The Best Towns in Pennsylvania for Young Families

pennsylvania

by on November 3, 2013

When young families choose a place to settle down, they look for more than affordable homes. Homeownership is a more complex decision than that – it means investing in your community and all it has to offer, from its public schools to the job market.

We wanted to find the best such communities for young families in Pennsylvania, so we asked the following questions as we analyzed cities and towns across the state:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Check out our cost of living calculator here as well as our mortgage rates calculator for more information.

The Best Towns for Young Families

1. Jefferson Hills

Jefferson Hills is a suburb of Pittsburgh, about 15 miles south of the big city. The local school district, West Jefferson Hills, is ranked 15th out of the 104 school systems in the seven-county region around Pittsburgh. Statewide, it fares even better, ranking number 51 out of 497 schools on math, reading and science.

2. Greensburg

Greensburg is the seat of Westmoreland County and is about a 45-minute drive from Pittsburgh. The city supports an arts community with institutions such as the Westmoreland Museum of American Art – which has temporarily relocated until the main building completes renovation – and the Palace Theatre, which brings acts like Cyndi Lauper and the Temptations to town. For outdoorsy families, there is also the Five Star Trail – eight miles of land for biking, jogging and cross-country skiing.

3. Phoenixville

Phoenixville is in Chester County, about 30 miles northwest of Philadelphia. One district is in in the National Register of Historic Places, and it features art galleries, antique stores and restaurants. Residents also have easy access to the Perkiomen Trail, a 19-mile path made of cinder and stone.

4. Broomall

Broomall is an 11,000-person community just outside Philadelphia. The local school district, Marple Newtown, offers 16 AP courses and 32 Honors courses. The larger county is also home to Ridley Creek State Park, 2,606 acres of woodlands and meadows where residents can hike, bike and fish.

5. Lansdale

Lansdale is a borough of Montgomery County about 30 miles northwest of Philadelphia. A local high school, North Penn, was recognized by Newsweek earlier this year as one of the best high schools in America. In particular, the school was distinguished for producing college-ready students: 95 percent of students graduate, and 89 percent go on to higher education.

6. Emmaus

Emmaus is a borough of Lehigh County, near Allentown. Money Magazine ranked it as one of the 100 best places to live in the U.S. both in 2007 and 2009. The larger Lehigh Valley region includes two Fortune 500 companies, and the economy is becoming increasingly focused on high-tech industries, including biotechnology, pharmaceuticals and optoelectronics.

7. Willow Grove

Willow Grove is a suburb of Philadelphia in Montgomery County. The local school district is excellent – the community earned an eight out of ten from GreatSchools – and is planning on rolling out a program for its students to earn college credit while still in high school. “We’re getting closer to launching a program designed where students can earn an equivalent of one year of college,” said Superintendent Bob Milrod. The program is expected to launch next year.

8. Hershey

Hershey is a 15,000-person community in Derry Township, about 15 miles from Harrisburg. It has been called Chocolate Town, U.S.A. and the Sweetest Place on Earth because the chocolates of the same name are made here. The community is more than just a tourist destination; it is home to excellent schools. Hershey High School was ranked 16th best in the state by U.S. News & World Report earlier this year.

9. Allison Park

Allison Park is a suburb of Pittsburgh in Allegheny County. Had Census data been available for income in 1999, and had we then been able to calculate a growth rate, the community would have ranked even higher. Indeed, its schools, part of Hampton Township School District, have been recognized as some of the best by publications like Forbes, Family Circle Magazine and the Pittsburgh Business Times. The district is also one of three in the county to be recognized by the state Department of Education for making Adequate Yearly Progress for six or more consecutive years.

10. Wyomissing

Wyomissing is a borough of Berks County, in southeastern Pennsylvania. Earlier this year, the Washington Post named Wyomissing Area High School the third-most challenging high school in the state – an evaluation based on the number of students taking college-level exams, including AP and IB. The borough also includes over 175 acres of parkland, including picnic areas and trails.

Rank City Nearest big city GreatSchools rating Median home value Monthly owner costs Median household income Growth,’99-’11 Overall score for young families
1 Jefferson Hills Pittsburgh 9 $168,100 $1,561 $75,296 48.8% 73.3
2 Greensburg Pittsburgh 8 $115,600 $1,149 $40,801 34.6% 65.9
3 Phoenixville Philadelphia 8 $212,000 $1,722 $60,063 41.3% 64.9
4 Broomall Philadelphia 9 $321,700 $2,066 $70,685 35.0% 64.0
5 Lansdale Philadelphia 9 $231,200 $1,695 $57,875 25.2% 63.5
6 Emmaus Allentown 8 $187,900 $1,441 $57,585 30.3% 63.2
7 Willow Grove Philadelphia 8 $255,300 $1,888 $68,267 35.5% 62.3
8 Hershey Harrisburg 9 $239,800 $1,876 $55,810 23.8% 62.0
9 Allison Park Pittsburgh 10 $192,200 $1,704 $78,215 61.9
10 Wyomissing Reading 8 $210,800 $1,884 $70,713 29.3% 61.4
11 Ardmore Philadelphia 10 $295,600 $2,085 $67,774 11.2% 60.9
12 Butler Pittsburgh 7 $86,800 $1,002 $31,955 27.0% 60.6
13 Bloomsburg 7 $116,100 $1,121 $31,237 25.6% 59.1
14 Bethel Park Pittsburgh 9 $152,700 $1,472 $65,797 59.1
15 Murrysville Pittsburgh 9 $213,100 $1,733 $87,745 58.4

Methodology

The overall score for each city was derived from the following measures:

  1. 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)
  2. Median home value from the U.S. Census (2011 ACS, data set DP04, half-weighted)
  3. Monthly homeowner costs from the U.S. Census (2011 ACS, data set DP04, half-weighted)
  4. Median household income from the U.S. Census (2011 ACS, data set DP03, half-weighted)
  5. Income change between 1999 and 2011 from the U.S. Census (data sets P053 and DP03, half-weighted)

90 Pennsylvania 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.

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  • tveye1952 .

    There are a number of other factors that are just as important and are not addressed in this ranking. ‘Cmon, if you’re a nerd, you need to get into the details! An example, Broomall is a heavily Catholic area, and taxes are high because Delaware County has a low rate of taxable businesses. This has depressed real estate values. You can get a great house, but the taxes will eat you up. If you’re not working class/middle class Catholic, you will have a lot of difficulty creating a community.

    A couple more factors to consider are a community’s Walk Score, its diversity and proximity to cultural institutions. I would never settle in Wyomissing, so near to Reading, which is a very high crime and drug area, as well as, believe it or not, Ku Klux Klan stronghold.

    If I were starting over, my list would include Chestnut Hill and Mount Airy in Phila and Narberth, out in the suburbs. Nerdwallet’s methodology would never point you towards those areas, though. Beware!

    • http://www.nerdwallet.com/ NerdWallet

      Hello,

      Thanks for your feedback. You make good points that taxes and community are important to many families. We used a data-driven approach to narrow down the factors to three main criteria that provide a starting point for evaluating a community–school quality, affordability and growth. We encourage readers to do their own research as well.

      Thanks,
      Divya