. mgyqmb says:

    Is it just me, or are nearly ALL of these in Nebraska? Why in the world would you want to live near bugeater fans?

  2. nursetim says:

    I grew up near #49, Galesburg Mi. One complaint is they list the nearest city as Grand Rapids, while Kalamazoo, which has a population of about 80,000, is only about 10 miles away. Kalamazoo, by the way, is home to Bell’s Brewery, which makes my favorite beer.

  3. ElizabethD says:

    Yes, it’s expensive to live in coastal New England, as we do. But it’s a REALLY hard sell to interest me in – for example – “a semirural patch of land seven miles northwest of Cincinnati”. Um, whut?!

    One also has to factor in proximity to family and friends, which this list ignores. Some of us actually put down roots and decide to keep our present jobs and homes and stick it out, in spite of a high cost of living. Life is full of tradeoffs. I’ll make mine here in the Northeast, thanks, where we can drive an hour or less to share Thanksgiving and Christmas with various branches of our family. Not to mention driving five minutes to the ocean.

  4. Nick986 says:

    They placed #47 and #15 at the wrong ends of Tennessee. You were right MGYQMB, there were quite a few Nebraska towns. Not sure I want to live in tornado alley.

  5. camman68 says:

    Doesn’t anyone find it odd that the article doesn’t include any locations in the western half of the U.S.?

  6. MrEvil says:

    They should have excluded any towns with less than 1000 population. Some of those towns are so small you’ll NEVER find a job close enough for it to be economical. I also don’t see how they can have any culture. The only reason they don’t have any crime is that the town only has 350 people in it, everybody knows everybody. Then there’s test scores, when your graduating seniors number in the single digits it really inflates an average test score.

  7. dariaclone says:

    They said 11 Nebraska towns on the list. I grew up in Nebraska and I do not wish that on my kids. I would like my kids to know that people of different colors and sexual orientations exist (although racial diversity has improved with immigration). I would like my kids to know that women can have jobs “outside the home.” I would like my kids to grow up not being afraid of the “big city” and able to read a bus route map. And as someone else mentioned, my friends are important to me and the friendships I’ve formed in a big city trump any I’ve made in smaller towns.

    Needless to say, I won’t be returning.

  8. samurailynn says:

    Nebraska, Illinois, and Ohio? I haven’t been to the east coast, so I can’t comment on New Jersey, but I have been to the midwest. It’s not a place I’d ever consider desirable to live, much less to plant my roots and trap my family.

    Of course, I also hated being trapped in a town of about 2000 growing up, so I doubt I’ll ever want to live in such a country-esque setting again.

  9. Quellman says:

    Some of those places are too boondocks for me. They likely don’t have Walmarts so I can buy my SS Shirt. Well, maybe if they are so out of the way… the shirts might still be in stock.

  10. SNLT203 says:

    I don’t really know if I can take a list seriously where they have missed several cities locations by several hundred miles on their maps.
    Or that takes Helena, AL as a good city to raise kids. Their scoring system must give some kind of redneck bonus. I’ve lived near Helena for 10 years and I can’t really think of one moment when I thought it was a good place to live for anyone.

  11. remedies says:

    @Nick986: exactly what i was going to point out!

    and i’m not sure where they’re getting their test score data from, but tennessee is not known for its successful public education (private schools and magnet schools not withstanding). we’re usually battling mississippi for last place in that aspect. i was surprised to see tennessee on this list at all.

  12. rachaeljean says:

    This is totally skewed toward the midwest! :( Sad! I wouldn’t live that far away from the ocean if my life depended on it. And I agree, there just can’t be that much commerce and industry out there (unless you’re a farmer or Mary Kay consultant). Sad! Besides, most serial killers are from the midwest! And I’m scared to even VISIT south of the Mason-Dixon line!

    Also, the only town in Oregon is DUNDEE?? It’s a crap town with terrible traffic. There’s *nothing* there. The only thing that could be good about it is it’s KINDA close to Portland.

    This list is one big giant LOSE.

  13. remthewanderer says:

    #4 technically does not exist. I am not sure why they are calling the town Echelon, NJ it is actually Voorhees, NJ

    I grew up near there. What I know of it is that there are a large number of condo complexes so it is popular with young first time home buyers. There is also a mall there but the major anchor stores have all left. I believe the mall is still in operation but it is more ghetto than the other malls in the area.

