2018’s Best Places to Raise a Family in Illinois
If you plan to move your family to Illinois, you’ll want to rub Abe Lincoln’s “lucky” nose for good fortune. The state’s economy — the fifth largest by GDP — has been in chronic hot water. For two years, Illinois struggled to pass a budget and today owes billions in past-due bills. But some cities will feel the financial pinch more than others.
To the Prairie State’s credit, many of its cities still offer plenty of incentives for new and growing families. Rising home values, the 11th best school system in the U.S. and a prestigious roster of employers that includes 36 of the Fortune 500 companies are among the state’s strongest qualities — and many of the highlights that parents look to cross off on their list of priorities. And while Illinois winters can be quite harsh, families have ample indoor and outdoor opportunities for fun throughout the year.
To determine the best places in Illinois for families to put down roots, WalletHub compared more than 222 cities in the state across 21 key indicators of family-friendliness. Our data set ranges from the share of families with young children to median family income to housing affordability. Read on for the results, additional insight from our panel of experts and a full description of our methodology.
Best Places to Raise a Family in Illinois
‘Family Life & Fun’ Rank
‘Education, Health & Safety’ Rank
|8||Crystal Lake, IL||68.70||52||30||36||54|
|15||Vernon Hills, IL||67.39||36||19||73||35|
|19||Glen Ellyn, IL||67.17||118||43||11||36|
|20||Glen Carbon, IL||67.12||104||72||9||32|
|21||St. Charles, IL||67.12||101||60||24||41|
|26||Western Springs, IL||66.14||113||2||117||1|
|30||New Lenox, IL||65.81||157||59||32||26|
|31||Lake Zurich, IL||65.66||109||63||27||11|
|37||Lake Forest, IL||65.14||149||1||82||53|
|44||Lake in the Hills, IL||63.95||110||73||55||81|
|46||Round Lake, IL||63.75||63||49||78||91|
|48||Highland Park, IL||63.54||151||47||38||73|
|50||South Elgin, IL||63.49||68||94||40||86|
|52||Carol Stream, IL||63.25||159||22||68||92|
|54||Gages Lake, IL||62.69||132||179||3||76|
|56||Homer Glen, IL||62.31||210||4||113||4|
|65||Campton Hills, IL||61.88||129||16||121||16|
|66||Downers Grove, IL||61.84||194||65||48||46|
|68||Buffalo Grove, IL||61.66||173||31||118||15|
|71||North Aurora, IL||61.40||100||93||101||59|
|74||La Grange Park, IL||60.79||97||18||154||38|
|75||West Chicago, IL||60.73||4||144||127||95|
|77||Round Lake Beach, IL||60.50||53||129||81||101|
|79||Villa Park, IL||60.24||114||71||107||93|
|80||La Grange, IL||60.21||40||88||142||61|
|83||Oak Park, IL||59.97||9||118||137||102|
|90||Park Ridge, IL||59.32||112||56||167||25|
|97||East Peoria, IL||58.67||142||157||19||100|
|100||Arlington Heights, IL||58.50||174||40||163||23|
|101||Hoffman Estates, IL||58.29||175||50||148||45|
|108||Orland Park, IL||57.12||209||104||126||49|
|109||Beach Park, IL||57.08||72||182||106||88|
|112||Hanover Park, IL||56.56||107||55||166||124|
|121||Fox Lake, IL||55.03||220||41||94||145|
|123||Elk Grove Village, IL||54.99||165||111||162||64|
|125||River Forest, IL||54.87||42||120||177||77|
|126||Glendale Heights, IL||54.87||143||121||131||120|
|128||Oak Forest, IL||54.67||199||113||132||106|
|129||Mount Prospect, IL||54.66||152||45||205||43|
|130||Wood Dale, IL||54.65||178||54||141||141|
|131||Rock Island, IL||54.61||20||169||96||177|
|133||Burr Ridge, IL||54.44||215||13||150||60|
|137||Tinley Park, IL||53.92||204||138||130||78|
|140||Machesney Park, IL||53.57||186||132||93||152|
|142||Crest Hill, IL||52.93||123||105||135||160|
|144||Des Plaines, IL||52.82||195||92||188||66|
|145||Loves Park, IL||52.82||145||161||87||147|
|148||Rolling Meadows, IL||52.43||155||70||180||116|
|149||Granite City, IL||52.39||146||183||61||165|
|151||Franklin Park, IL||52.09||183||61||183||122|
|152||Palos Heights, IL||51.59||222||76||156||42|
|154||Prospect Heights, IL||51.39||161||38||212||84|
|155||Fairview Heights, IL||51.31||171||206||62||99|
|156||Morton Grove, IL||51.29||212||82||198||44|
|159||East Moline, IL||51.06||44||184||119||178|
|160||Evergreen Park, IL||51.05||193||152||147||119|
|163||Wood River, IL||50.71||56||192||90||190|
|171||Palos Hills, IL||49.65||206||62||191||129|
|175||Oak Lawn, IL||48.61||207||128||186||125|
|178||North Chicago, IL||47.95||10||219||152||188|
|181||Schiller Park, IL||47.56||176||136||210||108|
|182||Hickory Hills, IL||46.86||196||79||213||130|
|184||Elmwood Park, IL||46.66||200||124||208||132|
|185||Melrose Park, IL||46.64||17||139||221||179|
|190||River Grove, IL||44.98||180||141||216||127|
|193||Mount Vernon, IL||44.37||26||220||105||202|
