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The Best Places for Young Families in North Dakota

Starting a family is exciting and a little intimidating. You want to provide the best for your family and ensure your children have access to the educational resources they need. You want a place that feels homey and safe, with affordable housing and plenty of economic opportunities and local families. Most likely you’ll also want a community with decent commute times and one where families have given it a strong vote of confidence by buying a home.

No single location is perfect, but some areas offer more of these qualities than others. North Dakota offers a robust economy where household income has grown over the last 10 years, as has the number of jobs outside of agriculture. It also offers a rich history and unique landscapes for your family to explore. If you’re thinking of moving to North Dakota, read on for the list researchers at LendingTree compiled ranking the best places for young families.

Key takeaways

  • Bottineau is the best place to raise a family in North Dakota, with a final score of 71.3.
  • Beulah and West Fargo take the second and third spots, with final scores of 69.2 and 61.4, respectively.
  • On the other end of the list, we found Valley City to be the most challenging place for young families in North Dakota, with a final score of 40.5.
  • New Town and Minot AFB finished out the bottom three towns on our list, with final scores of 42.9 and 42.0, respectively.

The top 10 cities to live in North Dakota

No. 1: Bottineau

Just south of the Canadian border, the small town of Bottineau in north-central North Dakota is for families that clearly prefer the outdoors over big-city access. It offers the second-highest household income for a top 10 community on our list, balanced by inexpensive housing, costing families a median of $689 per month. Only 23.6% of households have children, but three-quarters of those that do own homes. That rate is high compared to the rest of North Dakota. Other pluses in Bottineau include a 0% unemployment rate for 25- to 44-year-olds and an excellent high school graduation record. Families have plenty of recreational options here, such as the small lakes and trails that are part of Lake Metigoshe State Park.

No. 2: Beulah

Energy production drives the economy in this small community in central North Dakota about 80 miles from Bismarck, the state capital. Compared to other top-ranked places on this list, Beulah has both the highest median income for families with children, $113,281 per year, and the lowest median housing cost, $598 per month. That combination — along with strong schools — help explain why it has the highest percentage of homeownership for families with children, 87.9%. At 3.3%, unemployment is still low in Beulah, but that percentage was large enough to push Beulah into the No. 2 slot.

No. 3: West Fargo

Fast-growing West Fargo now has an estimated 36,566 residents, but this mid-sized city is also part of the larger Fargo metropolitan area, which offers a wide berth of cultural and recreational options. Household income is high here, but not as high as the top two cities. However, housing costs are higher, which is typical for an urban area. Still, West Fargo has both the second-highest percentage of households with children and the second-highest rate of homeownership for families with children, 77.4%. Unemployment is almost negligible, but West Fargo tied with ninth-ranked Mayville for having an average commute time of 16.3 minutes. That’s long by North Dakota standards.

No. 4: Bismarck

Bismarck, North Dakota’s capital city, is growing quickly, too, and, like West Fargo, has an almost negligible unemployment rate (0.9%). In other areas, Bismarck is about mid-range for top 10 cities, coming in at No. 5 for median household income for families with children and No. 4 for housing costs, a median of $855 per month. Only 70% of families with children own homes in this city, which is part of a larger metro area that includes the city of Mandan across the Missouri River. Given its size and location, Bismarck offers a surprisingly short commute time, averaging just 15.2 minutes.

No. 5: Jamestown

Located midway between Bismarck and Fargo, Jamestown offers lower housing costs, a small-town Plains community vibe and attractions that include a community arts scene and the National Buffalo Museum. Household income here is one of the lowest for a top 10 place, but housing also costs a median of just $691 per month. Sixty-two percent of Jamestown families with children own a home. With an average commute time of less than 13 minutes, most residents appear to work in the area.

No. 6: Grand Forks AFB

Grand Forks Air Force Base, home to some 3,000 residents, is on this list mostly because so many households have children: at 59.3%, it’s the highest percentage for a top 10 place in the state. Less than 1% of families with children own a home on this base in eastern North Dakota, but that’s typical for a military community. As you might expect, the commute time here is the lowest we found in North Dakota, just 8.7 minutes on average.

No. 7: Dickinson

Like much of Stark County, Dickinson, in western North Dakota, saw its economy and population grow with the recent boom in oil and gas production. Our survey shows it has one of the highest household incomes and homeownership rates in the state. Three-quarters of families with children own a home, despite a median monthly housing cost higher than in communities with similar incomes. Job prospects in Dickinson still appear strong, but 5.8% of 16- to 19-year-olds are not enrolled in or graduated from high school, the highest percentage for a top 10 community on our list. Families living here can access the vivid scenery and wildlife at Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

No. 8: Wahpeton

Compared to other top 10 places on this list, household income is low in the small city of Wahpeton, nestled in the southeastern corner where North Dakota meets Minnesota. Still, some 61% of families with children own homes, a percentage about mid-range for the state. Wahpeton has the second-lowest median housing cost we found for a top 10, $609 per month. The unemployment rate here is still low, 3.4%, but it’s the second-highest for a top-ranked community.

No. 9: Mayville

Mayville, along with Portland, its sister city, is located roughly halfway between Grand Forks and Fargo, so it offers access to two larger communities. It has the seventh-lowest household income among the top 10 places for families with children,fewer than 2,000 residents has the lowest percentage of households with children, about 20%, and it’s tied with West Fargo for having the second-highest commute time. Compared to other parts of the U.S., that time is still a very sensible 16.3 minutes.

No. 10: Grand Forks

Located on the border with Minnesota, Grand Forks is the third-largest city in North Dakota and home to the University of North Dakota and the popular Red River State Recreation Area. Housing costs are higher here — typical for a more urban area — and at a median of $842 per month, Grand Forks is about mid-range for a top 10 place. Almost 59% of families with children own homes, but that number is lower than in Bismarck, where household income and housing costs are about the same. Still, Grand Forks offers a lower commute time. At 3.5%, the unemployment rate in Grand Forks is still low, but it’s the highest for a top-ranked community.

Understanding the rankings

We chose seven indicators to rank cities and towns with above 1,874 people in North Dakota for how good they are for young families. These indicators 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 more important for a family looking to buy, 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.

Methodology

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 1,874.

 

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