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The Best Places to Live for Young Families in Michigan

Background

Michigan is one of the most diverse states in the nation. From the industrial suburbs of Detroit to the remote woodlands of the Upper Peninsula, the state offers a lot to residents, as long as they’re not looking for snow-free winter landscapes and swaying palm trees. There are many great places in which to raise little Michiganders, too, but some communities are better than others for young families. It may be easier to afford a mortgage in some locations, for example, and some neighborhoods offer shorter commutes to work, so parents are able to spend more time with their kids. A high number of other kids in the community may also signal a more family-friendly environment. Researchers at LendingTree considered these factors and more in its ranking of top Michigan communities for families. Here’s what we found.

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Key takeaways

  • Forest Hills is the best place to raise a family in Michigan, with a final score of 76.9.
  • Byron Center and East Grand Rapids take the second and third spots with final scores of 74.1 and 72.8, respectively.
  • On the other end of the list, we found Highland Park to be the most challenging place for young families in Michigan, with a final score of 35.1.
  • Lapeer and Beecher finished out the bottom three towns on our list, with final scores of 36.4 and 41.6, respectively.

The top 10 cities for young families to live in Michigan

#1 Forest Hills

Forest Hills is the first of three Grand Rapids suburbs on our list, and it is our pick for the top family-friendly community in the state. Like most places in Michigan, there are plenty of natural water sources nearby, with the Thornapple River and Grand River running through the town. The vast majority of families with children — 97.5% — own their own homes here. Families in Forest Hills earn a comfortable income, too; the median household income for families with kids is $143,084, with the median monthly housing cost coming in at $1,476. Families with kids in Forest Hills have plenty of company — 42.5% of households have children. And those kids have a very good chance of getting their high school degrees, as all 16- to 19-year-olds in Forest Hills are either enrolled in or have graduated from high school, according to our data. The unemployment rate for 25- to 44-year-old residents is a bit higher than some of the other cities on the list, at 2%, but it’s far from the highest.

#2 Byron Center

Located just to the south of Grand Rapids, Byron Center offers families a slightly less expensive lifestyle. Families living here make less — $107,667 per household is the median amount — but have cheaper housing costs, at $1,123 per month. That said, fewer people (around 82%) own their homes here compared to other Grand Rapids suburbs. Although you might earn less living in Byron Center, the odds of getting a job here are quite good. In fact, according to our data, the unemployment rate among childbearing-aged adults is 0%. What helped drop Byron Center down to the No. 2 spot, however, was 7.4% of older teens either aren’t enrolled in high school or have’t graduated. This was the highest percentage on our top 10 list.

#3 East Grand Rapids

As the name implies, East Grand Rapids is located in … well … eastern Grand Rapids. In fact, it sits roughly halfway between the city center and Forest Hills. Residents here earn slightly less than in Forest Hills — $135,988 per year — although housing costs are slightly higher at $1,660 per month. This represents the second-highest monthly median housing bill on our top 10 list. Still, nearly 94% of families here own their own homes. There are also lots of kids in this community — just less than 49% of households have children, which is the highest percentage on this list. This affluent community has a good educational system, which includes the aptly named Wealthy Elementary School on Wealthy Street. That said, 3.9% of older teens either aren’t enrolled in school or have not graduated, which is a higher rate than some of the others on this list.

#4 Flat Rock

Flat Rock has the lowest cost of living of all the Detroit suburbs on our list. Families here can expect to earn a median annual income of $84,128 per year, and housing is relatively affordable, too, with a median monthly cost of $905. There is a slight uptick in older teens who aren’t in school or who haven’t graduated, at 5.2%, which means the community’s educational system might not be as good as some of the others on our list. On the bright side, 42% of households in the area also have children, so there’ll be plenty of opportunities for your kids to make friends.

