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The Best Cities For Working Mothers, 2012

Columbus, Ohio has reached new heights: trumping last year’s top metropolis, Buffalo, New York, as 2012’s best city for working mothers. The city, which also lands in the top ranks of FORBES best cities for business and careers, safest and most-wired cities, is home to more than 1.8 million and boasts higher than average salaries for women, who account for over 44% of the workforce

Pair the excellent unemployment rate (just 5.7 to the national average of 7.8) with an affordable but impressive (think great schools, childcare and doctors) quality of living makes the city an attractive locale for savvy working moms. Not surprisingly, as entrepreneurial activity has been on the uptick, women-led firms are taking root there as well. Tech Columbus, a members-only resource for tech entrepreneurs in the Columbus metro area has seen an uptick in women-led ventures and has instituted a new series for women in technology.

To determine the rankings we began with the largest 50 metropolitan areas by population. From that point we stopped to consider that “best” means different things to different moms—from the cost of a gallon of milk to avoiding an hour long commute. Job opportunity and high earnings potential are, of course, critical, and so we tracked women’s weekly earnings from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. A successful career is on the top of every working woman’s wish list.

But it takes much more than dollar signs to top our list. Safety, healthcare and education rank high on every mother’s list or priorities. To that end we’ve tallied the number of practicing physicians, school district per-pupil expenditure, provided by Sperling’s Best Places and the violent crime rates as reported annually by the FBI Uniform Crime Report.

In Depth: The Top 25 Cities For Working Mothers By The Numbers

And because one of the biggest barriers keeping women from returning to work after becoming mothers is affordable childcare, we’ve worked with the National Association of Child Care Research and Referral Agencies (NACCRRA). The agency tallies childcare costs on the state level. New York, for example, is among the costliest in the country; new moms spend roughly $13,000 on childcare for their infants when they return to work. In budget-friendly southern cities like New Orleans, which landed, for the first time in four years, in the top 10 cities on our list, mothers can expect to spend much less—just $5,900 annually—for childcare.

Cost of living also ranks highly on the checklist of considerations when choosing a city to raise a child. We turned to the ACCRA Cost of Living Index, which is recognized by the U.S. Census, the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the President’s council of Economic Advisors, as the most reliable source for city-by-city comparisons. Our top city, Columbus, comes in as the most affordable city on the list where a half gallon of milk costs just $1.79 and the average home rental listing is a wallet-friendly $795 according ACCRA.

One of the most oft-overlooked (but we feel strongly it’s among the most important) metrics on our list reflects one of the most critical factors in the lives of busy working mothers: time. According to the International Labour Organization, Americans put in the longest workweeks of any other industrialized nation, and everybody knows moms always put themselves last.

While we can’t shave down the time spent behind our desks (or the time spent waiting for our kids to finish their dinners), some women spend much more than others in cars, trains and subways. According to Bert Sperling, author of Cities Ranked and Rated, who provided the data, New Yorkers, for all of the convenience of the subway system, spend nearly 80 minutes commuting each day. That’s more than six hours every week spent away from their families! In contrast, mothers in Columbus have an average commute of just 25 minutes each way.

While Columbus’s upsetting of Buffalo in the top spot is notable, there’s been more than a little bit of a shake-up of the top 10 over the past 12 months. New to the list: New Orleans at No. 2, where the low cost of childcare and higher per-pupil spending ($16,256) are paired with a low cost of living to make the bayou city a great place for moms of young children. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, nearly 100 charter schools have opened in the city, putting a renewed emphasis on education and innovation.  Women’s salaries, while not among the top in the country, are off-set by a lower-than-average cost of living. The average home sale in the city is just over $255,000.

In Depth: The Top 25 Cities For Working Mothers By The Numbers

Washington DC, which last year fell from No. 2 to No. 9 and Boston, 2011’s No. 8 city, have both slipped from the top 10 entirely. Working women in both cities may be afforded the highest incomes in the country, but cost of living and childcare costs are well above the national averages. And, like, New Yorkers moms, working mothers in these metro regions can suffer lengthy commutes—more than 30 minutes spent traveling each way.

At the other end of the spectrum, the 2012 list also has a newcomer in the bottom spot—and boy is it a surprise. After three years as the least attractive city for working mothers, Las Vegas is out of the seat of shame and replaced by… Los Angeles? The City of Angels is home to the fourth highest crime rate of the 50 cities measured—with more than 20,000 violent crimes committed in 2011 according to the FBI Uniform Crime Report and an unemployment rate of 10.3%, nearly three points higher than the national average. Middling women’s earnings are crippled by a high cost of living in the sunny city, where moms can look forward to spending $2.12 on a half gallon of milk and the average home price is just over half a million.


Does this year’s ranking stand up to your experience in your city? Where does your hometown fall? And what metrics can we add or change to better reflect what’s “best” for working moms?

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