The 25 Worst Cities in the US To Raise Children

The U.S. high school graduation rate rose last year, a sign education systems across the country are finding greater success in preparing children for the future. Finishing school is just one indication of the quality of a child’s upbringing. Early education, health and safety are crucial to providing children with the best chance to become healthy, productive adults.

When choosing where to raise their children, parents look at factors like these. However, some parts of the country struggle to provide a good environment for childhood development. Children in areas with high crime rates, low graduation rates, and low preschool enrollment rates are more likely to struggle later in life in their work and health.

24/7 Wall Street reviewed a number of educational, health, and safety measures to determine the worst cities to raise children in the United States. Our index included preschool enrollment figures and high school graduation rates, which each are meant to serve as a proxy for the quality of education in the area. Also included in the index were access to areas for physical activity, as well as violent crime rates.

While measures of income were not part of our index, many of the worst cities to raise children have low incomes, a factor which often corresponds with the factors we measured, such as violent crime and poor educational outcomes.

Two parts of the U.S. have a much greater share of struggling metro areas. Nine of the 25 worst places to raise a kid are located in the west, in states like California, New Mexico, and Oregon. Fourteen of those areas are spread out among the South. The remaining two metro areas, Danville, Illinois and Battle Creek, Michigan, are in the Midwest. Four California cities are among the worst to raise children, a larger number than any other state.

25. Albany, Oregon

  • Preschool enrollment: 24.6 percent (lowest 10 percent)
  • High school graduation rate: 70.9 percent (lowest 10 percent)
  • Pop. with access to areas for exercise: 68.1 percent (lowest 20 percent)
  • Violent crime rate: 113.9 per 100,000 (lowest 10 percent)

Children in Albany, Oregon, are among the most likely in the country to both enroll in school later and fail to complete their education on time. Less than a quarter of children age 3 and 4 are enrolled in preschool, one of the lowest preschool enrollment rates in the country. A study published in the American Psychological Association found that attending preschool can increase academic preparedness in children and help cognitive development. Studies have also shown that children who go to preschool are more likely to graduate from high school. Albany’s high school graduation rate of 70.9 percent is the 10th lowest among U.S. metropolitan areas.

24. Sebring, Florida

  • Preschool enrollment: 36.3 percent
  • High school graduation rate: 64.0 percent (lowest 10 percent)
  • Pop. with access to areas for exercise: 80.9 percent
  • Violent crime rate: 327.5 per 100,000

Sebring, Florida appears to have one of the least effective education systems of any U.S. metro area. Only an estimated 64.0 percent of area high school students receive a diploma within four years. No other metro area in the United States had a lower graduation rate. In addition to being a sign of a suboptimal education system, this low graduation rate may also be at least partially due to the economic struggles of residents in the metro area. An estimated 33.6 percent of the area’s children live below the national poverty level. Studies have shown that children in low income households are more likely to struggle in school. One report found children in low income households are 15.6 percent less likely to graduate from high school than other students.

23. Myrtle Beach-Conway-North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and North Carolina

  • Preschool enrollment: 45.1 percent
  • High school graduation rate: 71.1 percent (lowest 10 percent)
  • Pop. with access to areas for exercise: 65.2 percent (lowest 20 percent)
  • Violent crime rate: 460.7 per 100,000

The Myrtle Beach-Conway-North Myrtle Beach metro area, which straddles the North Carolina and South Carolina border, struggles with many key issues that make it a difficult place to raise children. The high school graduation rate of 71.1 percent is one of the lowest in the country. Across all metro areas, the graduation rate averaged 84.1 percent. It may be also more difficult for children in the area to find a place to get physical activity. Just 65.2 percent of the area population reported having access to a place for exercise. The national share is 83.0 percent. Lacking a place to exercise can be detrimental to a child’s development, as children who regularly exercise are less likely to develop health issues such as obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes.

22. Stockton-Lodi, California

  • Preschool enrollment: 36.1 percent (lowest 20 percent)
  • High school graduation rate: 82.3 percent
  • Pop. with access to areas for exercise: 73.0 percent
  • Violent crime rate: 823.6 per 100,000 (highest 10 percent)

In the Stockton-Lodi metro area, just 36.1 percent of children age 3 or 4 are getting early education before kindergarten, among the lower preschool enrollment rates of U.S. cities. Lacking early education can leave children behind their peers when it comes to educational and emotional development. With an annual violent crime rate of 824 incidents reported per 100,000 residents, the area is one of the most dangerous in the country. The high school graduation rate of 82.3 percent is among the lower rates of U.S. metro areas and slightly below the average rate of 84.1 percent among metro areas.

Adults in the area are among the least educated in the country. Just 77.1 percent of Stockton-Lodi adults graduated from high school, one of the lowest rates among U.S. metro areas. Studies show that children in households where parents have lower educational attainment are more likely to struggle in school.

