The 20 Most Affordable Places With Jobs and Good Schools

Photo (cc) by yomanimus

Affordable housing is an elusive concept. Money writers, myself included, have a bad habit of separating out individual life choices and analyzing them, as if they happen in isolation. Take, for instance, my recent series detailing the number of counties in America where average incomes can’t support average-priced homes. I did the best I could, and came up with some standards and average benchmarks, and examined data using them. But in truth, life doesn’t work that way.

In real life, buying a home you can reasonably afford involves a complex series of variables that are very hard (impossible) to cram into a formula. How stable is your employment? What are your prospects for regular raises? How much can the grandparents help with child care? It’s smart to overpay for a home if Nana can watch the kids for free, for example.

Perhaps the most significant, and least understood, “soft” variable in home affordability is education cost. As I peruse the thousands of family budgets that readers have generously sent to me as part of The Restless Project (send yours to Bob at BobSullivan.net!), one fact leaps out: The clearest indicator of struggling versus getting by is whether a family feels like it has to pay for private school for the kids. That $15,000 to $45,000 extra annual cost is a budget killer. The only thing worse for many parents is the fear of sending their kids to an inadequate public school.

This leaves many parents lying awake at night in dread, faced with a Hobson’s choice between their kids’ future and their financial future. And this is why smart observers argue that the quickest way to solve America’s affordability problem is to solve America’s education problem.

In the meantime, a smart financial decision for families is to move to a place where the public schools are good. Sounds obvious enough. And that’s the problem. Everyone knows this, which means there’s stiff competition (i.e., higher prices) for homes near good schools.

Good schools, affordable homes, but no jobs

Already, you can see how complicated this calculus has become, but real life also includes another variable: Find a good school district in a place with affordable homes, and you’ve probably found a rural area where there aren’t many jobs. Hey, this stuff is complicated.

The data-rich folks at RealtyTrac, who have been working with me on several Restless Project stories, have taken a whack at this problem and come up with fascinating results. Below is a list of top ZIP codes where there is a good public elementary school, homes are affordable, and unemployment is low. If you are a young family just starting out, it would be a good idea to visit a few of these places.Before you look at the list, understand that this is another imperfect data analysis that rests on a series of presumptions. To qualify: Schools had test scores that were at least one-third higher than their state’s average. The intra-state standard means a better school in a state where education is better overall could be penalized. And of course, school scoring is fraught with peril anyway.

The unemployment rate criteria is simpler: 5.9 percent or lower. And affordability means home payments (using the formula we used last time) are 33 percent of income or lower.

Here’s the good news: There are plenty of places with good schools, jobs and affordable homes. Of the 7,500 ZIP codes examined by RealtyTrac, 489 fit the bill. They are spread around the country, too, so Americans do have options.

They tend to be on the small side: nearly 300 of them have populations under 30,000. But big places aren’t excluded. Staten Island, N.Y., made the list; so did Phoenix, Portland, Ore., and West Chicago. The list is peppered with ZIP codes in Colorado, North Carolina and Florida. And when we start to talk about the most affordable places, well, the list is self-explanatory.

A few more facts, before the list:

  • Cities with the highest amount of affordable ZIP codes with good schools were led by Orlando, Fla., (nine); Raleigh, N.C. (eight); and Phoenix (six), followed by five cities each with five affordable ZIP codes with good schools: Chandler, Ariz.; Colorado Springs, Colo.; Grand Rapids, Mich.; Lexington, Ky.; and Wilmington, N.C.
  • States with the most affordable ZIP codes with good schools were New York (105), North Carolina (66), Florida (62), Illinois (50), and Michigan (40).

More from Bob Sullivan:

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

Read Next
10 Products That Will Help You Save Money

Sometimes, spending a little cash right now can save you a lot of money down the road.

Watch This: Organize Your Home With Dollar Tree Products

Here’s how to organize every corner of your home using only items from a dollar store.

Why Is My Pension Killing My Social Security Benefit?

A reader says the government is penalizing him for having a pension. Is he right?

Why Half of Retirees Now Owe Taxes on Social Security

Growing numbers of seniors are paying taxes on their Social Security benefits, but you might be able to avoid this fate.

The Worst Nursing Homes in America Are Revealed

The nursing homes with a history of providing subpar care previously hadn’t been identified for a government list.

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Most Popular
9 Things You’ll Never See at Costco Again

The warehouse store offers an enormous selection, but these products aren’t coming back.

11 Things Retirees Should Always Buy at Costco

This leader in bulk shopping is a great place to find discounts in the fixed-income years.

Over 50? The CDC Says You Need These 4 Vaccines

Fall is the time to schedule vaccines that can keep you healthy — and even save your life.

11 Senior Discounts for Anyone Age 55 or Older

There is no need to wait until you’re 65 to take advantage of so-called “senior” discounts.

11 Household Items That Go Bad — or Become Dangerous

When you get the impulse to stockpile these everyday items, pay close attention to their expiration dates.

8 Things You Can Get for Free at Pharmacies

In this age of higher-priced drugs and complex health care systems, a trip to the pharmacy can spark worry. Freebies sure do help.

7 Ways to Boost Your Credit Score Fast

Your financial security might soon depend upon the strength of your credit score.

These Are the 4 Best Medicare Advantage Plans for 2020

Medicare Advantage customers themselves rate these plans highest.

The 10 Most Commonly Stolen Vehicles in America

A new model parks atop the list of vehicles that thieves love to pilfer.

19 High-Paying Jobs You Can Get With a 2-Year Degree

These jobs pay more than the typical job in the U.S. — and no bachelor’s degree is required.

The 15 Worst States for Retirees in 2020

Based on dozens of metrics tied to affordability, quality of life and health care, these are not ideal places to spend retirement.

9 Deep Discounts Available on Amazon This Friday

These items are all steeply discounted — but the deals won’t last long.

5 Ways to Get Amazon Prime for Free

Hesitant to drop $119 a year on an Amazon Prime membership? Here’s how to get it for free.

26 States That Do Not Tax Social Security Income

These states won’t tax any of your Social Security income — and in some cases, other types of retirement income.

10 Reasons Why You Should Actually Retire at 62

If you can, here are several good reasons to retire earlier than we’re told to.

3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free

With a little ingenuity, you can cut Office costs to zero.

5 Keys to Making Your Car Last for 200,000 Miles

Pushing your car to 200,000 miles — and beyond — can save you piles of cash. Here’s how to get there.

5 Things That Make Life More Meaningful for Retirees

Retirees agree: These are the things that give them purpose and fulfillment in their golden years.

15 Amazon Purchases That We Are Loving Right Now

These practical products make everyday life a little easier.

View More Articles

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Add a Comment

Our Policy: We welcome relevant and respectful comments in order to foster healthy and informative discussions. All other comments may be removed. Comments with links are automatically held for moderation.