For young families, the decision to settle down is an exciting one – and one not taken lightly. Homeownership is an enormous decision, and it encompasses more than the four walls around you. It means investing in the opportunities that a community has to offer, including in the job market and in education. We wanted to find the best such opportunities for young families in Alabama, so we asked the following questions as we analyzed cities and towns across the state:
- Does the town have good public schools? We measured schools’ academic performance with ratings from GreatSchools. This non-profit compares a given school’s standardized test scores to the state average to obtain a rating on a 1 to 10 scale (10 representing the highest score). Higher ratings led to a higher overall score.
- Can you afford to live there? We looked at both median home values in each town and ongoing monthly home costs, including mortgage payments, real estate taxes, insurance costs, utilities, fuel and other bills. Lower costs led to a higher overall score.
- Is the town growing and prospering? We assessed a town’s economy by looking at average household income and income growth over the last decade. Higher income and greater growth led to a higher overall score.
The Best Towns for Young Families
Auburn is a college town, home to the Auburn Tigers. Beyond college sports, the community has received attention for its strong job market, having made number 10 on Forbes’ 2013 list of the best small cities for jobs. A local high school, Auburn High, was named fourth best in the state by U.S. News & World Report.
Madison is in northern Alabama, in Madison and Limestone Counties. The community has been called one of the best places to grow up as well as one of the best places to live in the United States, period. Top employers in Madison include Intergraph Corporation, Madison City Schools and STI Electronics.
Hartselle is in Morgan County, just south of Decatur. Residents enjoy the city’s trails, a disc golf course at Sparkman Park and a new aquatic center. In the immediate area, too, is a national forest and national wildlife refuge. Hartselle’s real estate market is also extremely affordable, with a median home value of $120,800.
Prattville is the seat of Autauga County, near Montgomery. The city is a great spot for golfers, with the Capitol Hill Golf Course in town – the site of the Nationwide Tour for several years. The community’s population has increased substantially of late, too, with 49.7 percent growth last decade.
5. Muscle Shoals
Muscle Shoals is in Colbert County, in northwestern Alabama. You may know the city best for its contribution to the classic-rock and soul music scenes: Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Bob Dylan and Rod Stewart all recorded here. Music-loving families, then, will have a lot to love here. Beyond the Alabama Music Hall of Fame just down the road, many contemporary artists come here to perform and record, too. The schools are also excellent: both Howell Graves Preschool and Muscle Shoals High School are Blue Ribbon Lighthouse Schools, an award given to schools that demonstrate strong support for students and a challenging curriculum.
Saraland is a suburb of Mobile. The city includes over 10 parks, with walking trails, playgrounds and sports fields. Forbes ranked the Mobile metro area number 62 on its list of best places for businesses and careers – an analysis that took into account projected economic and job growth. The area also has great schools. In 2008, a teacher at Saraland Elementary was named Alabama’s Elementary School Teacher of the Year.
7. Vestavia Hills
Vestavia Hills is a suburb of Birmingham in Jefferson and Shelby Counties. Its award-winning school district includes a National Blue Ribbon high school – Vestavia Hills High – and it sends 96 percent of its students onto college. Recreational venues in the city include city parks with playgrounds and picnic tables as well as sports complexes for baseball, football and soccer.
Pelham is a suburb of Birmingham in the foothills of Oak Mountain. The state park encompassing the mountain is the largest in the entire state, at 9,940 acres. Outdoorsy families visiting the park can hike, bike, ride horses, boat and fish. The city’s population has also grown significantly, with 48.6 percent growth between 2000 and 2010.
Fairhope sits on the shoreline of Mobile Bay. The local school system, Baldwin County Public Schools, was one of 15 school districts in the country to earn a “Magna” award from the American School Board Journal in 2007, thanks to its progress in classroom technology. Earlier this year, the Alabama Policy Institute named Fairhope the most business-friendly city in the state.
Trussville is a suburb of Birmingham in Jefferson and St. Clair Counties. Students at Paine Primary and Paine Intermediate placed in the top 10 in the nation in a reading competition held by Scholastic; the students were among the most voracious readers in the country, with nearly one million minutes logged by the elementary students and nearly 1.5 million by the middle school students. The city school system is also the community’s largest employer.
|Rank||City||Nearest big city||GreatSchools rating||Median home value||Monthly owner costs||Median household income||Growth,’99-’11||Overall score for young families|
The overall score for each city was derived from the following measures:
- GreatSchools city rating. GreatSchools city ratings are calculated by averaging the weighted overall rating for each school in the city (weighted by the number of students enrolled at the school)
- Median home value from the U.S. Census (2011 ACS, data set DP04, half-weighted)
- Monthly homeowner costs from the U.S. Census (2011 ACS, data set DP04, half-weighted)
- Median household income from the U.S. Census (2011 ACS, data set DP03, half-weighted)
- Income change between 1999 and 2011 from the U.S. Census (data sets P053 and DP03, half-weighted)
64 Alabama cities and towns designated as places by the U.S. Census were included in this analysis. Only places with a population greater than 10,000 were considered.