The Best Places for Young Families in Rhode Island
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Rhode Island is proof that good things really do come in small packages. The Ocean State is the smallest in the U.S., but it offers a variety of options when it comes to finding a place to live, from culture-and-sports-rich cities such as Providence to lesser-known, small towns in the northeastern corner of the state. With a population of just more than 1 million residents, 37-mile-wide Rhode Island is the second most densely populated state in the U.S. after New Jersey, but it offers some 400 miles of coastline, a boon for young families that love the ocean.
Of course, most families looking to move focus on more than just potential water time. It can, in fact, be tough finding an area that hits all the marks most families value, such as strong local job opportunities, excellent schools, good commutes and affordable housing options. While a good place to raise a family may not score perfectly for all factors, it’s entirely possible to find an ultimately satisfying combination of them. Here’s what researchers at LendingTree focused on to determine the best places for young families in Rhode Island.
- Kingston is the best place to raise a family in Rhode Island, with a final score of 76.1.
- Westerly and Cumberland Hill take the second and third spots, with tied final scores of 58.1.
- On the other end of the list, we found Woonsocket to be the most challenging place for young families in Rhode Island, with a final score of 36.
- Pascoag and Pawtucket finished out the bottom three towns on our list, with final scores of 43.4 and 43.3, respectively.
The top 10 cities to live in Rhode Island
No. 1: Kingston
Home to the University of Rhode Island, the small village of Kingston is part of the larger town of South Kingstown in the southern part of the state. It capped this list for an unusually strong range of top-ranking features, like the second-lowest unemployment rate for 25- to 44-year-olds (1.3%) and the lowest commute time of just 18.8 minutes. Housing costs are the second highest in the state, but residents have higher incomes, $109,115, also the highest on the list. More families with children own homes here than most other places we surveyed (82.1%). Kingston offers the ambience of a college town that’s also close to popular beach towns, such as Narragansett.
No. 2: Westerly
Close to Connecticut — but still on the coast — Westerly is home to family-friendly resort communities, such as Watch Hill, and Misquamicut State Beach with its half-mile of shoreline. In this survey, Westerly tied with third-ranked Cumberland Hill for a final score of 58.1. The unemployment rate is higher in Westerly (4.5%), but commute times are shorter, and the high school graduation record is excellent. Westerly has a median household income that’s the third lowest on this list, $72,054 per year, but it’s matched by a median housing cost that’s the fourth lowest, $1,177 per month.
No. 3: Cumberland Hill
In northeast Rhode Island, small, unincorporated Cumberland Hill is the second most affluent community in the state, with a median household income of more than $104,000 per year. It ranked high enough to tie with Westerly because of housing costs more in line with incomes. It also has a higher percentage of families with children (30.7%) and a much higher homeownership rate (79.3%). Unemployment in Cumberland Hill is the lowest in the state, but an unusually high 18.1% of older teens are not enrolled or graduated from high school, something young families may want to keep in mind.
No. 4: Warwick
With an estimated 80,000 residents, Warwick is the third-largest city in Rhode Island. It’s located on scenic Greenwich Bay, where families can sea-kayak and sail, but it also offers a lively urban feel as it is just 12 miles south of the capital city of Providence. Housing costs are higher relative to household income than they are in third-ranked Cumberland Hill, most likely because Warwick is located directly on the coast. Still, almost 76% of families with children own homes.
No. 5: Greenville
Located about 10 miles from the center of Providence, the small village of Greenville is part of the town of Smithfield, so residents have access to services such as a public library and shopping mall. As measured by household income, this is the third most affluent community in the state, but it has the highest housing costs, a median of $1,406 monthly. Schools appear strong here, but Greenville has a higher unemployment rate for 25- to 44-year-olds (4.9%) than the four highest-ranking communities in our survey. Still, many families with children like it here, and almost 88% own a home, the highest rate we found in Rhode Island.
No. 6: Valley Falls
Valley Falls is in the northeast portion of the state, near the border with Massachusetts, and less than three miles from Pawtucket. Families prefer it here; it has the second-highest number of families with children on the top 10 list, 32.1%. Meanwhile, the cost of housing — a median of $1,102 per month — is more reasonable than in some top-ranked communities, such as Westerly, that have lower household incomes. One number to bear in mind before moving here is the extremely high percentage of teens not enrolled or graduated from high school. At 18.5%, it’s the highest in the state.
No. 7: Cranston
Cranston is a suburb of Providence, but with about 81,200 residents, it’s also Rhode Island’s second-largest city. Almost 30% of households have children, and the homeownership rate among those that do is a healthy 69.2%. If there’s one thing to consider before moving here, it’s the high local unemployment rate of 6.2%. That’s not bad compared to many Rhode Island communities lower down in our rankings, but it may mean working parents will have to travel elsewhere for work. Still, families living here need only about 15 minutes to get to the center of Providence, which offers a walkable riverfront, children’s museum and a vibrant dining, arts and shopping scene.
No. 8: Newport
Famed as a sailing mecca and home to the International Tennis Hall of Fame, Newport is on Aquidneck Island. The island is home to an estimated 21,000 defense-related jobs, so it’s no surprise Newport’s unemployment rate is a relatively low 2.3%. This scenic coastal town has a reputation for gilded living, but the median household income is $81,597 per year, and housing costs are not out of line. However, only a fifth of households have children, and the homeownership rate for those that do is a low 33.4%, probably because of the large number of service members nearby. One boon to living here is an average commute time of just 19.5 minutes, the second lowest for a top-ranked community.
No. 9: East Providence
This separate, mid-sized city sits across the river from Providence, but it is also only about four miles from downtown. Housing is more affordable here, with the second-lowest cost on the list, $1,055 per month. Jobs, however, might pose a problem for some families: The unemployment rate is 6.5%, the second highest for a top-ranked city. Still, 54.6% of families with children own homes in East Providence, which means many parents are willing to commit to this community. It has more than two dozen parks and a recreation center that serves all ages.
No. 10: Central Falls
Located north of Pawtucket, Central Falls is a small, densely populated but walkable city that is only about 1.3 square miles. Despite its small size, it features River Island Campground, the only urban campground in Rhode Island. The cost of housing here is the lowest for a top 10 community, a median of just $867, but household incomes are correspondingly low, too. With an unemployment rate of 8% for 25- to 44-year-olds, as well as high commute times, many families may decide it’s better to look elsewhere. Still, families moving here clearly won’t be alone; 47.5% of households have children, the highest rate we found in Rhode Island.
Understanding the rankings
We chose seven indicators to rank cities and towns with above 5,041 people in Rhode Island 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 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 5,041.