The Best Places for Young Families in Iowa
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If you’re searching for a new home, there’s a good chance you’re comparing mortgage rates and minimum mortgage requirements, key factors to finding an affordable home that fits your financial needs. But for young families, the hunt usually gets more complicated. Sure, you’ll want an affordable mortgage, but you’ll likely also want a community that scores well for bringing up kids. Most likely that will mean a combination of good schools, solid job prospects, a place filled with other homeowners with children and a reasonable commute time that doesn’t dig into hard-to-replace family time.
If you’re looking to buy a home in Iowa, you’re in luck. This Midwestern state is known for ample farmland, but it also offers a wide selection of family-friendly communities, with some in the suburbs around Des Moines, Iowa’s largest city, and others in less-expected locales. To help find the right town for you, researchers at LendingTree created a list of the best places for young families in Iowa.
- Sioux Center is the best place to raise a family in Iowa, with a final score of 79.6.
- Orange City and Carroll take the second and third spots, with final scores of 78.4 and 73.6, respectively.
- On the other end of the list, we found Anamosa to be the most challenging place for young families in Iowa, with a final score of 38.2.
- Winterset and Maquoketa finished out the bottom three towns on our list, with final scores of 43.4 and 44.4, respectively.
The top 10 cities to live in Iowa
No. 1: Sioux Center
In northwestern Iowa, Sioux Center has only an estimated 7,614 residents, but it offers a strong mix of family-friendly features. Housing costs are low compared to half of the top 10 cities on this list, a median of $879 per month. Household income, meanwhile, is relatively high, which helps explain why 76.4% of families with children own homes. Sioux Center tops the list with a 0% unemployment rate, an exemplary high school graduation rate and the shortest average commute time (9.2 minutes), which probably means local jobs are plentiful. This community is about about halfway from Sioux Falls and Sioux City, so it offers plenty of urban access, too.
No. 2: Orange City
Orange City, also in northwestestern Iowa and near Sioux Center, is known for its distinctive Dutch influence and annual Tulip Festival. Both household income and housing costs here are similar to those in Sioux Center, but 91.3% of families with children own homes, the second-highest percentage on our top 10 list. Only about one-third of households have children, but those that do can expect both a low unemployment rate (1.6%) and a virtually perfect high school graduation rate. With an average commute time of just 11.6 minutes, it’s likely Orange City residents also work nearby.
No. 3: Carroll
Families looking for the lowest housing costs on our top 10 list might consider this community southeast of Sioux City and about 90 miles from Des Moines. Incomes are lower here than in the top two cities, but housing costs are low, too, a median of just $623 per month. Only 27.7% of households have children in Carroll, but the 78.6% homeownership rate is still high for Iowa. Job prospects appear strong, but 4.2% of older teens are not enrolled or graduated from high school, the second-highest percentage for a top-ranked community in our survey.
No. 4: Waukee
Compared to other top 10 places in Iowa, this fast-growing suburb of Des Moines has the highest median household income for families with children, $117,034 per year, along with proportionately higher housing costs, a median of $1,279 monthly. Some 46% of households have children — the second-highest ranking for a top 10 city — and almost 85% of families with children own homes. Unemployment in Waukee is very low, and Apple is preparing to build a large new data center here.
No. 5: Mount Vernon
Like Waukee, both housing costs and household income are relatively high in this small eastern-Iowa city that sits among rolling hills some 15 miles east of Cedar Rapids. At a median of $113,964 per year, household income is the second-highest for a top-ranked city. The unemployment rate here, 3.6%, is still low, but it is the highest for a top 10. With an average commute time of 20.4 minutes, it’s likely many residents travel to the Cedar Rapids area for work.
