Deciding when and where to have children is a big decision for many couples. Timing is important because, let’s face it, kids cost money. However, deciding where to raise your children is also just as important.
Parents consider many factors when deciding which city would be a good choice for their. Some of the biggest elements which play a part in this decision include health, safety, and educational issues. Some parents might also consider available recreational activities and the number of other families with school age children in their neighborhood.
Our list will look at preschool enrollment numbers, high school graduation rates, as well as violent crime statistics, among other things.
While income was not a part of our overall rating, some of the worst cities to raise children are large cities with low incomes.
It is interesting to note that some of the worst states are in the Western half of the US, and sunny California has more than their fair share of terrible cities on our list. That’s not to say that the South is paradise for kids, as 14 cities are spread out among the Southern states.
Children in Albany, Oregon, tend to be enrolled in school at a later age and either not graduate high school or graduate late. Less than 25% of 3- and 4-year olds are registered in preschool, which is one of the lowest preschool rates in the US.
Why are preschool rates so important? Studies show that attending preschool helps children prepare better for their future academic studies, as well as improve their overall cognitive development. Other studies show that children who attend preschool are much more likely to graduate from high school on time. With a graduation rate of only 70.9%, Albany rates in the bottom 10 of major metropolitan cities.
• Violent Crime: 113.9 per 100,000
• Access to Recreation/Exercise: 68.1 %
• Preschool Enrollment: 24.6%
• High School Graduates: 70.9%
With only 64% of Sebring, Florida’s, population receiving a high school diploma on time, it appears that the city has a dismal education system. No other metropolitan city had a lower high school grad rate. Schools must take part of the responsibility, but so do parents.
With an estimated 33.6% of the population living below the poverty line and high crime rate, the low graduation level is not surprising. Studies show that children from low income parents are much more likely to find school work difficult and one report states that low income families are 15.6% less likely to graduate from high school.
• Violent Crime: 327.5 per 100,000
• Access to Recreation/Exercise: 80.9%
• Preschool Enrollment: 36.3%
• High School Graduates: 64%
Myrtle Beach/Conway/North Myrtle Beach, South & North Carolina
This large metro area, which straddles North and South Caroline, is a struggle for many to raise their children in. Not only is the high school graduation rate low, but it seems children have few places available to them for exercise or recreational activities. A small 65.2% stated that they had at least someplace to exercise, while the national average is more than 80%.
Children who get regular exercise are more likely to be healthy and avoid diseases such as diabetes, obesity and hypertension. Many experts believe that a sound mind, ready and eager to learn is linked to a healthy body that receives good nutrition and exercise. A lack of locations to exercise might explain the low high school grad rate.
• Violent Crime:460.7 per 100,000
• Access to Recreation/Exercise:65.2%
• Preschool Enrollment:45.1%
• High School Graduates:71.1%
The Stockton/Lodi area of California has a very low preschool enrollment rate of 36.1%. Receiving an early education better prepares children for future learning by developing crucial cognitive and social skills. The adults in this area are also among the least educated in the US, with only 77.1% of them possessing a high school diploma. Studies show that parents with lower educations tend to have children who also struggle in school.
This metropolitan area is also noted for its high crime rates. With 824 reported incidents per 100,000 persons, it is one of the most dangerous in California, if not in the US. A lack of education combined with a high crime rate is a terrible mix for raising kids.
• Violent Crime: 823.6% per 100,000
• Access to Recreation/Exercise:73%
• Preschool Enrollment:36.1%
• High School Graduates:82.3%
Pine Bluff, Arkansas
It’s hard to believe that a place with such a pretty name has such a high crime rate. Violent crimes include rape, robbery, murder, and aggravated assault. People, both adults and children, who live in high crime areas have high stress levels and might influence their decision to leave the home to get exercise, according to County Health Rankings & Roadmaps.
Slightly over half of the residents of Pine Bluff, Arkansas, say that they have access to a location where they can get exercise and recreation. Higher stress and a lack of exercise can lead to poor academics for children.
• Violent Crime: 909.1% per 100,000
• Access to Recreation/Exercise:48.1%
• Preschool Enrollment:59.9%
• High School Graduates:83.8%
Columbia, South Carolina
Normally, a high preschool enrollment number equals a greater percentage of high school graduates, but Columbia, South Carolina, appears to be the exception to this rule. Although the preschool enrollment rate is one of the higher ones among metro cities, the high school graduation rate is a dismal 71.3%
For this metro area, high school graduation rates are obviously being affected by other factors. This could be due to poor schools, a lack of community interest, and/or a lack of programs for school-aged children.
