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The Best Places for Young Families in South Dakota

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When you’re just starting out, deciding where to live may be influenced by the quality of the nightlife in your area or how many coffee shops are within walkable distance. Once you start a family, though, you can expect different priorities — communities that offer quality schools, easy commute times and plenty of recreation options, like parks and community centers. Finding a family-friendly environment also depends on finding a place that offers economic stability, so young families usually like to home in on places that offer strong job prospects, affordable homes and high homeownership rates, a sign of local confidence.

Mention South Dakota, and many visitors think of just a single attraction: Mount Rushmore. But this Midwestern state has plenty to offer young families, including sprightly college towns and communities that are both highly affordable yet close enough to cities such as Sioux Falls and Rapid City, where job growth is currently fastest. If you’re thinking of moving your family to South Dakota, read on to see what researchers at LendingTree found while compiling a list of the best places for young families.

Key takeaways

  • Groton is the best place to raise a family in South Dakota, with a final score of 69.6.
  • Watertown and Pierre take the second and third spots, with final scores of 66.4 and 64.8, respectively.
  • On the other end of the list, we found Box Elder to be the most challenging place for young families in South Dakota, with a final score of 45.3.
  • Sturgis and Rapid City finished out the bottom three towns on our list, with final scores of 48.5 and 50.2, respectively.

The top 10 cities to live in South Dakota

No. 1: Groton

The smallest top-ranked community in South Dakota tops the list. Household income is high in this town of about 2,000 residents in the northeastern corner of the state. Housing costs, meanwhile, are moderate, a median of $913 per month, and the homeownership rate is high, 81.4%. More than 45% of households in Groton have children, the second-highest percentage on our list, and both job prospects and schools appear strong. Location seems to help Groton, too; it sits at the intersection of two major highways, U.S. Route 12 (a major east-west highway) and S.D. Highway 37. So, getting to work in Groton may be relatively easy.

No. 2: Watertown

Watertown is also in eastern South Dakota. Like Groton, this small city offers housing costs that are moderate relative to local income ($734 per month), and the homeownership rate is high, 73.2%. Only 30% of households have children here, but families have plenty of recreational options, from nearby Lake Kampeska and the 1889 Goss Opera House, to breweries and the Redlin Art Center, which displays work produced by wildlife artist Terry Redlin and hosts other exhibits and events.

No. 3: Pierre

The capital city of Pierre was founded in 1880 when gold prospectors and homesteaders laid claim to this part of central South Dakota. Families moving here now can shop in a historic downtown, tour the neoclassical capitol building and visit the La Framboise Island Nature Area along the Missouri River. Pierre has some 14,000 residents but still offers a 9.4-minute average travel time to work, topping the list. Meanwhile, housing costs relative to household income make it more affordable than most of South Dakota’s top 10 cities. The homeownership rate for families with children is the second-lowest on our list, 65.7%, and just 24.7% of households have children.

No. 4: Madison

Madison’s median household income is among the lowest in our top 10 list, but this small city makes up for it with a $593 monthly median housing cost — the lowest number on our list by far. Fewer families have children here than top-ranked Groton and Watertown, and the homeownership rate for families that do is the lowest. These numbers might be expected in a college town; Madison is home to Dakota State University. Families who move here have a wide pick of recreational options, such as Lake Herman State Park, a lively downtown and the living history museum of Prairie Village.

No. 5: Brookings

Like Madison, Brookings is another college town, home to South Dakota State University, and the fourth-largest city in the state. Household income is high here, and with a median housing cost of $770 per month, housing costs are lower relative to income compared to places such as top-ranked Groton. More than three-quarters of homeowners in Brookings have children. Unemployment is low, and the city hosts a variety of employers, in fields such as health care and manufacturing. When the workday is over, families have access to amenities that include the Children’s Museum of South Dakota and Dakota Nature Park.

No. 6: Tea

Tea, located about 12 miles southwest of Sioux Falls, has a small-town feel, but it offers access to the services and job opportunities found in South Dakota’s largest city. The median household income here is second only to No. 8-ranked Brandon in our top 10; but housing costs, a median of $1,208 monthly, are the highest. Still, plenty of families seem to prefer it here; compared to other top 10 cities, Tea has the largest percentage of households with children, 58.1%, and one of the highest rates of homeownership, 81% for families with children.

No. 7: Aberdeen

Compared to five of the six cities ranked higher on this list, Aberdeen has a lower median household income; yet, 69.7% of families with children own homes, a sign of affordability.  Unemployment is low in this third-largest city in South Dakota, but 7.6% of older teens are not enrolled or graduated from high school, by far the highest percentage for a top 10 city on this list. On the plus side, Abderdeen is home to a diverse group of employers, Northern State University, the annual South Dakota Film Festival and Wylie Park, with its tot-friendly Land of Oz.

No. 8: Brandon

Many families with children clearly like investing in Brandon; this small city some 13 miles from Sioux Falls has the highest median household income for a top-rated community in South Dakota. Not surprisingly, it also has the second-highest housing costs, a median of $1,112 monthly. Still, 42.5% of households have children here, unemployment is low and the high school graduation rate is somewhat high. One potential downside to living here? An average commute time of 19.5 minutes, which is relatively high for South Dakota.

No. 9: Yankton

Yankton was South Dakota’s first territorial capital in the 1860s, and it now offers a historic downtown, strong arts community and outdoor activities, such as nearby Lewis and Clark Recreation Area, a popular state park with resort facilities that include marinas, beaches and campgrounds. Housing costs in this southeastern corner of the state are more affordable than they are elsewhere in South Dakota, but households income is low here, too. The good news is that job prospects appear to be strong, and almost 68% of families with children can afford to buy a home.

No. 10: Belle Fourche

Compared to other top-rated cities on this list, Belle Fourche, located near the Black Hills in western South Dakota, has the lowest median household income of a top 10 city, $46,827 per year. Still, housing costs are especially low here, too, a median of $643 per month, and that clearly drives homeownership for families with children. At 79.1%, it’s the fourth-highest percentage on this list. Another reason why families might want to consider this community: It offers one of the best combinations of a community with both low unemployment and an excellent high school graduation rate. Belle Fourche is known as the home of the Black Hills Roundup, a popular, five-day outdoor rodeo in July.

Understanding the rankings

We chose seven indicators to rank cities and towns with above 1,965 people in South Dakota 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 1,965.


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