No. 6: Bondurant
Compared to income, housing costs are higher in this small city that sits on the outskirts of the Des Moines metro area. At a median of $1,142 per month, it’s relatively higher than it is in higher-income places, such as Waukee and Mount Vernon. Still, families clearly prefer it here. Bondurant has the highest percentage of households with children for a top 10 city (50.4%) and a very high homeownership rate for families (86.3%). Like Sioux Center, it also has top rankings for both job prospects and strong schools. Given its more urban location, it’s no surprise that Bondurant also has the highest commute time, 22.7 minutes on average.
No. 7: Algona
The pace is slower in this small community with an estimated 5,400 residents in north-central Iowa. Algona has the lowest household income for a top-ranked city in Iowa; yet, it also has a very healthy homeownership rate for families with children, 76.2%. However, only about a quarter of households have children here. Families considering this area might like the city’s amenities, such as hiking and skiing in forested Ambrose A. Call State Park, as well as an uber-short average commute time of just 9.4 minutes. Despite Algona’s rural location, unemployment appears negligible.
No. 8: Waverly
In northeastern Iowa, Waverly has both one of the highest household incomes for a top 10 Iowa community and some of the lowest housing costs, compared to communities with similar incomes, a median of $843 monthly. That helps explain why 84% of families with children own their homes. Waverly is home to Wartburg College, so it’s not surprising only about 28% of households have children. Here, the travel time to work isn’t bad, an average of 15.2 minutes. Families deciding to move to this college town on the Cedar River can take advantage of art and sport offerings at Wartburg.
No. 9: Pella
Like Orange City, Pella has a strong Dutch flavor: It was it founded by immigrants fleeing famine and persecution. For a top-ranked city in Iowa, it has the second-lowest household income for families with children, as well as a relatively high median housing cost of $939 each month. Still, almost 83% of families with children own homes. Like Waverly, Pella is a college town, home to small Central College, so it’s not surprising only about 28% of households have children. Commuters can rejoice; the average commute time is only 10.7 minutes.
No. 10: Asbury
Asbury is nestled in the corner where Iowa meets both Wisconsin and Illinois, and residents can easily commute into the city of Dubuque. It ranks last on this list mostly because housing costs are higher relative to income than in similar towns, such as Waukee, and also because it has the highest percentage of 16- to 19-year-olds not enrolled or graduated from high school, 10.1%. The homeownership rate for families with children is still a high 87.2%, and almost 43% of families have children. Families looking to move to Asbury can enjoy nearby Dubuque and its many family-cool offerings, such as the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium.
Understanding the rankings
We chose seven indicators to rank cities and towns with above 3,746 people in Iowa for how good they are for young families, which were then scored to create an overall ranking of the best places for young families. The seven indicators we used were:
- Median family income: Money isn’t everything, but a place with high family incomes suggests a place with good job opportunities and a community with more resources.
- Median monthly housing costs for all households: For families already dealing with new child care expenses, reasonably affordable housing is important.
- Homeownership rate of families with children: This indicates where homeownership is both more common and — perhaps important for a family looking to buy — more practical.
- Unemployment rate of 25- to 44-year-olds: This indicates where the job market is healthy and suggests a higher quality of life locally. We focused on 25- to 44-year-olds in particular to capture the most common ages for parents of young families.
- Percentage of 16- to 19-year-olds not enrolled or graduated from high school: To estimate high school graduation rates and, therefore, school quality, we calculated the percentage of older teenagers who were not in high school yet had no high school degree. This number is not the actual high school dropout rate, but is well-correlated.
- Average commute time: Shorter commutes mean less stressed workers who have more time to spend with their families.
- Percentage of households that have children: A community with more children means that other families have already decided it’s attractive. It also usually means more educational and recreational activities suitable for children and their parents and that residents are concerned about policies that benefit families with kids.
Analysts used data from the 2017 5-Year American Community Survey by the U.S. Census. Each of the seven metrics was given a value according to its relative location between the highest and lowest values. The values were then summed and divided by seven for an equal weighting. The analysis was limited to Census-designated places with populations of at least 3,746.