• Violent Crime:589.5 per 100,000
• Access to Recreation/Exercise:54.6%
• Preschool Enrollment:58.7%
• High School Graduates:71.3%
When it comes to violent crimes, this city is right up near the top. The residents of Danville, Illinois, are more likely to report that they were a victim of a violent crime than many other large metropolitan cities. The connection between children raised in high crime areas and poor learning development is a proven fact.
In addition to having a poor high school grad rating, the city also has one of the lowest rates for college grads, with only 14% of adults having a bachelor’s degree or higher. This is less than half of the national average, which is 31.3%.
• Violent Crime 808.3% per 100,000
• Access to Recreation/Exercise:71.8%
• Preschool Enrollment: 39.4%
• High School Graduates: 78.7%
The nation as a whole, has a child poverty rate of 19.5%. Albany, Georgia’s rate is 36.3%, giving the city a distinction, it certainly doesn’t want to have. Families that have financial problems or low incomes means that children have a more difficult time in school and often don’t receive the attention or tutoring they might require.
This metro area has a median household income of $40,667, while the national average is $57,617. Experts state that approximately 30% of children who grow up in low income homes never graduate from high school.
• Violent Crime: 734.8 per 100,000
• Access to Recreation/Exercise: 58.4%
• Preschool Enrollment: 43.4%
• High School Graduates: 80.8%
Yuba City, California
The ability to get regular exercise has been proven in multiple studies to not only benefit the body, but the mind as well. Fresh air and exercise improve the cognitive development in school aged children, but a very low percentage of Yuba City residents, only 36.6%, say that they have access to locations for exercise or recreation. There is only 1 other metro area that had a lower rate of access to exercise opportunities.
This city had only slightly lower than average preschool enrollment and high school graduate levels, which means that while children might receive a decent education, their minds and bodies are probably not up to the task due to a lack of exercise.
• Violent Crime: 397.5 per 100,000
• Access to Recreation/Exercise: 36.6%
• Preschool Enrollment: 44.1%
• High School Graduates: 81.5%
With only 35 % of the children in the Hanford/Corcoran area enrolled in preschool, which is well below the national average of 48%, is it any wonder that only 11.6% of adults living in the area have graduated from college? Studies agree that children who attend preschool are far more likely to graduate high school and finish college.
Children raised in homes that place a low emphasis on education are not only less likely to graduate, but these attitudes trickle down to future generations. Residents also state that less than half of them have access to places where they can exercise, which delays the development of school aged children. The national average for the opportunity to exercise and play is 83%.
• Violent Crime: 427 per 100,000
• Access to Recreation/Exercise: 44.6%
• Preschool Enrollment: 35.2%
• High School Graduates: 83%
Florence, South Carolina
Physical activity doesn’t appear to be a priority in Florence, South Carolina, with less than 40% of residents saying that they have access to recreational activities. The importance of exercise for the development of school-aged children cannot be overstated.
Unfortunately, children living in high crime areas, such as Florence, are often housebound by the number of violent crimes. With the national average of violent crimes 386 per 100,000, Florence has almost double that number at 640.6 per 100,000 persons. Children who grow up in high crime areas also tend to develop poor learning skills.
• Violent Crime: 640.6 per 100,000
• Access to Recreation/Exercise: 39.2%
• Preschool Enrollment: 45.9%
• High School Graduates: 85%
Madera, California, has one of the highest child poverty levels in the nation, at approximately 32.4%. The national average is 19.5%. This city also boasts a very small number of children enrolled in preschool at 18.5%. The national average is almost 30 percentage points higher than this.
Children who are enrolled in preschool learn vital skills for the upcoming school years. Studies have shown that children who are enrolled in preschool often continue their education and graduate from high school on schedule. Unfortunately, children who live in poverty often do not have academic priorities taught to them in the home.
• Violent Crime: 661.8 per 100,000
• Access to Recreation/Exercise: 74.2%
• Preschool Enrollment: 18.5%
• High School Graduates: 82.7%
Violent crimes, such as rape, murder, and robbery, lead to feelings of stress, concerns for one’s safety, and a lack of childhood development. The metro area of Memphis, which is large enough to extend into 3 states, has one of the highest crime rates in the US. With nearly 1,100 violent crimes reported for every 100,000 residents, only two other cities had bigger crime rates.
