What Makes a City Working-Parent Friendly?
Last week, Forbes.com published its annual list of the best cities for working mothers. I took special note of this list because my own city–Columbus, Ohio–ranked right at the top. I take some pride in this, even though I mostly work inside my home, and even though I have had little to nothing to do with the conditions for working mothers in Columbus.
But the list appealed to me on a broader level too. Of particular interest to me was just how these cities were evaluated: what were the specific indicators that made a city amenable to working mothers? What made one city rank higher than another? And why were these indicators specific to working mothers (as opposed to working fathers, or simply all working parents)?
From what I can tell, Forbes used the following “metrics” to evaluate each city on its list:
- the local unemployment rate
- the cost of a gallon of milk
- average commute time
- average weekly earnings for women
- the number of practicing physicians
- school district per-pupil expenditure
- violent crimes rate
- average state-wide childcare costs
- average home rental listing
- average home sale
To be clear, I think that each one of these metrics is important to working mothers. Exceedingly important, even. Of course working moms want a low cost of living and great school districts and low violent crime rates and affordable childcare and a short commute to work.
But so should (and, I suspect, so do) working dads.
In fact, besides the index for the average weekly earnings for women in any given city, I think that each one of the aforementioned characteristics can and should be indicative of the situation for working parents: not just working moms. For to single out concerns like childcare costs, the price of a gallon of milk, and school district expenditures as “working mother concerns” potentially reinforces the same rigid gender roles that make the situation for working mothers more complex. It’s the sort of thinking that can snowball into characterizing dads as breadwinners who sometimes babysit the kids and moms as breadwinners who do the shopping and the cooking and the cleaning and the at-home childcare.
No matter what the family dynamics–a working mom and a working dad, two working moms, a dad who stays home and a mom who works, etc.–the responsibility for childcare and grocery shopping and schools should not be the default responsibility of The Mom(s). These responsibilities are unique to each family, and many people have found ways to divvy them up creatively and without adhering to gender stereotypes. As such, I’d much rather see the concerns in the Forbes list cast as family concerns: not “mother concerns.”
And thus, I’d rather see this whole list cast as “The Top 50 Cities for Working Parents.”
This is not to say that there are no metrics that one could use to evaluate how “working mother friendly” a city is. In fact, I think that there are a variety of indicators that could reveal just how friendly cities really are to working mothers. What’s more, I think that there are a few additional indicators that could reveal just how friendly cities are to an even broader spectrum of working parents.
Specific to working mothers
Average maternity leave packages from local employers: How many companies offer their employees paid maternity leave? (Bonus for paid paternity leave: dads help out during those first few weeks postpartum too!) The United States is one of only a select few worldwide who does not guarantee paid maternity leave to women in the workforce. And while any eligible parent–mother or father–is entitled to twelve weeks of unpaid leave by the Family and Medical Leave Act, many are not able to eschew three months of paychecks in order to care for their new baby or babies.
Disparity between women’s weekly earnings and men’s weekly earnings: The Bureau of Labor Statistics paints a complex image of women’s earnings in the United States. Amidst all of this complexity, one thing is clear: women continue to earn less than their male counterparts, even when comparing their earnings across similar occupations. (The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act currently outlaws sex-based pay discrimination in individual places of employment.) Working mothers have a vested interest in residing in cities where they can earn pay comparable to their male counterparts in any company.
Number of practicing OB/GYNs, midwives, and Planned Parenthood sites: Working mothers are interested in more than just the number of physicians in their cities: they are also interested in access to care providers who offer medical care specifically related to women’s health. Adequate access to contraception, breast cancer screenings, prenatal care, and more benefit the vast majority (if not all) of working moms.
Now what about those additional metrics pertaining to working parents in general?
Specific to working parents
Employers offering flexible work hours: The ability to work from home one day a week, or hours one day and six hours the next, or any other constellation of flexible work time is something that is important to many working families, regardless of whether they are comprised of partnered or married families, single parent families, moms, dads, or other legal guardians. Employers who offer flexible work hours to their employees have become very attractive to working parents in recent years.
Number of grocery stores or farmers’ markets per square mile in densely populated areas: Working parents need easy access to stores that sell healthy foods for their families: and this means more than a couple neighborhood convenience stores selling frozen burritos. Yet many low-income neighborhoods–home to many working parents, one should note–have far fewer supermarkets per capita than wealthier neighborhoods in their community. Having a variety of supermarkets and food sources all across the city makes that city even friendlier to all working parents.
Accessibility of public transportation: Even in two-parent homes, not every parent has access to an individual car that they can drive to work. Integrated and accessible public transportation helps to increase options for getting to work for all working parents. (And, it should be noted, the cost of gas can be just as important to a working mother–or father–as the cost of milk is.)
What metrics would you add to help evaluate if a city is working mother–or working parent–friendly?