    South NJ overall is a pretty nice place to live. It is a whole different world when compared to the toxic waste dump of North NJ

  14. DrGirlfriend says:

    @rachaeljean: As a resident of Oregon, I agree wholeheartedly. If you live in Dundee, it should be because you work in one of the area’s wineries. There is nothing else there, and the traffic is bad because they artificially and with no warning lower their speed limit to unreasonable levels in order to catch people “speeding”. You move through the main road at like 25 mph.

    And that is the problem with these lists, and why I never, ever pay attention to them. You can come up with a bunch of criteria – quality of schools, housing costs, what have you – but none of these are in put into any kind of context. Quality of life is not just about the local school’s No Child Left Behind scores and cheap houses. And what are “cultural activities”? That’s a vague term because a lot could ostensibly fall under “cultural”.

  15. paco says:

    Wow. That has to be one of the most flawed, least useful examples of such lists I’ve ever seen.

  16. savvy999 says:

    My completely unscientific study says that the best place to raise kids are in middling college towns. Think Ames IA, State College PA, College Station TX, Blacksburg VA, Athens GA, etc.

    You get the educational, multi-cultural, and economic stability benefits of living near a university, without the totally-out-in-BFE factor that a lot of towns on that list has.

    Also, school districts in college towns tend to be excellent– perfessers tend to insist on decent schools for their kids, and the teacher pool is chosen from the best n’ brightest ed graduates.

    Lastly, college football. ’nuff said.

  17. nightsweat says:

    All the Illinois ones on the list (Western Springs, Deerfield, Wilmette, Batavia, Barrington, Buffalo Grove, Clarendon Hills) are suburbs of Chicago – hardly podunk – and a great area to live and raise kids. You can get culture and safety.

    Barrington and Wilmette (and Deerfield to a lesser extent) are pretty high-end suburbs.

    I don’t get the Nebraska thing.

  18. I’m sorry, Deerfield, IL, is considered a place to raise a child FOR LESS???? Less than, what, exactly, Winnetka? Have any of them every BEEN to Deerfield????

  19. carcass350 says:

    According to Business Week this list is made up of “Family-oriented neighborhoods with the most affordable homes…” I have to call BS. No. 2 Western Springs IL, No. 3 Deerfield IL, and No. 7 Wilmette IL are all “old money” suburbs of Chicago. These towns have median home values of $496,600, $470,100, and $677,100 respectively (city-data.com). That doesn’t seem so affordable to me.

  20. @rachaeljean: “There just can’t be that much commerce and industry out there”

    Allstate? Kraft? Culligan? Underwriters Laboratories? Crate and Barrel? IDEX? Nanotech startups?

    And those are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head that are headquartered in the teeny-tiny little midwestern suburb I grew up in, Northbrook.

    Or did you entirely miss the third-largest urban area in the country, the nation’s busiest airport (well, DFW might have passed it now), or the 62 Fortune 500 companies headquartered in Illinois alone, including State Farm (Bloomington), Boeing, Sears, Walgreens, Motorola, Caterpillar (Peoria), ADM (Decatur), Allstate, Abbot, Deere (Moline), McDonald’s, Sara Lee, United Airlines, Exelon, Navistar, OfficeMax, RR Donnelly, Tribune Corp, Wrigley, Service Master, Northern Trust, Andrew Corp, and a couple dozen others?

  21. swicklund says:

    I agree, this is a useless list. I live in Omaha, Nebraska now, and you can’t find jobs where they have listed. There is no “culture” out there, per se (unless you are into highschool football and church picnics).
    Essentially they are saying everyone should live in small segregated towns.
    Lame.

  22. bohemian says:

    I don’t know what is up with the Nebraska thing but I can tell you one thing, DON’T.

    No jobs, nothing to do, horrible weather and some of the most inhospitable uber conservatives your ever going to meet. Outside of Omaha. In the plains states unless your in a town of over 200,000 people life will suck and there will be nothing to do but enjoy the horrible weather.

    I find the bunch around Cinci ironic, that is where we are thinking of moving to. Decent cost of living for a big city and big city things to do.

  23. braindesign says:

    does anyone read the article before the shiny list of craptastic cities up there? its “affordable, decent towns” not “your family, job, way of life and worlds greatest culture have been here for a week, why aren’t you already here?”

  24. tadowguy says:

    Do you get paid to live in Nebraska like they do in Alaska? I think you should if you don’t.

  25. ceejeemcbeegee is not here says:

    What’s the point of raising kids in these towns when the adults are going to die a slow death of boredom?