Raising children in violent cities is always a struggle, but when you combine this with low family incomes, you take things to an entirely new level. Raising children here is very difficult when you consider that, in addition to the high crime rate, more than 30% of all families have incomes below the poverty level. The national average is below 20%.
• Violent Crime: 1082.1 per 100,000
• Access to Recreation/Exercise: 79.2%
• Preschool Enrollment: 40.3%
• High School Graduates: 79.6%
With a high school graduation rate of only 75.5%, Alexandria, Louisiana, boasts one of the lowest rates in the nation. Violent crime here is also high at 923.2 persons out of every 100,000 residents being a victim of a serious crime. Very few cities had higher crime rates than Alexandria.
This metropolitan area also has a very high teen age birth rate. Children born to teen aged mothers have a much higher risk of developing serious health problems. The national average for teen births is 27 out of every 1,000 residents. Alexandria is nearly double that average at 47 teen births for every 1,000 residents.
• Violent Crime: 923.2 per 100,000
• Access to Recreation/Exercise: 74.3%
• Preschool Enrollment: 43.6%
• High School Graduates: 75.5%
They say that everything is bigger in Texas, and that appears to be true at least of teen birth rates in Odessa. With the national average of 27 births to teen age mothers out of every 1,000 residents, Odessa ranks big with 76 out of every 1,000 births going to teen aged mothers, which is the highest in the nation.
Teen pregnancies have higher health risks for both mother and child. The high numbers of teen mothers might explain the poor high school graduate numbers, which is among the lowest in the country. AT least 30% of girls drop out of high school due to pregnancy and never return to complete their education.
• Violent Crime: 713.5 per 100,000
• Access to Recreation/Exercise: 63.8%
• Preschool Enrollment: 35.3%
• High School Graduates: 77.8%
The national average of children enrolled in preschool is about 48%. This large metro area of Alabama has far fewer children enrolled in preschool at a mere 33.2%. Although studies show that children who attend preschool do better in school and are more likely to graduate from high school than those who stay home, the majority of Alabamans neglect to put their children in preschool.
Crime and violence is also a serious problem, with 894.7 persons reporting that they were the victim of a violent crime for every 100,000 residents. Despite these obstacles, the Anniston metro area has a better than average high school graduation rate of 92.2%, which is one of the highest in the US.
• Violent Crime: 894.7 per 100,000
• Access to Recreation/Exercise: 48.2%
• Preschool Enrollment: 33.2%
• High School Graduates: 92.2%
Albuquerque, New Mexico
It is a well-known fact that living in high crime areas has an impact on adults and children alike. The stress and fear from violent crimes have a direct impact on a child’s health and mental well-being. Albuquerque has one of the highest violent crime rates in the US, with 239 robberies for every 100,000 persons, which is more than double the national average.
The Sunshine State, as New Mexico calls itself, isn’t all that bright as far as graduates go. Fewer than 2/3rds of Albuquerque children will go on to graduate from high school. Only two other cities have a lower rate of high school grads.
• Violent Crime: 901 per 100,000
• Access to Recreation/Exercise: 84.6%
• Preschool Enrollment: 45.7%
• High School Graduates: 66.1%
The violent crime rate in Monroe, Louisiana, is a whopping 1186.9 out of every 100,000 persons, which makes this metro area the most violent in the nation. With more than 950 aggravated assaults reported for every 100,000 residents in 2016, this city is terrible for raising children.
The area also does not appear to make education as much of a priority as the rest of the US, as both the preschool enrollment numbers and high school graduation rates are also below the national average. High crime rates impact both adults and children, adding unnecessary stress to everyday life.
• Violent Crime: 1186.9 per 100,000
• Access to Recreation/Exercise: 68.8%
• Preschool Enrollment: 47.6%
• High School Graduates: 81.2%
The national average for access to recreational and exercise areas hovers in the 80% range, but only 43.6% of residents in Gadsden say that they have access to exercise opportunities. This metro area also boasts one of the larger crime rates in the country, with just short of 712 persons per 100,000 residents stating they have been a victim of a violent crime.
Aggravated assault appears to top the list of violent crimes in this city, with 569 residents out of the 712 stating that they were victims. Children who are raised in high crime areas often report feelings of anxiety and fear, which hinder their focus on their education, as well as undermining their overall sense of safety and well-being.
