Special Report

Worst Cities to Raise Children

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25. Visalia-Porterville, CA
> Preschool enrollment: 25.9% (lowest 10%)
> High school graduation rate: 86.1%
> Pop. with access to areas for exercise: 60.5% (lowest 10%)
> Property crime rate: 2,543 crimes per 100,000 people

Visalia-Porterville is one of two California metro areas to rank on this list. Early childhood education can be critical for cognitive development, and in Visalia, only about one in every four 3- and 4-year olds are enrolled in preschool, well below the 48.0% national enrollment rate.

People in Visalia-Porterville have limited access to parks, recreation centers, and other venues for social and physical activity that can be beneficial for childhood development. Just 60.5% of metro area residents have access to such places, one of the smallest shares of any U.S. metro area and well below the 84.0% national rate.

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24. Mobile, AL
> Preschool enrollment: 45.4%
> High school graduation rate: 83.7%
> Pop. with access to areas for exercise: 72.0%
> Property crime rate: 4,555 crimes per 100,000 people (highest 10%)

Crimes like burglary and motor vehicle theft are relatively common in Mobile — the metro area’s property crime rate of 4,555 incidents per 100,000 residents is higher than in at least 90% of U.S. metro areas. Crime can have wide-reaching effects beyond the victim, often affecting the mental health of residents of a community. Children in Mobile are also less likely to graduate from high school on time or have access to places for recreation, like parks, compared to most American children.

Like many metro areas on this list, Mobile is a relatively poor city. About one in every five metro area residents live below the poverty line, well above the 13.4% national poverty rate.

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23. Lake Havasu City-Kingman, AZ
> Preschool enrollment: 32.6% (lowest 20%)
> High school graduation rate: 83.4%
> Pop. with access to areas for exercise: 65.6% (lowest 20%)
> Property crime rate: 3,227 crimes per 100,000 people (highest 20%)

In the Lake Havasu area of Arizona, less than one-third of 3- and 4-year-old children are enrolled in preschool, as compared to nearly half of all children that age nationwide. Children not in preschool may miss out on crucial opportunities for cognitive and social development.

Less than two-thirds of Lake Havasu residents have somewhere they can go to get physical activity, making it more difficult for them to stay in shape and maintain good health practices, as well as to keep their children active and healthier.

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22. Montgomery, AL
> Preschool enrollment: 30.7% (lowest 10%)
> High school graduation rate: 84.4%
> Pop. with access to areas for exercise: 68.5% (lowest 20%)
> Property crime rate: 3,532 crimes per 100,000 people (highest 20%)

A strong public early childhood education program can help working and single parent families with childcare needs. In Montgomery, fewer than one in every three 3- and 4-year olds are enrolled in a preschool program, compared to nearly half of all children in that age group nationwide.

High crime rates also make Montgomery more dangerous and lowers overall quality of life in the metro area. Both violent crime — a category made up of robbery, rape, aggrevated assault, and murder — and property crime, like burglary and motor vehicle theft, are far more common in Montgomery than they are across the U.S. as a whole.

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21. Valdosta, GA
> Preschool enrollment: 42.8%
> High school graduation rate: 82.9%
> Pop. with access to areas for exercise: 62.0% (lowest 10%)
> Property crime rate: 3,635 crimes per 100,000 people (highest 10%)

Valdosta, Georgia, is one of many metro areas in the South to rank on this list. Just 62% of Valdosta residents have access to recreation areas like parks and playgrounds, a smaller share than in at least 90% of metro areas nationwide.

The metro area’s high school graduation rate of 82.9% is also lower than the national average. Greater investment in public education may improve student outcomes in Georgia, as a whopping 91% of students in the state are enrolled in districts spending less per pupil than the average spending nationwide.

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