    I feel a “Top 10 Cites for Orphans” list coming on…

  26. DorothyZbornak says:

    I just visited Nebraska in October and all I can say is WTF? I actually drove through Arapahoe (#5) on my way to visit family a town over. There is NOTHING there. Seriously! Unless you want to farm, there’s no reason to move somewhere like that.

  27. DorothyZbornak says:

    @DorothyZbornak: And my family, who lived in a larger neighboring town, have basically nothing more than a Super Wal-Mart. No thanks!

  28. nightsweat says:

    @braindesign: The list is still crap, even with the “affordable, decent towns” criteria. The median home price in Wilmette is $789,423; In Deerfield, it’s $624,856; in Barrington $501,935

  29. saintjohnson says:

    Its probably the private schools that boosted the scores for #15 and #47. There are alot in this area for such a small city. Its hard to go K-12 without ever attending a private school.

    The worst thing about #15 is the traffic though. So if you can actually get your house, I guess its a good place to live. I’m staying by the lake for now.

  30. phrygian says:

    My husband is from Nebraska and still has family there. I like Lincoln and Omaha — as places to visit — but the towns that article listed? There’s nothing in them. I can’t imagine moving to a town where I have no job prospects beyond Wal-mart, DQ, or the feed store (assuming that Wal-mart hasn’t driven out the latter as they have in many small towns). The cost of living has to be affordable when wages/income are depressed, but that doesn’t make it a good place to raise a family.

  31. QueenHawkeye says:

    Echelon, NJ? I believe the proper term is Voorhees, NJ. Echelon was a mall in Voorhees, but it’s named Voorhees Town Centere now. [Or something along those lines.]

  32. IconoclasticFlow says:

    W00T! I grew up in Western Springs! Go Parents!

    Seriously though, much as I thought it was terribly dull as a kid, it is a great town, though the slow creep of oversized houses marches on. I still live and work in the general area, and would not mind ending up there down the road.

  33. UpsetPanda says:

    This study is skewed and useless. Like some have said, when you have a population of 1,000, everybody can be a winner. It means you have smaller class sizes, more attention for students and possibly more county dollars. Likewise, when you have a smaller town, there’s a smaller chance of crime. At least some of the ones in this list are located near semi-urbanized areas, so that kids can actually get a sense of culture…their #1 was Patterson, Ga. which is 92 miles from the nearest major city…that doesn’t scream “day trip” to me.

  34. UpsetPanda says:

    ** I meant to say #50…since they were counting backward, to me, it was the first one I clicked on, but the last one on their list. Oops.

    I also wanted to mention that I think some of the unspoken problems (The media hates to discuss rich/poor issues) is that in a lot of the towns this list mentions, the median household income is extremely low…when your average income is really low, it usually means you require less to live in that area (which can be a good thing) but it may also mean a lack of growth and wealth in the area, and not just monetary wealth, it might mean dollars flowing in to fund schools and cultural centers, such as museums or libraries.

  35. D-Bo says:

    Dundee, OR #26 ftw

    [images.businessweek.com]

  36. junkmail says:

    @dariaclone: Definitely one of the most ignorant things I’ve ever had the displeasure of reading on this board. Thank you for promising not to return.

    @swicklund: Are you serious? Dude, open your eyes.

    Sorry guys, I gotta take issue with such ignorant statements. Sure, it’s no New York, but that’s a PLUS. If you don’t like Omaha, that’s fine, I don’t really care for it myself (for other reasons), but at least back up your comments with facts, not ignorance.

  37. CyGuy says:

    Apparently Syracuse, NY isn’t considered a ‘city’ by their methodology, so (No. 27) Fairmount, NY – a suburb of Syracuse only 6 miles from downtown has Rochester, NY at 84 miles away listed as its closest city.

  38. mconfoy says:

    @savvy999: agree, madison, ann arbor, Charlottesville, harrisburg, athens, ithaca, etc.

  39. Vicky says:

    @savvy999: Also, more likely than not, you’ll enjoy access to decent broadband internet. When I lived in College Station we had better telecommunications options than Houston.

  40. mconfoy says:

    @junkmail:
    Demographics of Nebraska (csv) By race
    White Black AIAN Asian NHPI
    AIAN is American Indian or Alaskan Native – NHPI is Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander
    2000 (total population)
    93.53% 4.48% 1.32% 1.58% 0.11%

    Conor Oberst and Bright Eyes are from Omaha, so I guess that counts as culture. Too bad he does not live there anymore.

