I get a kick out of all those lists–and there are a ton of them–that that rank cities against one another based on some interesting set of criteria. In the past week, for example, I’ve checked out the Top 10 cap-and-gown cities, otherwise known as the most educated cities; the Top 5 cities for extreme couponers, or other people who are equally as cheap; and the Top 10 graveyards for geezers, which some might call retirement Meccas. There are even rankings of rankings, like this one from Area Development Online, which is a list of the 100 most desirable places to do business, based on what markets made the cut on the greatest number of related lists.
But this week was the first time I had ever seen this list from Forbes of the 50 best cities for working moms. I don’t know where I was the past two years to have missed the earlier compilations. My guess was last year I was too busy breastfeeding and the year before that I was probably too busy being in denial about being pregnant. But anyway, I took a good, hard look at this year’s rankings.
I was happy to see that Forbes added a few new metrics to its ranking criteria, stretching the evaluation beyond the obvious issues of jobs, safety, and education. Commute and childcare are definitely two huge issues for me as a working mom in our nation’s capital and definitely two of the major reasons that I work mostly from home with occasional appearances at the office. By including these factors into the evaluation, I think Forbes did a good job of leveling the playing field between true major metro areas (think Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., etc.) and those metro areas that I would consider second- or even third-tier cities. I mean, seriously, would Buffalo, N.Y., really have made anyone’s top list of places to be a working mom if there wasn’t some value attached to the cost of doing business (childcare) and time (commute)?
There were certainly other surprises on the list. Columbus, Ohio, for example, came in a No. 2 on the list, thanks to short commutes and cheap child care options. And Milwaukee also was a dark horse winner at No. 4, with short commutes and good medical care helping its final standing.
However, I wasn’t too surprised to see Washington, D.C., break the Top 10. It’s really hard these days to find a better place for jobs. Judging how full the restaurants and bars are every night, it’s clear this town knows no recession. Plus, it’s a great place for professional women. I remember reading this Richard Florida article a few years ago that mapped out which metro areas had female surpluses, so to speak; D.C. was running neck and neck with Philadelphia for the title, with 50,000+ more single women than men. So, it makes sense that some of those single women would eventually marry and start families but stay in the area because of the jobs.
But I’m not sure I would agree with D.C. ranking high on education. The survey gave the city a No. 4 rank for greatest expenditure per pupil. But spending lots of money doesn’t necessarily equate to good schools. In fact, in general, public schools in the district are atrocious; it’s actually pretty embarrassing. Traditional public schools are being shut down all the time because of failing test scores, leaving public charter schools to pick up the slack. But they can’t handle the capacity, so situations akin to those documented in the film Waiting for Superman are very normal. Kids basically need to win the lottery to go to the best schools.
Looking more closely at where the District ranked on the individual metrics, I saw that there was a real divergence between the pros and cons of being a working mommy in D.C. The city scored in the top 10 on four out of 8 metrics–female earning potential, jobs, schools, and healthcare; in the middle of the pack for safety; and in the very bottom of the heap on cost of living, childcare, and commute.
Given the costs of housing, no matter whether you rent or own in the area, I pretty much expected D.C. to fall in line behind San Francisco, nearby San Jose, and New York City in terms of expensive cities to live in, although I would’ve thought Boston and Chicago might have been a little pricier than D.C. perhaps.
But I was totally shocked to find that what I know anecdotally about the cost of childcare and commute times was actually confirmed by data. (It really is as bad as I think it is.) D.C. ranked No. 50 for cost of childcare with the average annual cost of full-time childcare coming in at $18,200, according to NACCRA, and No. 49, second only to New York, for commuting.
So, if I’ve got this straight, it’s great to be a traditional working mom in D.C. if you want to make a lot of money but spend a ton of it on childcare because you’re stuck in traffic. It’s no wonder that working from home is so the best option for mommies like me.