• Violent Crime: 711.9 per 100,000
• Access to Recreation/Exercise: 43.6%
• Preschool Enrollment: 38.2%
• High School Graduates: 84.1%
Anchorage is the only metropolitan city on our list that has an annual income above the national average. Anchorage families have an average income of more than $95,000, while the nation as a whole averages $71,602. So, if income isn’t the issue, why do so many in Alaska suffer from the same problems low income families do?
Anchorage has the second highest violent crime rate in the US. Reports of 1,114.9 violent crimes per 100,000 persons, it is nearly triple the national average. Anchorage children also tend to have low preschool enrollment rates, which leads to their low high school graduation rate.
• Violent Crime: 1114.9 per 100,000
• Access to Recreation/Exercise: 83.9%
• Preschool Enrollment: 29.9%
• High School Graduates: 79.4%
Rocky Mount, North Carolina
Rocky Mount has one of the lowest preschool enrollment rates in the nation. Only 6 other cities have less than 20% of their children attending preschool. Multiple studies show that preschoolers get a jump start on their educational development. Children who stay at home have a difficult time catching up to their classmates who attended preschool.
One of the reasons why so many parents in Rocky Mount might not send their children to preschool is due to a low income. Despite government assistance, many families state that it is difficult to find preschools that will accept children. The average income in the US is $71,602 and this metropolitan city has an average income nearly $20K below that average.
• Violent Crime: 448.3 per 100,000
• Access to Recreation/Exercise: 51%
• Preschool Enrollment: 19.6%
• High School Graduates: 81.2%
In key educational measurements, the children in Lawton, Oklahoma, are far behind the rest of the nation. With only 79.5% of students graduating from high school and only 38.7% of children attending preschool, this metro area lags far behind the national averages.
Children who lack places to play and get exercise tend to be less healthy and have delayed cognitive development compared to children who do get regular exercise. With only 42.5% of residents stating they had access to places where they could exercise, this might be one of the issues this city should address.
• Violent Crime: 627.8 per 100,000
• Access to Recreation/Exercise: 42.5%
• Preschool Enrollment: 38.7%
• High School Graduates: 79.5%
Out of every 4 Medford high school students, one of them did not graduate high school on time. Only a very few other cities had lower graduation rates than Medford, Oregon. The majority of 3- and 4-year olds also were less likely to attend preschool, which is generally an indicator of high school grad rates. Children attending preschool are more likely to attend and complete high school on time.
The violent crime rate in this metro area is well below the national average and theft seems to be the favorite activity of criminals here, with 3,524 thefts being reported for every 100,000 residents, which is more than double the average for cities this size. Children feel unsafe in high crime areas, which can stunt their emotional growth.
• Violent Crime: 357.8 per 100,000
• Access to Recreation/Exercise: 36.7%
• Preschool Enrollment: 34.5%
• High School Graduates: 75%
Battle Creek, Michigan
For improved academic readiness and the development of cognitive function, preschool does far more for children than staying home. Battle Creek has far less than 20% of children attending preschool and is almost 1/3 below the national average of 48%. This might explain the poor high school graduation rate as well.
Battle Creek, Michigan also has a slightly lower than average family income at slightly more than $60K. A full 26.8% of children in this city live below the poverty level, compared to the 19.5% average nationwide. Children who live in poverty often have lower attendance rates and educational priorities.
• Violent Crime: 746.7 per 100,000
• Access to Recreation/Exercise: 77.5%
• Preschool Enrollment: 16.3%
• High School Graduates: 74.9%
Farmington, New Mexico
Farmington, New Mexico, takes the #1 spot as the worst place to raise a child in the US. This city is well below the national average in most of the key areas that determine a suitable environment for raising children. With 947 violent crimes per 100,000 residents, this city is the 4th highest in the nation. This metropolitan city has one of the lowest high school graduation rates in the US as well at a mere 71.8%, well below the 84.1% national average.
Only 52.5% of residents say they have access to places where they can exercise, which can mean that there is little interest or support in the city as whole. The average family income is also below the national average at only $63,973. At least 25.5% of children living in Farmington are living below the poverty level. Taking all things into consideration, Farmington might be the land of sunshine and enchantment, but not when it comes to raising children.
• Violent Crime: 947.4 per 100,000
• Access to Recreation/Exercise: 52.5%
• Preschool Enrollment: 47%
• High School Graduates: 71.8%