Special Report

Worst Cities to Raise Children

Detailed findings & methodology:

Each of the components measured in our index — education, health, and safety — are important to the physical and cognitive development of children. A child’s development has been shown to greatly benefit by starting education with a preschool program. Children who complete their education and graduate from high school have greater economic mobility than those who do not. In addition to cognitive development, people also tend to develop healthy habits if they exercise in their youth. It is also important for a child to have a sense of security and well being — something that can be disrupted when a child is raised in a high-crime area.

When examining the harmful effects that suboptimal living areas can have on children, it can be difficult to isolate a single factor that makes an area a challenging place to raise children.

Ron Haskins, Co-Director of the Center on Children and Families within The Brookings Institution, said there is a “constellation of factors” that can make a neighborhood an undesirable place to raise children — including a high prevalence of poverty and crime and a lack of childcare.

Haskins said that, though these issues are less common than in decades past, they are “still perennial problems for low income parents, especially minority low income parents.”

The measures used to determine the worst places to raise children — crime, preschool enrollment, high school graduation, and exercise accessibility — are often inextricably linked, because the conditions that lead to them, including poverty and low adult educational attainment, are shared between all of these issues. Of the 25 places on this list, 22 have an above average crime rate, 23 have a below average preschool enrollment rate, 24 are less likely to have a place to exercise than the average metro area, and 23 have a high school graduation rate below 84.1%, which is the average rate among metro areas.

To determine the worst cities to raise children, 24/7 Wall St. ranked metropolitan statistical areas based on an index consisting of high school graduation rate, preschool enrollment rate among 3- and 4-year-olds, violent crime rate, and the percentage of a population with access to places for physical activity. The share of 3- and 4-year olds enrolled in preschool came from the 2016 American Community Survey from the U.S. Census Bureau. Violent crime rates came from the FBI’s 2016 Uniform Crime Report. Graduation rates and the share of the population with access to places for physical activity came from the 2018 County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute joint program.

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