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A Working Mom’s Land of Opportunity? Head East
‘Best and worst’ states examined by salaries, child care, school quality 

By Dana Wilkie  5/8/2014

Where in this country might a working mom find the most promising career opportunities?

Head to Washington, D.C., where a woman has a good shot at the same salaries and executive spots as a man, even if she does have to pay through the nose to keep her kids in day care.

And what state should she avoid?

Utah, where fewer than one-third of working women hold management jobs, the gender wage gap is among the largest in the nation, and the state has no women in congressional office.

Those are among the findings revealed in a May 2014 report from personal finance website WalletHub titled Best & Worst States for Working Moms.

“Progress, it would seem, is taking shape at different rates across the country,” the report authors wrote. “Not only do parental leave policies and other legal support systems vary by state, but the quality of infrastructure—from cost-effective day care to public schools—[is] far from uniform.”

WalletHub, which provides its members with online financial tools, analyzed demographic data and research covering nine metrics—from the cost and quality of day care to gender pay gaps to parental leave policies—in each of the 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia. The company ranked states based on the cumulative scores each received on the nine metrics.

For instance, WalletHub measured the quality of child care in a state by looking at: day care rankings by Child Care Aware of America; day care costs adjusted for median salary; access to pediatric services;   and U.S. News & World Report’s annual rankings of public high schools.

WalletHub measured the quality of professional opportunities by considering the average gender pay gap in the state and the ratio of male to female executives.

Work/life balance rankings were calculated by looking at parental leave policies, the length of the average woman’s workday and the average work commute.

Separate rankings were provided for states’ day-care systems—as opposed to the quality of childcare overall in a state—and for gender pay gaps and female-to-male executive ratios.

So where’s the best place for a working mom to raise her kids? Delaware. Other good choices are Massachusetts, Ohio, Maryland and Tennessee.

And the worst place? Nevada. Also suspect, according to the report, are Louisiana, South Carolina and Hawaii.

But if a mother is looking strictly at the quality of day cares in a state, her best bet is New York, followed by Washington state, North Dakota and Oklahoma. She may want to avoid Idaho, whose day cares ranked at the bottom of the list, as well as Nebraska, California and—again—Louisiana.

The lowest child care costs can be found in Mississippi, where day care fees run about 12.6 percent of the median salary for women in the state. The most expensive spot is New York, where costs can eat up more than 27 percent of her wages.

D.C. has the smallest gender pay gap, with women on average earning almost 95 cents for every dollar a man pockets. That’s far better than in Wyoming, where women, on average, earn about 66 cents for each dollar a man takes home. D.C. also has the second-highest female-to-male executive ratio at 64.3 percent; Utah has the lowest at 26.5 percent.

When WalletHub took into account all nine metrics, the state that came out on top for working mothers was Oregon. The worst was Louisiana.

“It is difficult to gauge the social and cultural dynamics that make a certain state either relatively attractive or unattractive to working moms,” said John Kiernan, a WalletHub senior analyst. “However, looking at the areas in which Louisiana scored worst should give you some idea. Louisiana ranked 50th in terms of gender pay gap, 49th in terms of public school quality, and 48th in terms of state day care quality.”

Washington, D.C., received an overall ranking of No. 2—just below Oregon—on WalletHub’s scale, despite the district’s reputation for substandard public schools, traffic gridlock and astronomical day care costs. Those drawbacks were offset, Kiernan said, by the region’s low gender pay gap, low female-to-male executive gap and generous parental leave policies.

“I’m sure that affluent working women from the suburbs help support D.C.’s high ranking, especially in terms of having … a sizable pediatrician population,” Kiernan said. “But it’s actually becoming more and more fashionable for young professional families to live within the city’s limits in so-called emerging neighborhoods.”  

WalletHub’s rankings are comparable to those in the September 2013 The State of Women in America report from the Center for American Progress, a liberal-leaning think tank.

Dana Wilkie is an online editor/manager for SHRM. 

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