  41. mconfoy says:

    @Vicky: Aggie?

  42. osiris7 says:

    I’d rather hear about 50 great places to raise a family….that are NOT in the U.S. If the world is becoming globalized, then where we choose to live as individuals can become globalized as well. I’m thinking Australia or NZ, myself. Fortunately I’m on the preferred occupations list for immigration.

  43. CumaeanSibyl says:

    @nursetim: What did you think of the Oberon this year?

  44. littlejohnny says:

    I disagree with this article for so many reasons. First of all I would much rather be poor and live where I am than be rich in any of the cities on this list. Where I live there is my family, good schools, things to do, and other people. And most importantly, the Flyers and the Eagles.

  45. junkmail says:

    @mconfoy: Got the stats for Omaha or Lincoln?

  46. etinterrapax says:

    Meh. I’m from the northeast too, and have lived in the midwest, and I wouldn’t trade the ocean, mountains, and proximity to our families for whatever these towns are reputed to have. Low cost of living isn’t everything, and I find anyplace with a median income of $25K to be slightly alarming. How are city or town services sustained on that kind of tax base? Not well, I suspect. And I find it hard to believe that similar towns couldn’t have been located on either coast.

  47. Bay State Darren says:

    I didn’t grow up anywhere near any of these places: guess that explains why I’m so screwed up. [If someone beat me to this joke, I apologize for the repetition. I'm too damn lazy to read the thread.]

  48. mthrndr says:

    this list is aaaaaaaaaaaasssssssssssssssss

  49. Icepagoda says:

    Groesbeck as #1…? GROESBECK? Are they serious?

    Apparently they’ve never lived here, or that idea would quickly evaporate. Just last week they had a car full of meth addicts (which originated in Groesbeck) slam into a police officer on the interstate.

    I hardly call this area ‘kid friendly’ anymore.

  50. bdgbill says:

    How about a post about “The Best Places to Not Raise a Family”

    Yesterday I had a toddler leaning over my seat screaming in my ear during breakfast at Cracker Barrel and sat in disgusting mashed bright orange “fish” crackers while having dinner at the Outback.

    I’m ready to move wherever the least amount of breeders live.

  51. @junkmail: “Sorry guys, I gotta take issue with such ignorant statements.”

    Have you not yet discovered that when midwesterners make ignorant statements about other places, it’s because they’re uneducated, backwards hicks, but when coastal people make ignorant, sometimes offensive, sometimes downright bigoted statements about places they’ve often never actually even been and clearly know nothing about, that’s a sign that they’re CULTURALLY SOPHISTICATED?

    I love this conceit that living 20 minutes outside downtown Chicago means there’s “nothing to do.” Only if you’re too fucking lazy to get off the couch, folks.

  52. MonkeySwitch says:

    There is no city in the Birmingham metropolitan area where I think to myself, “Oh, I would love to raise a family here” Helena, AL being no exception. Also, how could this be on the top 50 great places to raise a family when it is 20 miles from one of the top 10 most dangerous cities in America?

  53. Vejadu says:

    I’ve lived in several towns in Nebraska, from 500, to 25,000 to 250,000, and I find great things about each. Many of the small towns on this list are small enough to be pleasant, safe and humble communities but are close enough to larger cities that they can take advantage of their amenities. For example, Waverly, NE (#6) is a ten minute drive from Lincoln and 30 minutes from Omaha. Most of the people who live in Waverly commute to Lincoln and can still raise their children in a small town.

    Remember, this isn’t a list of the best places to live, it’s the most desirable locations to raise a family.

  54. rachaeljean says:

    @Eyebrows McGee:

    I was thinking more of Nebraska, not Illinois, which I know is a busy, commerce-worthy state. Sorry. :)

  55. Vejadu says:

    I grew up in rural Nebraska, have lived in both small towns and larger cities and I’d much rather raise a family in a small town. Granted, there isn’t as much culture, shopping, diversity and employment opportunity as there is in cities, but many of the towns in this list are a short drive from areas that do offer those luxuries. I live near #6 Waverly, where most of the people who live there work in either Lincoln or Omaha. Living close to a metropolitan area grants you both the career and cultural opportunities of the city, with the safety and security of a small town.

    Driving through a community and passing judgement based on what you see is a simplistic way to view things. People in the Midwest aren’t as simple and close-minded as many of you seem to believe, and looking down your nose at us is simply insulting.

  56. Vejadu says:

    Sorry for the “double” post.