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The Best Places for Young Families in Nebraska

Holdrege, Nebraska

When couples start having children, their priorities typically take a major turn as they focus on providing for their children’s needs more than their own. Often, this means searching for a family-friendly place to call home: an area with affordable housing, good job opportunities, great schools and other families that prioritize buying a home and investing in the community around them.

It’s not always possible to find a locale that excels in all these areas, but it’s certainly possible to find a place that offers a comfortable combination of family-centered features. One example is Nebraska, where, for example, the cost of living is lower than the national average and commutes are short. In a recent survey, researchers at LendingTree also found that some of Nebraska’s most attractive communities for young families are spread throughout the state, not just concentrated in a few spots. Keep reading to learn more about what we found and how these places stack up with one another.

Key takeaways

  • Holdrege ranks as the best place to raise a family in Nebraska, with a final score of 73.6.
  • Chadron and Sidney take the second and third spots, with final scores of 72.9 and 72.0, respectively.
  • At the opposite end of the list, we found Plattsmouth to be the most challenging place for young families in Nebraska, with a final score of 45.3.
  • Bellevue and Scottsbluff rounded out the bottom three towns on our list, with final scores of 45.6 and 47.1, respectively.

The top 10 cities to live in Nebraska

No. 1: Holdrege

This small city is about two and a half hours west of Lincoln, Nebraska’s capital and second-largest city. Despite its size, Holdrege offers amenities many young families might desire, such as a popular YMCA, a modern performing arts center and the Nebraska Prairie Museum. The median household income for families with children is $71,985 in Holdrege. Meanwhile, unemployment for 25- to 44-year-olds is 0%, a sign of a strong job market. With a median housing cost of $704 per month, it’s not surprising 73.4% of families with children are homeowners.

No. 2: Chadron

In northwestern Nebraska near the state line with South Dakota, Chadron is home to some 5,400 residents. Families here have easy recreational access to the Nebraska National Forest and to cultural and sporting events at Chadron State College. The median household income of families with children is $64,969, and the unemployment rate of 25- to 44-year-olds is 0%. At $690 per month, the median housing cost appears affordable, since 64.4% of families with children own homes. That percentage isn’t quite as high as it is in top-ranked Holdrege, but slightly more Chadron households have children.

No. 3: Sidney

Home to about 6,400 residents, Sidney is near the Colorado state line, just off Interstate 80, a main thoroughfare that crosses Nebraska. It has the second-highest household income for any top 10 city, although the median housing cost is also higher, $841 per month. Affordable housing seems plentiful here, since some three-quarters of families with children own homes. With a 0.6% unemployment rate for 25- to 44-year-olds, the job market also appears strong. The average commute time of 10.9 minutes is one of the lowest on this list.

No. 4: Gothenburg

Like Sidney, Gothenburg is also off Interstate 80, but this community of about 3,500 residents sits closer to the center of the state. It’s home to family-friendly amenities, such as two original Pony Express stations and a city arboretum. Housing is reasonable, $797 per month, and almost 89% of families with children own homes, the highest percentage for a top Nebraska community. The unemployment rate in Gothenburg is 0%. One number to consider before moving here: 9.2% of older teens are either not enrolled or haven’t graduated high school.

No. 5: Alliance

Located in the northwest corner of the state, the small town of Alliance is home to both a Carnegie Arts Center and to Carhenge, a replica of Stonehenge made from — you guessed it — old cars. Some 29% of households here have children, and about 70% of those families own homes. The median housing cost is just $665 per month, the lowest for a top 10 community. Unemployment is low; but, at 3.7%, it’s still the highest for a top 10. Still, working here might mean a beeline commute; it averages 8.8 minutes, the shortest time on this list.

No. 6: Aurora

Aurora has only about 4,500 residents, but this small city an hour west of Lincoln off Interstate 80 still manages to offer family-friendly amenities, such as a water park and hands-on science center. The job market in Aurora appears strong; the median household income for families with children is $70,625, and some 78% of families with children own homes. The median housing cost, meanwhile, is $787 per month. That’s not quite as low as it in No.5-ranked Alliance, but Aurora is closer to a large city.

No. 7: York

York, about 50 minutes west of Lincoln off Interstate 80, offers a chance to live in a college town; it’s home to York College, which offers both cultural and sporting events. For families with children, the median household income is $69,541, and the median housing cost is $681 per month. That makes it more affordable than Aurora, No. 6 on the list. Fewer families here have children, but about three-quarters of families that do own a home.

No. 8: Waverly

Some 15 miles northeast of Lincoln, Waverly has only about 3,200 residents but is clearly popular with families. Nearly half of households have children, the highest number for a top 10 community. Meanwhile, the homeownership rate for families with children is a very high 88.1%. Living here is expensive by Nebraska standards; while household income is high, the median housing cost is $1,211 per month, the highest for any community we surveyed. With an average commute time of 22.2 minutes, it’s likely many residents travel to Lincoln for work.

No. 9: Columbus

Columbus, a larger city with about 23,000 residents, forms a triangle with Omaha and Lincoln and is within driving distance of both those metro areas. Household income here is similar to Aurora and York, No. 6 and No. 7 on our list, respectively, but the homeownership rate for families is lower, which means homes may be a bit less affordable. Still, about 73% of Columbus families with children own homes, a rate that’s generally high for Nebraska. One plus to living here: an average travel time to work of just 12.2 minutes, which means most residents work nearby.

No. 10: Hastings

The largest city in this top 10 list has some 25,000 residents and sits southwest of Lincoln. Here, 28% of all households have children, and 73.5% of those families own homes, yet another indicator of housing that’s relatively affordable. In Hastings, the median cost of housing is $704 per month, the same amount as in top-ranked Holdrege. Still, Hastings came in last in this ranking because of a slightly lower household income and a 3.2% unemployment rate for 25- to 44-year-olds.

Understanding the rankings

We chose seven indicators to rank cities and towns with above 2,358 people in Nebraska 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 2,358.

 

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