21. Pine Bluff, Arkansas

  • Preschool enrollment: 59.9 percent (highest 10 percent)
  • High school graduation rate: 83.8 percent
  • Pop. with access to areas for exercise: 48.1 percent (lowest 10 percent)
  • Violent crime rate: 909.1 per 100,000 (highest 10 percent)

The violent crime rate in the Pine Bluff, Arkansas, metro area is one of the highest in the country. There are 909 violent crimes – which include homicide, robbery, and aggravated assault – reported annually per every 100,000 residents. According to County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, people living in high-crime areas – both adults and children – experience greater stress levels. They also may be deterred from healthy activities like exercise. Just over half of Pine Bluff area residents have no access to a place where they can exercise, one of the lowest rates in the United States.

20. Columbia, South Carolina

  • Preschool enrollment: 58.7 percent (highest 10 percent)
  • High school graduation rate: 71.3 percent (lowest 10 percent)
  • Pop. with access to areas for exercise: 54.6 percent (lowest 10 percent)
  • Violent crime rate: 589.5 per 100,000 (highest 20 percent)

A higher rate of preschool enrollment often correlates with a higher high school graduation rate. The Columbia, South Carolina, metro area is one exception. While Columbia’s preschool enrollment rate of 58.7 percent is one of the higher such rates among U.S. metro areas, its high school graduation rate of 71.3 percent is one of the nation’s lowest. Graduation rates can often be affected by a number of factors, including a lack of community engagement or investment in schools and youth programs.

19. Danville, Illinois

  • Preschool enrollment: 39.4 percent
  • High school graduation rate: 78.7 percent (lowest 20 percent)
  • Pop. with access to areas for exercise: 71.8 percent
  • Violent crime rate: 808.3 per 100,000 (highest 10 percent)

Danville, Illinois has one of the biggest violent crime problems in the country. Its residents are among the most likely to report an aggravated assault or a burglary of those in any major metropolitan area. There is a proven connection between children who are raised in a high-crime area and stunted learning development. Danville’s high school graduation rate of 78.7 percent is one of the lower rates among metro areas. Danville also has one of the college attainment rates for adults in the U.S. Only 14.0 percent of area adults hold at least a bachelor’s degree, less than half the nation’s 31.3 percent comparable educational attainment rate.

18. Albany, Georgia

  • Preschool enrollment: 43.4 percent
  • High school graduation rate: 80.8 percent
  • Pop. with access to areas for exercise: 58.4 percent (lowest 10 percent)
  • Violent crime rate: 734.8 per 100,000 (highest 10 percent)

Albany, Georgia children are some of the most likely to live in poverty among U.S. metro areas. In the country as a whole, the national child poverty rate is 19.5 percent. In Albany, that child poverty rate is 36.3 percent. The median annual household income in the area of $40,667 is far below the U.S. median of $57,617. Living in families with financial difficulties makes it more difficult for children to achieve educational success. Some 30 percent of children who grow up in poverty do not graduate from high school. The Albany area’s high school graduation rate of 80.8 percent is lower than in most other U.S. cities.

17. Yuba City, California

  • Preschool enrollment: 44.1 percent
  • High school graduation rate: 81.5 percent
  • Pop. with access to areas for exercise: 36.6 percent (lowest 10 percent)
  • Violent crime rate: 397.5 per 100,000

Studies have shown that the health benefits associated with getting exercise are mental as well as physical. Physical activity can aid in cognitive development in children, but just 36.6 percent of Yuba City, California, residents have access to a place for physical exercise. Only one other metro area considered has a lower rate of access to exercise amenities. Children are also relatively likely to receive an inadequate education in Yuba City. The area’s preschool enrollment and high school graduation rates are both slightly below U.S. averages.

16. Hanford-Corcoran, California

  • Preschool enrollment: 35.2 percent (lowest 20 percent)
  • High school graduation rate: 83.0 percent
  • Pop. with access to areas for exercise: 44.6 percent (lowest 10 percent)
  • Violent crime rate: 427.0 per 100,000

Just 35.2 percent of preschool-aged children in the Hanford-Corcoran area of California are enrolled in preschool, well below the 48.0 percent of children nationwide. The area’s adult residents have the second lowest rate of higher educational attainment of all metro areas. Only 11.6 percent have graduated from college – nearly 20 percentage points below the national average. This low level of educational attainment can trickle down to younger generations. Children raised in households where education is a low priority are also less likely to graduate. Hanford-Corcoran residents have little access to exercise. Only 44.6 percent say they have a place for physical activity. Nationally, 83.0 percent have access.

15. Florence, South Carolina

  • Preschool enrollment: 45.9 percent
  • High school graduation rate: 85.0 percent
  • Pop. with access to areas for exercise: 39.2 percent (lowest 10 percent)
  • Violent crime rate: 640.6 per 100,000 (highest 20 percent)

Florence, South Carolina is one of very few U.S. metro areas in which less than 40 percent of residents said they had a place to get physical activity. Exercise can be crucial for a child’s development and health. Children in high crime areas often have fewer opportunities to go outside to get exercise, and the Florence area also has one of the higher violent crime rates in the country. The area reports a rate of 641 violent crimes per 100,000 residents, compared to a national rate of 386 per 100,000.

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Source: USA Today