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The Best Places for Young Families in Oregon

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Spoiler alert: If you’re thinking of moving your family to Oregon, you’ll quickly discover that even with just 4.1 million residents, this Western state offers stellar living choices. Those include scenic coastal and mountain towns, smaller cities in the lush Willamette and Rogue Valleys, and Portland, with its many popular suburbs. Recreation options are especially plentiful here, too, from biking, climbing, kayaking and following the tracks of the historic Oregon Trail, to experiencing ranch tours and world-class beer.

For families with children, you’ll have to weigh these attractions in your hunt for the best — if not necessarily perfect — mix of key qualities your family needs, such as affordable housing, strong job and education prospects, realistic commute times and like-minded families who have decided to fully invest in a community. To help you find the best place in Oregon, researchers at LendingTree compiled the following list, ranking the best places for strong job and education prospects, realistic young families.

  • Milton-Freewater is the best place to raise a family in Oregon, with a final score of 74.3.
  • Bethany and Cedar Mill take the second and third spots, with final scores of 72.7 and 71.3, respectively.
  • On the other end of the list, we found Madras to be the most challenging place for young families in Oregon, with a final score of 35.1.
  • Seaside and Talent finished out the bottom three towns on our list, with final scores of 38.6 and 42.3, respectively.

The top 10 cities to live in Oregon

No. 1: Milton-Freewater

Ten miles south of Walla Walla, Wash., Milton-Freewater offers easy access to three rivers — Walla Walla, Columbia and Snake — and to the farms and wineries that sit at the edge of the Blue Mountains. This small town might be a premium choice for families that value the outdoors. Meanwhile, it has the lowest median housing cost for a top 10 city in Oregon, $661 per month. Household income is also the lowest on our list, though, a median of $42,990 per year. Still, a little more than two-thirds of families own homes, a good sign of affordability. Another potential perk: an average commute time of just 16.2 minutes, the shortest on this list.

No. 2: Bethany

This unincorporated community of more than 20,000 residents is near both the cities of Beaverton and Portland; yet, it is actually located in the outdoorsy Tualatin Valley, home to nature parks, craft breweries and u-pick farms. With a median household income of more than $150,000, Bethany is the second-most-affluent area on our top 10 list, but it has the highest median housing cost, $1,857 per month. Despite the high cost of housing, Bethany still has a high rate of homeownership for families with children, 78%. Families clearly like it here: 52% of households have children, the highest percentage for a top 10 city.

No. 3: Cedar Mill

Cedar Mill, another unincorporated community, is southeast of Bethany and qualifies as a suburb of Portland. Household income is also very high here, roughly the same as in Bethany, and housing costs are similarly high, too. Cedar Mill has a slightly lower percentage of households with children than both Milton-Freewater and Bethany, but it has one of the highest homeownership rates for families with children, 81%. Like seven of the 10 cities on this list, it also has a high school graduation rate that appears to be near 100%.

No. 4: Raleigh Hills

Raleigh Hills is between Portland and Beaverton. For families, that means it could both amp up job prospects and simplify commuting for working parents who need to have access to both cities. Raleigh Hills has fewer than 6,000 residents and the highest median household income we found in Oregon, $166,250 per year. Still, even though household incomes are higher than they are in both Bethany and Cedar Mill, housing costs are actually lower, a median of $1,233 per month. Two qualities pushed Raleigh Hills into the No. 4 slot: a lower percentage of households with children (18.4%) and a lower homeownership rate for families with children (73.6%).

No. 5: Sherwood

Like Bethany, this city of about 20,000 residents is also in the Tualatin Valley, so it offers similar access to outdoor activities, farms and a strong dining scene. Housing costs here are high compared to communities where incomes are higher, such as Bethany, Cedar Mill and Raleigh Hills. Still, almost three-quarters of families with children in Sherwood own homes, and the community has an unemployment rate of just 0.9% for 25- to 44-year-olds, the lowest for a top 10 city. One number to consider before moving here: Sherwood is farther from Portland, so the average commute time is 28.4 minutes, the longest on our top 10 list.

No. 6: Philomath

With just more than 4,500 residents, Philomath is our smallest top 10 community. Located in western Oregon, between Salem and Eugene, this small town also sits in the middle of the fertile, food-and-winery-centered Willamette Valley. Household income is lower here than it is for half of our top 10 communities. Still, families with children pay less for housing than they do in some communities where household income is similar, such as No. 7-ranked Creswell.

No. 7: Creswell

With only about 5,400 residents, Cresswell is clearly a winner because of its proximity to Eugene, which is about 12 miles away and home to the University of Oregon, a major economic driver in the area. This small city — once mostly a farming community — ranks as highly as it does because it has a very low unemployment rate for 25- to 44-year-olds (1.1%) and a high rate of homeownership (64.1%); also, almost 45% of households here have children.

No. 8: West Haven-Sylvan

This is another suburb of Portland, and it’s located southeast of Cedar Mill, No. 3 on our list. With some 8,000 residents, West Haven-Sylvan benefits from its easy access to Route 26, a major thoroughfare into Portland. It has the second-highest median household income on our top 10 list and the highest homeownership rate, 88%. However, just 18.2% of households have children, the lowest percentage we found anywhere in Oregon.

No. 9: Cornelius

The small city of Cornelius is west of Beaverton and has some 12,000 residents. With a median housing cost of $1,321 per month, the cost of living here isn’t quite as attractive as it is in Philomath and Creswell, where household incomes are similar. Cornelius also has the largest percentage on our top 10 list of older teens not enrolled or graduated from high school (5.8%). Still, families might want to consider making this community their home for its high percentage of households with children (50.3%), low unemployment rate (1.5%) and high rate of homeownership for families with children (68%).

No. 10: White City

White City has just under 8,000 residents and is in southern Oregon near both Medford and Ashland. It has the highest unemployment rate on our top 10 list, 7.7%, but 45% of households have children, and the homeownership rate is still high, 69%. White City is part of the Rogue Valley, which is home to natural attractions, such as Crater Lake National Park and Table Rocks, and the popular Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland.

Understanding the rankings

We chose seven indicators to rank cities and towns with above 4,522 people in Oregon 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.

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 4,522.

 

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