7 Family-Friendly U.S. Cities

By Tisa Silver | October 23, 2009 AAA

America is full of family-friendly cities, but in choosing a place to raise kids, parents (or soon-to-be parents) tend to seek out places with low unemployment, low crime rate and good educational opportunities. Based on these criteria, let's take a look at seven of top American cities for raising a family. (Find out three simple questions you should consider when weighing this decision, in Retirement Living: Renting Vs. Home Ownership.)

The list contains a diverse group of cities, with populations ranging from 10,000-375,000, and landscapes ranging from tropical to mountainous. What they all share is relatively low crime rates (presented as a fraction of the national average) and unemployment, as well as relatively low student-to-teacher ratios and high educational spending per pupil.

  1. Burlington, Vermont
    Population: 39,000
    Cost of living index: 1.1
    Student-teacher ratio: 12:1

    Violent crime index: 0.6
    Burlington is located between the Green and Adirondack Mountains on the eastern shore of Lake Champlain. The city is home to the University of Vermont and has approximately 39,000 residents.

    Burlington is located in the largest and most diverse school district in Vermont where, on average, each teacher has a master's degree and 15 years of experience. According to the Vermont Department of Education, the student-to-teacher ratio in the state is approximately 11.3 students per teacher. According to a 2001 Census survey, the state spends more than $13,000 per student each year - well above the U.S. national average of $9,666.

    Unemployment in Burlington is also well below the national average, and crime figures, for both violent and property crime, are low too. The cost of living in Burlington is about 13% higher than the national average.

  2. Peachtree City, Georgia
    Population: 34,500
    Cost of living index: 1.04
    Student-teacher ratio: 14:1
    Violent crime index: 0.12

    This city has the lowest crime index of the cities on our list. Violent crime and property crime within the city are 0.12- and 0.22-times the national average, respectively. This small Southern city with a population of under 35,000 also has relatively low unemployment, and although per-student spending is slightly below the national average, Peachtree City students outperform the national average in reading and math by 13.4% and 32.7% respectively, according to Money Magazine. There are about 14 students per teacher in Peachtree City.

  3. Madison, Wisconsin
    Population: 229,000
    Cost of living index: 0.935
    Student-teacher ratio: 13:1
    Violent crime index: 0.6

    In 2006, Money Magazine ranked Madison, Wisconsin, as one of the best places to live. With approximately 228,800 residents, the city was dropped from the list in 2007, when the magazine imposed a limit on population. Madison was also named the "best place for education." The city is home to the University of Wisconsin and the state spends about $10,000 per pupil - slightly above the national average. The student-to-teacher ratio is about 13:1. For a larger city, it's also pretty safe: personal crime risk ranks about 40% below the national average.

  4. Honolulu, Hawaii
    Population: 375,500
    Cost of living index: 1.8
    Student-teacher ratio: 18:1
    Violent crime index: 0.48

    Who wouldn't want to live in Hawaii? Well, aside from its beautiful tropical scenery, Honolulu offers a better-than-average school system and an unemployment rate that's about half the national average. Unfortunately, island living is pricey, and Honolulu's cost of living is about 1.8 times the national average. Population-wise, it's also is the largest city on our list with 375,000 residents. Depending on what you're looking for, the mild weather and tropical island setting could make that higher cost of living worthwhile.

  5. Farmington, Utah
    Population: 14,000
    Cost of living index: 0.87
    Student-teacher ratio: 23:1
    Violent crime index: 0.08

    Located about 16 miles north of Salt Lake City, Farmington is home to Utah's largest family amusement park, Lagoon. Farmington's population has nearly tripled since 1980, but the city has held on to its relatively low cost of living index, 0.87-times the national average, and an extra low crime index of 0.08.

  6. Norfolk, Massachusetts
    Population: 10,600
    Cost of living index: 1.38
    Student-teacher ratio: 14:1
    Violent crime index: 0.05

    Norfolk, Massachusetts has the smallest population on our list, but this rural suburb is just 21 miles outside of Boston. At 1.38 times the national average, the cost of living is a tad on the pricey side, but Norfolk was recently recognized as one of Forbes Magazine's "Best for the Buck" school districts.

  7. Overland Park, Kansas
    Population: 169,400
    Cost of living index: 0.94
    Student-teacher ratio: 15:1
    Violent crime index: 0.67

    Overland Park has been nationally recognized as a great place to live. The city offers a low crime rate, a lower-than-average cost of living and plenty of family-oriented activities and venues, including the Deanna Rose Children's Farmstead.

Of course, not every "nice" area is for everyone, and a myriad of other factors have to suit your lifestyle for consideration of a new home to take place. State and municipal laws, population breakdown and climate, among other things, should also be considered, but these seven locations are a great place to start. (Find out how to help the ones you love without hurting yourself, in 8 Ways To Help Family Members In Financial Trouble.)

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