|196||Park Forest, IL||43.43||168||172||146||207|
|198||South Holland, IL||42.95||181||176||171||196|
|199||Forest Park, IL||42.04||139||202||199||148|
|206||Chicago Ridge, IL||39.82||116||177||222||175|
|208||Richton Park, IL||38.47||140||191||174||213|
|209||Chicago Heights, IL||38.19||120||197||179||214|
|210||Blue Island, IL||38.18||150||193||207||200|
|211||Sauk Village, IL||37.73||179||178||170||216|
|212||Hazel Crest, IL||36.33||192||199||175||215|
|213||Country Club Hills, IL||35.99||219||190||181||209|
|216||Calumet City, IL||34.54||82||217||195||212|
|220||East St. Louis, IL||28.22||93||214||202||220|
Ask the Experts
Families share a number of common priorities when choosing a new place to call home. With that in mind, we asked a panel of experts in fields such as family studies and public health to share their insight regarding the process of evaluating prospective Illinois cities on a family’s shortlist. Click on the experts’ profiles below to read their bios and their thoughts on the following key questions:
- What are some tips for young families looking for quality public schools and affordable housing in Illinois?
- How can local officials in Illinois make their cities more attractive to young families?
- Looking just within Illinois, to what degree is child development and a family’s quality of life influenced by the city they live in?
What are some tips for young families looking for quality public schools and affordable housing in Illinois?
Families may want to consider several factors, such as:
- The community;
- Parental involvement;
- Leadership (both at the school level and district level);
- Student success.
First, families will want to look at the safety of the community; there are now resources (e.g., EveryBlock) that have information about various incidents. Other safety measures to consider include whether the community has any safety programs, like a neighborhood watch or a crime prevention service group. For example, in the Bronzeville neighborhood of Chicago, the Bronzeville Area Residents’ and Commerce Council is an organization that serves the neighborhood to create a safe neighborhood for families and businesses.
Second, families will want to examine parental involvement in the school. Are there organizations that parents can join to assist with their child’s education? Schools may offer a Parent Teacher Organization or Parent Teacher Association for parents to join and contribute to their child’s education.
Third, what kind of leadership is present both at the school and the district levels? What is the mission? How are administrators prepared and recruited? Are there professional development opportunities for administrators?
Fourth, families will want to consider the educators in classrooms. How are teachers prepared and retained? What professional development opportunities are available for educators? What is the retention rate for educators? What kind of support is available for children that have different abilities and barriers (e.g., language barriers)?
Finally, what are the measures of student success or achievement? Parents may want to look at quantitative data including, but not limited to:
- Graduation rates;
- SAT/ACT scores;
- National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP);
- Percent of students attending college;
- NAEP score gains;
- Measure of academic progress (MAP).
In addition to these six factors, there are other variables (e.g., diversity of school) that families may want to consider.
How can local officials in Illinois make their cities more attractive to young families?
Research has demonstrated that early childhood education is crucial, and recommendations to focus on high-quality early childhood education programs estimate that over time, the GDP would actually increase by 3.7% annually. Local officials should make a strong effort to increase the availability of early childhood programs such as universal preschool.
In addition to early childhood education, are there community resources and programs that are specifically designed for young children, and if so, is there access for all families, regardless of income level? For example, in the city of Chicago, the Bronzeville Children’s Museum and the Chicago Children’s Museum routinely offer free visits for families. In addition, crime will be a hot topic for young families moving to Illinois. City officials will want to ensure they are addressing the recent issues. For example, in Chicago, there has been an increase in violence over the past two years. As a parent I would want to know what the city officials are doing to decrease violence.
