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working parents

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in 61% of two-parent households, both parents work outside the home. But not all cities are equally suited for this family structure. In some cities, mortgage costs overwhelm earnings. In other cities, childcare costs are so high it makes getting by on even two incomes difficult. Below we look at these and other factors to rank the best cities for working parents.

In order to find the best cities for working parents, we looked at data on nine metrics. Specifically we looked at data on unemployment rate, median household income, median housing costs, percent of workforce who work more than 49 weeks per year, average commute time, graduation rate, state family leave policies and costs of childcare.

This is the third annual best cities for working parents. Check out the 2017 best cities for working parents here.

Key Findings

  • Consistency – Seven of last year’s top 10 ranked in the top 10 again this year. The most impressive finisher was Ames, Iowa which followed up last year’s second-place finish by taking the top spot this year.
  • No East Coast – East Coast cities score poorly in this study. Residents in East Coast cities, especially in the Northeast, face high costs of living, including childcare costs and housing costs. The highest ranked Northeast city is Newton, Massachusetts at 124.

top cities for working parents

1. Ames, Iowa

Once again Ames ranks as a fantastic place for working parents. Last year, Ames had the second-highest score while this year it has the highest.

This city’s most impressive scores came in the work categories. Ames has the lowest unemployment rate in the study and only 44% of workers work more than 49 weeks per year. That means most parents will have stable employment but also some extra time to take vacations with their children.

2. Provo, Utah

Last year’s fifth-best city for working parents finishes as the runner-up this year. Provo, Utah like Ames also has a low unemployment rate. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, only 2.6% of workers here are unemployed.

Provo is also a safe place to raise a family. According to our data, Provo is the third-safest city in our top 10 and is safer than 85% of cities in our study. In addition to those great scores, Provo is also an affordable place. According to our data, the average family would spend only 21.5% of their income on housing costs, including property taxes and homeowners insurance, if they bought the median home.

3. Iowa City, Iowa

Iowa City shares many traits with Ames. This city has an unemployment rate of only 2.1% (fifth-lowest in our study) and a large share of workers take time off. Two metrics where Ames also scored well. Iowa City even beats Ames in local school quality. According to our data, Iowa City high schools have a graduation rate of 92.4% beating Ames’ graduation rate of 91.9%.

Where Iowa City falls slightly behind is in crime. It ranks in the top third of cities for crime rate but Ames ranks in the top 20%.

4. Orem, Utah

Once again Orem, Utah ranks in the top 5 cities for working parents. Orem is a great city for parents who put extra value on low commute times and low crime rates. The mean commute time in Orem is only 18 minutes, a score which beats 85% of other cities. The city also has a top 20 crime rate.

Where Orem falls behind a few other cities is in housing costs. According to our data, the annual cost of housing in Orem exceeds $11,800, giving it the second-highest housing costs in our top 10.

5. Jonesboro, Arkansas

One cost which has been rising recently is childcare costs. According to BLS data from June of 2006 to July of 2016, the cost of childcare and nursery school increased by 39%. This means finding affordable childcare is more important than ever.

Jonesboro, according to our data, has the 17th-lowest average childcare costs, at $5,700 per year. Combine that low cost of childcare with average annual housing costs of only $8,600 per year and you see that Jonesboro is one of the most affordable cities in our study.

6. St. George, Utah

Working parents who spend a lot of time commuting typically get to spend less time with their children. For workers and families in St. George, commute times are nearly nonexistent. The average commute in St. George is under 15 minutes. High schools in this city also have a graduation rate which tops 80% of cities in our study.

7. Wichita Falls, Texas

Wichita Falls takes the seventh spot. Parents working in this city should spend be able to spend less time on the road getting to work and more time at home with their children. According to our data, the average commute time here is under 15 minutes.

Another reason working parents will love Wichita Falls is the local school system. Department of Education data shows that almost 94% of students in the area graduate from high school.

8. Santa Clara, California

Santa Clara, California takes eighth. This city is a great place to be if you want to earn a big income, thanks to its proximity to Silicon Valley. The median household here earns over $110,000 per year. However, counteracting those high incomes are high housing costs. The average home here costs over $27,500 per year making it one of the most expensive cities to live in our study.

