The Best Places for Young Families in Vermont
If you’re about to start a family, you likely already know how this major decision can shift priorities quickly in a big way. Many soon-to-be young families find themselves wishing for a home in a place with encouraging job prospects, affordable housing prices, family-friendly commute times and schools that produce high-quality results, often measured as top graduation rates.
Vermont is a sparsely populated state where residents are known for their friendliness and independent-thinking and where a desire to explore the state’s many green resources is balanced with a strong ethic of preserving them. Lately, job growth has improved, and unemployment is at an all-time low. Wages, meanwhile, are growing steadily. If you’re thinking of moving your family to the Green Mountain State, here’s what researchers at LendingTree found in a recent survey of the best places for families with young children.
- Montpelier is the best place to raise a family in Vermont, with a final score of 59.9.
- Rutland and South Burlington take the second and third spots, with final scores of 58.6 and 58.3, respectively.
- On the other end of the list, we found Barre to be the most challenging place for young families in Vermont, with a final score of 36.8.
- Winooski and Brattleboro finished out the bottom three towns on our list, with final scores of 41.7 and 46.6, respectively.
No. 1: Montpelier
Montpelier, Vermont’s state capital, takes first spot on this top 10 list. The median household income among families with children here is a healthy $84,091 per year. That translates into housing costs (a median of $1,070 per month) that are more affordable than they are in communities with similar incomes. Meanwhile, unemployment is low, and the homeownership rate of families with children — another measure of affordability — is high compared to the rest of the state. For some families, these factors combined might outweigh the 12.9% of older teens in Montpelier who are not enrolled or graduated from high school.
No. 2: Rutland
Rutland is some 20 minutes outside of Killington, the largest ski resort on the East Coast, but it also offers access to hiking along the Vermont Long Trail, as well as an in-town children’s museum. As in Montpelier, the median cost of housing here — $890 per month — is balanced by household incomes that are higher than those found in similar Vermont communities. While only about one-fifth of Rutland households have children, nearly 62% of those that do also own homes.
No. 3: South Burlington
Nestled between the Green Mountains and Lake Champlain, South Burlington is next to Burlington, Vermont’s largest city. With about 19,500 residents, this smaller city has a high median household income and the second-lowest unemployment rate among 25- to 44-year-olds (2.2%) for any Vermont community we surveyed. You won’t have to travel far to get to your job here; the average commute time is 16.3 minutes. Still, it’s worth noting that only 22.4% of South Burlington households have children.
No. 4: Newport
Newport is located on the southern shore of Lake Memphremagog, a 27-mile lake that straddles the U.S. and Canadian border. With a median housing cost of $826 per month, it is the least expensive top 10 city. Meanwhile, household income is modest but still high enough to support a 64% homeownership rate for families with children, the third highest percentage we found in Vermont. Unemployment is relatively low in Newport; but, like Montepelier, it appears to have a relatively high percentage of older teens who have not finished high school.
No. 5: St. Albans
St. Albans is about 30 miles north Burlington, and it has the highest percentage of households with children (35.7%) that we found in Vermont. This small city of some 6,800 residents also stands out for housing costs more modest than some top 10 cities with similar or lower household incomes, such as Bennington. Though job prospects in St. Albans are still fairly strong, it has a 5.4% unemployment rate for 25- to 44-year-olds and an average commute time of 22.1 minutes, one of the longest on this list.
No. 6: Essex Junction
Picturesque Essex Junction is proud of both its 19th-century-village heritage and architecture, and it offers easy access to Burlington, Lake Champlain and the Green Mountains. At $88,910, this community enjoys the highest median income on our list and the highest rate of homeownership among families with children, 70.1%. Housing costs, however, are higher here, the second-highest for any community we surveyed. Also, at the time of our survey, 18.6% of older teens here were not enrolled or graduated from high school. That percentage is the highest we found in Vermont.
No. 7: Bennington
In the southwestern corner of Vermont, Bennington belongs to a collection of connected communities, including Manchester and Dorset, that work to promote both the regional economy and quality of life. Cultural and recreational options, such as the Bennington Museum and the 3,200-acre Merck Forest & Farm Center in Rupert, reign large here. In Bennington, household income, $39,968 per year, is the lowest for a top 10 city, and the homeownership rate is a bit lower, too, 52%. Families with children might like this city’s schools: Like No.7-ranked Randolph, it is one of two top 10 Vermont places with what appears to be a 100% high school graduation rate.
No. 8: Randolph
Located in the center of the state, Randolph retains strong ties to agriculture, but it is working to expand its business base. Here, household incomes, housing costs and high school graduation rates are similar to those in Bennington, but the homeownership rate of 63.4% is higher, and unemployment is slightly lower. The trade-off may be commute time; at an even 24 minutes, it’s the longest time for any Vermont place we surveyed.
No. 9: Middlebury
In central western Vermont, Middlebury has the shortest average commute time on our list, a quick 10.7 minutes. Historic preservation is a big focus in this small town, where tourism helps drive the economy as does the presence of Middlebury College. Stil, a job may be harder to find here than elsewhere in the state; Middlebury has an unemployment rate of 7.2% for 25- to 44-year-olds, the highest of any community we surveyed in Vermont. Household income is relatively high compared to the rest of the state, but Middlebury has the lowest homeownership rate for a top 10 community, 42.5%. Only about one-fifth of households have children.
No. 10: Burlington
Located on the eastern shore of Lake Champlain, Burlington is known for its scenery, diversity and lively urban scene, which includes the downtown Church Street Marketplace. Only 18.6% of households have children here, the lowest percentage for a top 10 community. Housing costs are lower than they are in South Burlington; but, at $1,208 per month, the median is higher relative to household income. Still, about half of families with children own homes, and local employment is high, as is the high school graduation rate. Given Burlington’s more urban layout, commuters can still expect a reasonable average commute time, less than 20 minutes.
Understanding the rankings
We chose seven indicators to rank cities and towns with above 2,160 people in Vermont 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 2,160.