The Best Places for Young Families in Maine
Raising a family requires dedication, hard work and a willingness to move beyond chasing that dream job. Yes, you’ll have to financially provide for your children, but you’ll also be looking for a good quality of life, and that includes a decent income, affordable housing, neighboring families with children, good schools and a commute that doesn’t suck out every last bit of energy at the end of the day.
If you’re thinking of moving to Maine to either start a family or expand your brood, be assured there are plenty of communities where the family homeownership rate is high, a good measure of affordability. Many of these communities also offer easy access to the outdoors and lively cities, such as Portland, Augusta and Bangor. Here’s a list of the 10 best cities for families in Maine, as uncovered by researchers at LendingTree.
- Hampden is the best place to raise a family in Maine, with a final score of 72.4.
- Cumberland Center and Houlton take the second and third spots, with final scores of 69.7 and 69.0, respectively.
- On the other end of the list, we found South Paris to be the most challenging place for young families in Maine, with a final score of 19.3.
- Old Orchard Beach and Sanford finished out the bottom three towns on our list, with final scores of 36.0 and 42.4, respectively.
The top 10 cities to live in Maine
No. 1: Hampden
Hampden is on the banks of the Penobscot River in south-central Maine, and it came in first on our list largely because of its affordable housing: More than 95% of families with children own homes, the highest percentage for a top 10 city in Maine. Hampden had the third-highest median housing cost of $1,180 per month, but incomes in the city scored high, at $96,116 per year. Unemployment is a low 1.5% for 25- to 44-year-olds, and virtually all older teens are either enrolled in high school or have graduated, a good measure of school quality. A 15-minute drive will get you to Bangor and family amenities, such as the Maine Discovery Museum.
No. 2: Cumberland Center
Cumberland Center is a small city that offers an easy commute to Portland, about 20 minutes away. Like Hampden, the homeownership rate here is high, 85%, but more households have children (47.2%). Families with children earn an outstanding $137,535, the highest median income we found for communities in Maine. Still, housing costs are higher, too, $1,615 per month. The unemployment rate here is relatively low, 3.2%, but it’s the third-highest on our top 10 Maine list.
No. 3: Houlton
Located directly on the Canadian border, Houlton is within driving distance of Baxter State Park and Mount Katahdin, Maine’s tallest peak. Houlton has one of the lower median household incomes on the top 10 list, but housing costs are relatively low, $548 per month. Small town living prevails here; yet, by our numbers, Houlton has almost no unemployment, and virtually all older teens are either in high school or have graduated.
No. 4: Oakland
In south-central Maine, a short drive from the capital city of Augusta, Oakland is a small town in the scenic Belgrade Lakes region. Housing costs are about $790 per month, which is relatively low compared to household income, which is around $85,859 for families with children. More than half of families with children own homes here, and about 35% of households have children, the second-highest percentage on our top 10 list. As in Houlton, prospects for employment and good schools appear strong in Oakland.
No. 5: Gorham
As home to the University of Southern Maine, Gorham offers residents both a college town vibe and an easy commute into Portland, approximately 12 miles away. Almost 90% of families with children own homes here, even though housing costs are higher than they are in other Maine towns with similar incomes, such as Oakland and Brunswick, which are, respectively, No. 4 and No. 6 on our list. In Gorham, only 28.2% of households have children, but virtually all older teens are either in high school or have graduated.
No. 6: Brunswick
Like Gorham, Brunswick is also a college town, home to Bowdoin College. This coastal community, about a half-hour from Portland, offers a large selection of historic homes, an art museum and the Broadway-oriented Maine State Music Theatre. Meanwhile, some 74% of families with children own homes. Unemployment in Brunswick is only 3.6% for 25- to 44-year-olds, but that number is the second-highest for our top 10 list.
No. 7: Farmington
The famous Appalachian Trail passes near Farmington, which is located in a part of southwestern Maine also home to ponds, lakes and skiing. Farmington has the third-lowest household income for any top 10 community on our list, but the median housing cost here is also only $622 per month. Some 56% of families own homes in this small, nature-oriented town, but only about 13% of households have children. Commuters, take note: It takes an average of 12.7 minutes to get to work here, the least amount of time for a top 10 community on our list.
No. 8: Calais
Calais sits on the southern bank of the Saint Croix River, which serves as a border between the U.S. and Canada. The town offers plenty of opportunities to explore nature, such as access to white-water canoeing and Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge, but the median annual household income is $34,437, the lowest on our top 10 list. Meanwhile, housing appears to cost more than in towns like Houlton and Farmington, where income is higher. Still, some 58% of families with children own homes here, and unemployment is low.
No. 9: Lisbon Falls
The village of Lisbon Falls is part of the town of Lisbon and sits on the banks of the Androscoggin River, a popular recreation destination. Families with children enjoy a high homeownership rate of almost 80% here, even though the median cost of housing is higher — $920 per month — than in communities on this top 10 list that have similar or even substantially higher household incomes. Two factors to consider before moving here: Lisbon Falls has both the longest average commute time on this list (26.7 minutes) and highest percentage of older teens who are not in high school and who haven’t graduated (2.9%).
No. 10: Orono
Orono is home to the University of Maine and, like Gorham and Brunswick, offers the spark of a college town as well as access to the services and job opportunities of a nearby city. In Orono’s case, it’s Bangor, a 15-minute drive away. Only 11.7% of households have children here, but more than three-quarters of families with children own homes, and household income is high, $83,043 per year. In Orono, the 3.9% unemployment rate for 25- to 44-year-olds is the highest for any top 10 city in Maine, but this may be due to college graduates looking for jobs in the area.
Understanding the rankings
We chose seven indicators to rank cities and towns with above 2,299 people in Maine 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 2,299.