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The Best Places for Young Families in Alaska

Utqiagvik, Alaska

With extraordinary access to scenery, wildlife and a slower pace of life, Alaska is the kind of place that might hold instant appeal for many young families. But in Alaska, as in most states, families with children need to consider a host of lifestyle factors, such as housing affordability, employment options, the percentage of households with children nearby and the quality of schools, as measured by factors such as high school graduation rates.

If you are considering Alaska as a place to live, keep in mind that with so much open space, as well as differences in climate and terrain, commute times will also matter, as will proximity to other families. In other words, a move to Alaska needs to be weighed carefully, especially since living costs vary widely. Keep reading to see how researchers at LendingTree rated these many different factors for families considering a move to The Last Frontier State.

Key takeaways

  • Utqiagvik is the best place to raise a family in Alaska, with a final score of 70.1.
  • Chena Ridge and Farmers Loop take the second and third spots, with final scores of 64.4 and 63.2, respectively.
  • On the other end of the list, we found Meadow Lakes to be the most challenging place for young families in Alaska, with a final score of 35.6.
  • Wasilla and Fairbanks finished out the bottom three towns on our list, with final scores of 35.8 and 42.7, respectively.

The top 10 cities to live in Alaska

No. 1: Utqiagvik

Located on Beaufort Sea near the Arctic Ocean, Utqiagvik — or Barrow as it used to be called — is the northernmost city in the U.S. This remote, small community may not be the best option for many young families, but it turned up first in our ranking primarily because it has one of the highest percentages of households with children (47.1%) and the lowest housing costs relative to median household income, which is $102,583 per year. Utqiagvik has a healthy, nearly 52% homeownership rate for families with children. But finding work here might be a problem; by our measure, the unemployment rate for 25- to 44-year-olds is 10.5%.

No. 2: Chena Ridge

Compared to Utqiagvik, Chena Ridge, on the outskirts of Fairbanks, has both a higher median household income ($115,085 per year) and a higher median housing cost, $1,467 per month. But the homeownership rate for families with children is the highest on our top 10 list for Alaska, 86.3%, and one-third of households have children. The unemployment rate is low, 1.3% for 25- to 44-year-olds, but the percentage of teenagers not enrolled or who have graduated from high school is 5.6%. That’s the highest rate for any Alaska community on our top 10 roundout.

No. 3: Farmers Loop

This small town north of Fairbanks has a considerably lower median household income for families with children compared to both Chena Ridge and Utqiagvik. It also has a relatively high median housing cost, $1,305 per month. But the homeownership rate here, 84.4%, is, by our measure, one of the highest in Alaska. Even more noteworthy: Farmers Loop came in with a 0% rate for both unemployment for 25- to 44-year-olds and the percentage of 16- to 19-year-olds not enrolled in or graduated from high school.

No. 4: Juneau

Juneau may be the capital of Alaska, but it also sits along a massive wilderness area and offers fast access to natural attractions, such as whale watching and the legendary Mendenhall Glacier. Household income here is the third-highest for a top 10 Alaska city, $105,670 per year, but housing costs are higher, too. Some 70% of families own their homes in Juneau, but only 30% of households have children. The unemployment rate of 3.6% isn’t unreasonable, but it is higher than six of the other 10 cities on this list.

No. 5: Gateway

Gateway, a small, rural community, is about a 50-minute drive from Anchorage, the largest city in Alaska. Gateway residents have the second-highest median family income for any top 10 city, but they pay the most in housing, a median of $1,511 per month. Still, the nearly 81% homeownership rate is impressively high, as is the percentage of households with children, about 42%. Commuters will need to be careful here: The average travel time to work is a little over a half hour, the longest commute on this top 10 list.

No. 6: Unalaska

Unalaska, a busy coastline town and major commercial fishing hub, has a lower median household income for families with children than Gateway, but its median housing cost is about the same. Only about 22% of families with children own homes here, but almost 39% have children, one of the highest percentages on this list. Prospects for both employment and quality schools appear to be strong in Unalaska, and the average commute to work is a relatively miniscule eight minutes.

No. 7: Kotzebue

In this small, seaside town in northwestern Alaska, about 70% of residents are of Native Alaskan descent. Housing costs here are higher relative to median household income, but 52.8% of households in Kotzebue have children, the highest number of any top 10 Alaska city. Compared to other communities on our Alaska list, the rate of homeownership is low, 43.4%. Meanwhile, this corner of the state has an 11.3% unemployment rate for 25- to 44-year-olds, the highest percentage for any of the 32 communities we studied. Road warriors, however, should take note: Kotzebue has an average commute time of only about six minutes, the shortest time to turn up in our Alaska review.

No. 8: Soldotna

Southwest of Anchorage, and nestled in the natural wilderness of the Kenai Peninsula, Soldotna  has the second-lowest median housing cost on this top 10 list after Utqiagvik. The rate of homeownership, 55.3%, is better than in Kotzebue, but only 28% of households have children. Like Unalaska and Farmers Loop, Soldotna has a 0% rate for 16- to 19-year-olds not enrolled or graduated from high school, a good measure of school quality. However, the rate of unemployment, 4.4%, is a bit higher than for most cities on this list.

No. 9: College

College, part of the Fairbanks metro area, offers easy access to the University of Alaska Fairbanks, a sizable research institution within the state. College has a similar median household income to Unalaska but lower housing costs, with residents paying a median of $1,308 per month. The rate of homeownership for families with children is decent, 58.4%, but the overall percentage of households with children is on the low side, 30.5%, most likely because this is largely a college community.

No. 10: Homer

Two hundred miles south of Anchorage on Kachemak Bay, Homer abounds in recreational opportunities, from fishing and glacier hiking to sea kayaking. It has the lowest median household income for any top city on our list and the third-lowest median housing cost, $1,098 per month. Homeownership for families with children is relatively strong, 53.9%, and unemployment appears to be reasonable. Still, only about 29% of households here have children, which puts Homer second in line after after Soldotna.

Understanding the rankings

We chose seven indicators to rank cities and towns with above 3,136 people in Alaska 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.

Methodology

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 3,136.

 

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