#5 Houghton

At first glance, Houghton seems like an odd spot to include on the list. It’s only a short drive from the very top of the state, after all, on the Keweenaw Peninsula, which juts out into Lake Superior. But there’s plenty here that makes it attractive for families, as long as you don’t mind living far from a big city. Houghton has a great educational system. It’s home to Michigan Technological University, and every single older teen in the town is either enrolled in school or has already graduated, according to our data. It’s just a quick hop to work for most people, as the average commute time is just under 11 minutes. And while residents might not be earning big-city money ($84,773 is the median annual household income for families with kids), they do have affordable housing to enjoy; the average monthly median housing cost is just $743 per month. While Houghton makes our top 10 list of family-friendly spots for some good reasons, it’s worth noting that less than 18% of households here have children. That’s the lowest percentage on our list.

#6 Freeland

Sitting just outside of Saginaw along the Tittabawassee River, Freeland ranks well for most of the factors on our list. Residents earn a decent income ($91,439 is the median annual household income for folks with kids), have relatively affordable housing costs ($1,036 per month) and quick commute times (just about 21 minutes, on average). Parents here may find jobs at nearby employers, such as the MBS International Airport or the Saginaw Correctional Facility. That said, the unemployment rate among residents aged 25 to 44 is the highest of all the communities on our list, at 3.8%.

#7 Beverly Hills

No, we’re not talking about Beverly Hills, California. Although Beverly Hills, Michigan, may be a great place to live, it’s certainly not the playground of Hollywood stars. Still, this Detroit suburb is definitely the most affluent on our list, as the annual median family income here clocks in at $174,000. Housing costs are high to boot, at a median monthly rate of $1,688. However, nearly 92% of families manage to own their homes.

#8 Frankenmuth

The Bavarian-themed town of Frankenmuth is another top place to raise your youngsters. It sits outside of Saginaw along the Cass River. Many families here earn over six figures per year ($115,294 is the median household income for families with kids), but housing prices are still quite affordable, at just $763 per month. Only a comparatively small percentage of households here — 22.1% — have children. This is the second-lowest percentage on our top 10 list.

#9 Plymouth

Plymouth sits about halfway between Ann Arbor and Detroit. The city ranks well overall for each of the factors we looked at. The commute time is a bit on the long side, at an average of 24.2 minutes, but anything below a half-hour isn’t too bad overall. Housing costs here come in at a median monthly amount of $1,106, and the median household income for families is $133,000 per year. The unemployment rate among 25- to 44-year-olds is 2.2%, which is a bit higher than some of the others on our list but far from the highest. All 16- to 19-year-olds are either enrolled in school or have graduated, according to our data.

#10 Kingsford

Kingsford lies just outside of Iron Mountain, nestled in a bend of the Menominee River on the Wisconsin border. Kingsford residents earn the lowest incomes of any town on our top 10 list, at a median of $50,649 per year. But housing prices are lower to match, with a median monthly cost of just $667 per month. Despite its remote location, unemployment is low in Kingsford; just 0.4% of 25- to 44-year-old adults are unemployed, which is far below Michigan’s average unemployment rate of 4%. That said, 4.5% of older teenagers are not in school or have not graduated; this is the third-highest percentage on our list.

Understanding the rankings

We chose seven indicators to rank cities and towns with above 5,000 people in the state 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 are:

Median family income: Money isn’t everything, but a place with high family incomes suggests good job opportunities and a community with more resources.

Median monthly housing costs for all households: For families already dealing with new childcare expenses, reasonably affordable housing is important.

Homeownership rate of families with children: A high rate indicates homeownership is more common and, perhaps more importantly for a family looking to buy, more practical.

Unemployment rate of 25-44 year olds: A low rate indicates the job market is healthy and suggests a higher quality of life, locally. We focused on 25-44 year olds in particular to capture the most common ages for parents of young families.

Percentage of 16-19 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 it 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 other families have already decided it’s attractive. It also usually means more educational and recreational activities suitable for children and their parents and residents who 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 5,000.

 

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