The Best and Worst States for Raising a Family in 2021

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When deciding where to live, many of us look for amenities, safety, good schools and plenty of wholesome activities.

The pandemic has put a lot of plans on hold but the advent of vaccines offers hope that, by year’s end, it may be easier to move out of state for a job or a better life.

A WalletHub study scores each U.S. state for 2021 based on what it offers families. The analytics company ranks the states on 52 characteristics of “family-friendliness” in five categories: family fun, health and safety, education and child care, affordability, and socio-economics. A state’s “total score” is based on 100 possible points.

If you are considering where to move — or to avoid — this study of best and worst states can be helpful. Here are the five best states for families and the five worst, according to WalletHub’s research.

No. 5 best state: Vermont

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Total score: 59.16

Vermont ranks No. 1 in the country for health and safety, WalletHub’s survey finds. In part, that reflects the state’s low rate of violent crime. Vermont also makes a strong showing for the quality of its education and child care.

The state scores poorly, though, in WalletHub’s “family fun” category. Perhaps that’s because the survey awards points for urban amenities like fitness and recreation centers, parks, and playgrounds. It also awards points to states with a large share of families with young children.

One strike against Vermont: It ranks 27th for affordability, in the bottom half of the nation.

No. 4 best state: New York

Onondaga Park in Syracuse, New York
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Total score: 59.80

New York is renowned for the expensive metropolis of New York City. But it is a big state, with many cities, suburbs and small towns that make attractive homes for families. WalletHub puts the state at No. 5 in the nation for affordability.

New York ranks second in this survey for “family fun,” a category that recognizes the share of families with young children, family-oriented attractions, fitness and recreational sports centers, and parks and playgrounds.

No. 3 best state: North Dakota

North Dakota
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Total score: 60.10

Among North Dakota’s assets in this survey are its record of health and safety and the strength of its education and child care.

It scores 14th in the nation for affordability and third both for median family income and affordable housing. It tops the nation for what WalletHub calls socioeconomics, including poverty, unemployment, divorce, foreclosures, job security, work opportunities, and more. North Dakota has one of the lowest proportions of families in poverty.

No. 2 best state: Minnesota

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Total score: 60.57

Minnesota’s biggest city, Minneapolis, was the focus of local and national protests in 2020, after the death of George Floyd, a man killed by police during an arrest.

The state ranks high for health and safety and for education and child care. Socioeconomics and affordability are other strengths. The survey finds that Minnesota has the highest median family income. It ranks No. 2 (after New Hampshire) for its low percentage of families in poverty.

No. 1 best state: Massachusetts

Lighthouse in Massachusetts
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Total score: 60.88

Massachusetts gets the nod from WalletHub for being best for families, and the state has family activities in abundance, from Cape Cod and Boston to the Berkshire Mountains.

The state scores third for education and child care, and infant mortality is low. It ranks ninth and 10th for family fun and for health and safety, respectively, and sixth for affordability.

No. 5 worst state: Oklahoma

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Total score: 34.49

Oklahoma is among the five worst states in this lineup, due particularly to low rankings for health and safety (48th) and education and child care (45th).

The state comes in at No. 40 for affordability and is No. 37 for socioeconomic factors like divorce, poverty, foreclosures and job security.

No. 4 worst state: Louisiana

Louisiana
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Total score: 33.83

Even though the lively scene of New Orleans and the beauty of the swamps draw tourists to Louisiana each year, the state is not one of the best places to raise a family, WalletHub finds.

Louisiana ranks 50th — dead last — for socioeconomic factors, 47th in the nation for education and child care, and 43rd for health and safety.

It is No. 32 when it comes to affordability, and does fairly well, at No. 19, in the family fun category.

No. 3 worst state: West Virginia

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Total score: 33.83

West Virginia is a beautiful state, nestled in the tree-covered Appalachian Mountains.

It ranks last among the states for family fun and 41st for education and child care. It has the lowest proportion among all the states of families with young children, and it also a high infant mortality rate.

It has among the lowest median family salaries among the states and a high proportion of families who live in poverty, according to WalletHub.

No. 2 worst state: Mississippi

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Total score: 29.70

Mississippi’s Gulf Coast is lovely, and there are plenty of beautiful things to see in the state.

However, it’s tough to raise a family there: The state has the highest proportion of families living in poverty, and it also has the highest rate of infant mortality among the states. On the bright side, child care costs are low.

No. 1 worst state: New Mexico

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Total score: 28.95

The Land of Enchantment is struggling. WalletHub rates it dead last — 50th among the states — as a place for families. The state has among the lowest median family incomes and ties with Alaska for the worst per capita rate of violent crime. Separation and divorce rates are high, and WalletHub ranks it last in the nation for education and child care. The divorce rate in the state is high, as is the per-capita rate of violent crime. New Mexico ranks low for its median family salary and high for family poverty.

Child care costs there are among the highest in the country, and WalletHub ranks New Mexico 45th for affordability. Only Nevada, Arizona, Florida, Idaho, and Montana are less affordable for families.

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