With today's high cost of living, variable crime rates, and inconsistent quality of education, it's hard to know where the best place is to raise kids. Sometimes the choice isn't up to you because it's dictated by availability of employment or the housing market. But when you have some flexibility in choosing the town in which you live, there are several important factors to consider.

I compared the results of several nationwide surveys of the best places in America for raising kids to see which issues were taken most often into account. The following is what I found.

Household income relative to cost of living

Rather than just considering the cost of living of an area, the surveyors made sure to also look at the potential earnings of employment in that town or city. Obviously, the best place to live is one where the cost of living (including grocery bills, housing costs, utilities, transportation, and health care) is much lower than the average household income. For instance, you might earn more money in a large town like New York City, but you'll also pay more to live there.

Quality of education

You can look up the quality of education online, or by contacting the school district main office for that area. Things to consider when evaluating education quality might include diversity of student body, spending per student, and school wide test results. You'll also want to find out how many students there are per teacher, the availability of funds for school lunch programs, and what role extracurricular activities take as part of the academic experience. These factors will range widely depending on whether the school is in an urban or rural area and how many students attend.

Public Safety

Evaluating an area's crime rate is one way to look at its relative safety, but that's not all you'll want to look at. You'll also want to find out about the frequency of severe weather events, the severity and effectiveness of traffic laws, and the size and quality of the area's police force.

Fun factors

The availability of entertainment will be the most important thing on your kids' minds. While it probably won't (and shouldn't) be your main factor for the decision of where to make your home, it's still something to think about, if only to preserve your own sanity. ("I'm bored. There's nothing to do.") You can easily do a search online for the locations of public parks and playgrounds, theme parks, water parks, and libraries.

Changing locations is a stressful, hectic, and often painful process. You can grant yourself a little peace of mind by figuring out how these factors fit into your plans before packing up the moving van. A little research will almost certainly save you a lot of tension and anxiety in the long run.

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