On the plus side, by living in California, residents in Santa Clara have access to some of the most family friendly state policies in the country.

9. Oshkosh, Wisconsin

With the costs of college and housing rising it can be difficult for parents to save for both retirement and children’s college funds at the same time. Oshkosh ranks well in our study because, according to our data, it is one of the best places in our study to save money. We estimate that the average household here could afford the average home while spending less than 20% of their income.

Oshkosh is also a safe environment to raise a family. Data from the FBI shows that Oshkosh is the fifth-safest city in our top 10.

10. Abilene, Texas

It can be difficult for parents to find affordable housing near great schools. Working parents in Abilene should not have to worry about that trade-off too much. Our data shows that annual housing costs run under $9,500 per year. At the same time the schools in the area do a great job educating their students. Abilene has a high school graduation rate of over 90%.

One area of concern for families in Abilene are the state family leave laws. Texas ranks below average in that metric.

working parents

Data and Methodology

In order to rank the best cities for working parents, SmartAsset looked at data for 535 cities. Specifically we compared them across the following nine metrics:

  • Unemployment rate. This is the average unemployment rate between the months of October, November and December of 2017. Data comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and is measured at the county level.
  • Median household income. This is the annual income for the median household. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 1-year American Community Survey.
  • Median annual housing costs. This is the annual costs for the median home. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 1-year American Community Survey.
  • Percent of workforce working more than 49 weeks per year. This is the percent of workers who work more than 49 weeks per year. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 1-year American Community Survey.
  • Average commute time. This is the average time is takes to get to work. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 1-year American Community Survey.
  • Violent crime rate per 100,000 residents. This is the number of violent crimes per 100,000 residents. Data comes from the FBI Uniform Crime Reporting Program and is for 2016 and 2015.
  • Graduation rate. This is the average high school graduation rate. Data comes from the U.S. Department of Education and is for the 2015-2016 school year.
  • State policy rating. This metric is a score created by the National Partnership for Women & Families. It rates states based on the level of support that they offer working parents. A higher score indicates a state has laws and policies (like paid family leave) which are friendlier to working parents.
  • Annual childcare costs. This is the average annual cost of full-time center-based childcare. We took the average cost between an infant and a 4-year old.

First we ranked each city in each metric. Then we found each city’s average ranking, giving an equal weighting to each metric. We used this average ranking to create our final score. The city with the best average ranking received a 100. The city with the worst average score received a 0.

Tips for Affording a Family Home

  • Know your budget – While your home budget does not have to be a hard number it is a good idea to go into the home buying process with a ceiling on how much house much you can afford. This will allow you to spend less time looking at homes and worrying about if you can afford it.
  • Extra can be costly – When you are buying a home you are not just paying your mortgage. Homeowners insurance and property taxes are two long-term costs which can limit the amount of home you can afford. Also don’t forget to budget for the closing costs when you buy your home.
  • Don’t be afraid to negotiate – If you are in a buyer’s market, with lots of homes on the market and few buyers, make sure to negotiate. You might be able to save quite a bit by negotiating the selling price of the home. If the seller isn’t willing to negotiate on selling price, try negotiating other costs. For example, see if you can get the seller to make a needed repair on the home before you buy it, as that will save you from having to pay to make the repair. At the same time, if the negotiation is not going in your direction don’t be afraid to back out. Taking the extra time to find a house which is right for you is better than buying a home you cannot afford.

Questions about our study? Contact us at press@smartasset.com.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/monkeybusinessimages

Derek Miller, CEPF® Derek Miller is a graduate of the University of Edinburgh where he studied economics. He is passionate about using data to help people make better financial decisions. Derek is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance® (CEPF®) and a member of the Society of American Business Editors and Writers. He is a data journalist whose expertise is in finding the stories within the numbers. Derek's writing has been featured on Yahoo, AOL, and Huffington Post. He believes the biggest financial mistake people make is waiting too late to save for retirement and missing out on the wonders of compounding interest. Derek lives in Brooklyn.
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