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The Best Places to Live for Young Families in Florida

Background

The decision to have children often comes with other significant life changes, such as moving to a new area in which your family can thrive. For young families who have narrowed down their choices to the state of Florida, there are still many options from which to choose: Beaches, the Everglades, rivers or lakes? Up north, or down south? There’s a lot of ground to cover. And ideally, a young family will live in an area that offers a healthy mix of attractions, such as solid job opportunities, an established, kid-friendly community, affordable housing and good schools. To help you with your search, researchers at LendingTree compiled a list of the best places for young families in Florida.

Key takeaways

  • Gonzalez is the best place to raise a family in Florida, with a final score of 71.1.
  • Palm Valley takes the second spot with a final score of 69.4; and Lutz and Pinecrest are tied for third at 68.1.
  • On the other end of the list, we found Brownsville to be the most challenging place for young families in Florida, with a final score of 32.3.
  • Punta Gorda and Leisure City finished out the bottom three towns on our list, with scores of 35 and 37.5, respectively.

The top 10 cities to live in Florida

#1 Gonzalez

Gonzalez is a North Florida city close to the Alabama border and the University of West Florida. As its ranking suggests, there is a lot of data in this city’s favor. Approximately nine out of 10 residents with kids own their homes, the unemployment rate for 25- to 44-year olds is nonexistent and the average commute is just 23 minutes. While the median household income for families with kids is actually the lowest on this list ($82,575), the relatively low median monthly housing cost, $1,126, is a positive for young families. The primary potential drawbacks: It has a relatively small community of families with kids, accounting for just under 23% of households, and it has the highest percentage, in all 10 cities, of 16- to 19-year-olds not enrolled in or graduated from high school (1.9%).

#2 Palm Valley

For those looking to settle their new family in a high-income area, Palm Valley, a coastal city southeast of Jacksonville, is a solid choice. The median income for households with children is just more than $140,000 a year, and the housing costs aren’t proportionately increased — the median cost is about $1,500 a month. Approximately one in four households have children, and of those, the vast majority owns their home. The biggest detractor, which helps drop Palm Valley to the No. 2 slot on our list, is the 3.5% unemployment rate for residents aged 25 to 44.

#3 Lutz

Lutz comes in with a final score of 68.1, which means it’s tied for third with Pinecrest. The city is located north of Tampa, about 45 minutes from Apollo Beach. The unemployment rate among 25- to 44-year-olds is on the high end of the range for top 10 cities (3.1%) but still comes in below that of Palm Valley’s (No. 2). And when you look at income in comparison to the median monthly housing cost ($1,325), it amounts to around 15% of the median annual earnings. If you’re looking to get a mortgage, there’s more good news: Around 87% of families with kids own their homes.

#4 Pinecrest

Pinecrest is a Southern Florida city nestled between Miami and the Everglades. If you’re choosing between Pinecrest and Lutz based on the stats, the deciding factor could be the median income for households with kids — Pinecrest’s median, at $206,806, is nearly double that of Lutz households with children. But this does come with an increase in housing costs, which are relatively hefty at $2,260 a month. Pinecrest also has a larger population of households with children, but those individuals are less likely to achieve homeownership, as the city falls short of Lutz’s homeownership rate by just over 11 percentage points.

#5 Horizon West

Horizon West, which falls right in the middle of the top 10 rankings, sits southwest of Orlando, near the Walt Disney World Resort. The unemployment rate for residents aged 25 to 44 is on the low end, at 1.6%. And almost half of households in the community have kids. Horizon West does, however, have the lowest rate of homeownership for families with kids out of the top 10 cities, at just 65.1%. That could be a detractor for those who hope to get out of the renting game and qualify for a mortgage, although it still represents a majority of families in the area.

#6 West Melbourne

West Melbourne sits along the eastern shore of central Florida, close to the Indian River. And although it isn’t the No. 1 pick — it has the second-lowest household income for families with kids, with median earnings of $83,967 per year — the city also has a lot going for it. Compared to the other top 10 cities, for example, West Melbourne has the lowest median monthly housing cost: $1,066. And its average commute is the only one on this list that falls under the 20-minute mark. Unfortunately, it also has the highest unemployment rate for 25- to 44-year olds, at 4.9%.

#7 Fish Hawk

Fish Hawk is located near Tampa and the Gulf of Mexico, just slightly more inland. The city has a solid population of families with kids (nearly six in 10 households), and the rate of homeownership among those is on the high end, at 80.8%. However, it may be best suited to those who don’t mind a longer commute, or work from home, as the average commute in this city is 37 minutes. And although the median annual income is more than $100,000, median monthly housing costs also run at nearly $2,000 a month. That’s something to closely consider if you’re on a tight budget.

#8 Lake Butler

With a final score of 67.3, Lake Butler, a city in North Florida, just west of Jacksonville, is another popular option for families with kids. They make up almost half of the city’s residents, and among those, nearly three in four own their homes. Again, that’s a good sign if you’re looking to get a mortgage. However, it does have the highest monthly housing costs of all the other cities on our list, with a median of $2,287. That amounts to about a quarter of the median annual earnings for families with kids.

#9 Fruit Cove

Fruit Cove is a riverside city south of Jacksonville. Its final score, 67.2, places it just a hair behind Lake Butler. And in many ways, it’s statistically similar to Lake Butler: The median annual income is more than $100,000, almost half of residents have kids and, out of those, the majority are homeowners. It has a lower median housing cost, coming in at $1,729 a month. The main drag on its score, however, is the 4.4% unemployment rate among those aged 25 to 44. This is the second-highest unemployment rate on our list and is a factor to consider if you’re looking to secure a new job when you move.

#10 Oviedo

Rounding out the top 10 cities in Florida, with a final score of 67, is Oviedo, a landlocked city northeast of Orlando. On the plus side, it has a 0% rate of non-enrollment or graduation from high school among 16- to 19-year olds. Oviedo has the second-lowest median income for households with children on the list, at $100,654. However, its earnings-versus-housing costs are pretty solid: About 17.6% of earnings go toward housing costs, on average. That said, its unemployment rate, 3.9%, is on the high end compared to some other cities on this list. The average commute, which is nearly a half-hour, could also be considered a disadvantage by some.

Understanding the rankings

We chose six indicators to rank cities and towns with above 5,000 people in each state 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 six indicators we used are:

  • Median family income: Money isn’t everything, but a place with high family incomes suggests good job opportunities and a community with more resources.
  • Median monthly housing costs for all households: For families already dealing with childcare expenses, reasonably affordable housing is important.
  • Homeownership rate of families with children: This indicates 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 focus 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 it is well-correlated.
  • Average commute time: Shorter commutes mean less-stressed workers who have more time to spend with their families.

Methodology

Analysts used data from the 2017 5-Year American Community Survey by the U.S. Census. Each of the six metrics was given a value according to its relative location between the highest and lowest values. The values were then summed and divided by six for an equal weighting. The analysis was limited to Census-designated places with populations of at least 5,000.

 

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