Looking just within Illinois, to what degree is child development and a family’s quality of life influenced by the city they live in?
The quality of life is dependent at the individual level. However, there are some common factors that most mention -- things like health, job security, job satisfaction, safety, and family life. The city plays a direct role in many of these factors. For example, the number of companies based in a city will give more job opportunities. There has been a recent tech boom in Chicago, increasing the demand for jobs like software engineers.
With respect to child development, many researchers will point to the importance of the parent-child relationship and its importance on development, learning and academic readiness. The city in which you live can certainly support positive child development trajectories. For example, are there resources dedicated to early childhood? Is early childhood education (i.e., pre-school) tuition driven and paid by parents or is it a free resource for families in the community? Are there services for children that face barriers? For example, The Illinois Department of Human Services offers early intervention services for children, from birth to three, with developmental delays resources and services.
How can local officials in Illinois make their cities more attractive to young families?
Focusing on "built environment" variables in the neighborhoods they represent. These variables include how much green space (e.g., parks, trees) there is in each neighborhood; how "legible" places are, i.e., how many landmarks, roads, and signs there are; and how many crowded, noisy, and dangerous places there are in the neighborhood. Research shows that increased exposure to legible places and green space, and decreased exposure to crowded, noisy, and dangerous places, relates to positive outcomes. These outcomes include increased well-being, life satisfaction, social support, and creativity; and decreased social withdrawal, anxiety, and distress.
To determine the most family-friendly Illinois cities, WalletHub compared 222 cities in the state across four key dimensions: 1) Family Life & Fun, 2) Education, Health & Safety, 3) Affordability and 4) Socio-economics.
We evaluated those dimensions using 21 relevant metrics, which are listed below with their corresponding weights. Each metric was graded on a 100-point scale, with a score of 100 representing the most favorable conditions for families.
Finally, we determined each city’s weighted average across all metrics to calculate its total score and used the resulting scores to rank-order our sample. In determining our sample, we considered only the city proper in each case, excluding cities in the surrounding metro area.
Family Life & Fun – Total Points: 25
- Playgrounds per Capita: Full Weight (~4.17 Points)
- Number of Attractions: Full Weight (~4.17 Points)
Note: “Attractions” include, for instance, zoos, museums and theaters.
- Share of Families with Young Children: Double Weight (~8.33 Points)
Note: “Young Children” include the population aged 0 to 17.
- Weather: Full Weight (~4.17 Points)
Note: This metric is based on WalletHub’s “Cities with the Best & Worst Weather” ranking.
- Average Commute Time: Full Weight (~4.17 Points)
Education, Health & Safety – Total Points: 25
- Quality of School System: Full Weight (~2.94 Points)
- High School Graduation Rate: Half Weight (~1.47 Points)
- Air Quality: Full Weight (~2.94 Points)
- Pediatricians per Capita: Full Weight (~2.94 Points)
- Share of Uninsured Children: Full Weight (~2.94 Points)
Note: “Children” include the population aged 0 to 17.
- Violent Crimes per 1,000 Residents: Double Weight (~5.88 Points)
- Property Crimes per 1,000 Residents: Double Weight (~5.88 Points)
Affordability – Total Points: 25
- Housing Affordability: Full Weight (~12.50 Points)
Note: This metric was calculated as follows: Housing Costs (accounts for both rental and sale prices) / Median Annual Family Income.
- General Affordability: Full Weight (~12.50 Points)
Note: This metric was calculated as follows: Median Annual Family Income / Cost of Living Index.
Socio-economics – Total Points: 25
- Separation & Divorce Rate: Full Weight (~3.57 Points)
- Share of Two-Parent Families: Full Weight (~3.57 Points)
- Share of Families Living Below Poverty Level: Full Weight (~3.57 Points)
- Share of Households Receiving Food Stamps: Full Weight (~3.57 Points)
- Unemployment Rate: Full Weight (~3.57 Points)
- Wealth Gap: Full Weight (~3.57 Points)
- Foreclosure Rate: Full Weight (~3.57 Points)
Sources: Data used to create this ranking were collected from the U.S. Census Bureau, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Renwood RealtyTrac LLC, SchoolDigger.com, Yelp, County Health Rankings, Areavibes, TripAdvisor and WalletHub research.
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