Special Report

Worst Cities to Raise Children

Samuel Stebbins, Evan Comen

15. Hanford-Corcoran, CA
> Pre-school enrollment: 38.9%
> Graduation rate: 83.0%
> Pop. with access to areas for activity: 51.5%
> Violent crime rate: 464 per 100,000

One of the most important aspects of early child development is play and exercise. In the Hanford-Corcoran metro area, just 51.5% of the population has access to locations for physical activity, one of the smallest shares in the country. Hanford-Corcoran also lags behind the rest of the country in several measures of education and safety. Just 38.9% of 3 and 4-year-olds are enrolled in preschool, less than the 47.6% national share. Additionally, there were 464 violent crimes reported per 100,000 residents in Hanford-Corcoran in 2015, far more than the U.S. rate of 373 violent crimes per 100,000 Americans.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

14. Gadsden, AL
> Pre-school enrollment: 48.5%
> Graduation rate: 84.1%
> Pop. with access to areas for activity: 44.0%
> Violent crime rate: 532 per 100,000

Gadsden is the worst metro area in Alabama and among the worst in the country in which to raise children. Access to parks and recreation centers can increase the likelihood of regular physical activity, which is especially important for a child’s physical development. Only 44% of Gadsden residents have such access, the second smallest share of any metro area considered. Violent crime is also more common in Gadsden than it is on average nationwide.

Source: Harris Walker / Flickr

13. Rocky Mount, NC
> Pre-school enrollment: 33.4%
> Graduation rate: 82.0%
> Pop. with access to areas for activity: 53.0%
> Violent crime rate: 423 per 100,000

Preschool can be beneficial for children’s cognitive and social development, and in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, parents are far less likely to enroll their 3 and 4-year olds in preschool programs. Only about a third of all children this age in the metro area are in preschool, well below the 47.6% share of children nationwide.

Metro area schools may also be underfunded. The Nash-Rocky Mount school district spends only about $8,400 per pupil annually, about $2,300 less than is typical nationwide.

Source: Thinkstock

12. Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise, NV
> Pre-school enrollment: 33.1%
> Graduation rate: 72.0%
> Pop. with access to areas for activity: 91.0%
> Violent crime rate: 815 per 100,000

Frequent violent crime and poor educational outcomes make the Las Vegas metro area one of the worst places to raise children in the United States. There were 815 violent crimes reported per 100,000 residents in Las Vegas in 2015, more than twice the national rate of 373 incidents per 100,000 Americans. Just one-third of 3 and 4-year olds in the metro area are enrolled in preschool, compared to nearly one-half of children this age nationwide. Just 72.0% of Las Vegas high schoolers graduate in four years, one of the lowest graduation rates of any city nationwide.

Source: duggar11 / Flickr

11. Lawton, OK
> Pre-school enrollment: 35.5%
> Graduation rate: 78.8%
> Pop. with access to areas for activity: 64.1%
> Violent crime rate: 744 per 100,000

Most of the worst metro areas in which to raise children are in the South — and Lawton, Oklahoma is one of them. The metro area’s violent crime rate of 744 incidents for every 100,000 residents is nearly double the comparable U.S. crime rate.

In addition to safety, quality school systems are an important consideration when deciding where to raise children. Children in the Lawton metro area are less likely to be enrolled in preschool or graduate high school on time than children across the country as a whole.