Women today make up nearly half the workforce and contribute to family income more than ever before. There are 25 million working moms out there — and they don’t have it easy.
From rampant work-life imbalance to the soaring cost of childcare, working moms face many challenges. Factors like the quality of child care and schools vary widely, and support for working moms can be very different from state to state. With that in mind, the Care.com Think Tank evaluated all 50 states, plus Washington, D.C., based on four key areas: child care, gender equality, economic opportunity, and workplace support to identify the best and worst states for working moms.
So how does your state stack up? And what can be done to better support working moms everywhere?
Go (North) East, Young Woman
If you’re a working mom, or aspire to be one, New England’s a nice option. Massachusetts takes the top spot on our list, and Minnesota is the only state outside of New England to land inside the top five.
What these states all have in common is high grades for child care. Although child care can be quite expensive in these states, care is high-quality and highly accessible — and the sticker shock is somewhat offset by strong professional opportunities. Meanwhile, the states at the bottom of our list—including Alabama, West Virginia, and Mississippi — suffer from high gender wage gaps, low female labor force participation rates and higher percentages of families in poverty.
Scroll down for our methodology.
Why Working Moms Matter
We know it’s not easy being a working mom, but women’s success in the workforce is essential to the success of businesses and, in the big picture, the global economy.
The composition of the American workforce has changed over the past several decades. Women make up the majority of college graduates and nearly 50 percent of the workforce. Chances are, about one of every three women in the workforce has a child under 18.
As female workforce participation has increased, the economy has grown. In America, our economy is an estimated 13.5 percent larger — that’s about $2 trillion bigger — than it would be without increased female labor force participation since 1970. And there’s still room for growth: Closing the gender gap in employment rates could boost our GDP by as much as 9 percent, according to a report by Goldman Sachs.
As it stands, many experts say the absence of family-friendly policies is to blame for female labor force stagnating in recent years. For instance, two-thirds of parents say child care costs have influenced their career decisions.
When working mothers pass up opportunities — or even withdraw from the workforce entirely — everybody loses. They’re limiting their lifetime earning (and therefore spending) potential, while their employers also lose out on their talent and institutional knowledge.
There are a few things all of us — from business leaders to lawmakers to family members — can do to support the working moms in our lives.
Here, we’ll cover two little things we can all do right now, and two systemic changes.
We can be more flexible, with work arrangements, expectations, and deadlines. Whether it’s a boss pushing back a deadline or a spouse picking up a few extra chores around the house, a little bit of flexibility and understanding goes a long way to helping working moms make life work.
We can normalize working caregivers. You’ve probably heard some version of “It’s a ‘Modern Family’ world but our policies are stuck in ‘Leave It To Beaver.’” That’s code for our work structures still presume there’s someone at home with the kids.
- If you’re the boss, do your part by trying to avoid scheduling end-of-day meetings that conflict with the daycare dash … or talk about how you have to duck out to pick up your own kids from school. Setting the example is empowering.
- If you’re the spouse, share the load. To the extent that you’re able, share drop-off and pickup duties. Alternate sick days (unless you have access to employer-provided backup care). When you tackle working parenthood as a team, you’ll find that the strongest supports for working moms start at home.
1) Paid Parental Leave
You could argue that our list should contain not 50 states but exactly three: California, Rhode Island, and New Jersey. By now we all know the U.S. is the only developed country in the world without a paid leave policy for new moms, and those three are the only states in the U.S. with paid parental leave policies of their own. (New York and Washington, D.C. may soon join that club: both have passed legislation to establish paid leave, but those efforts have not yet taken effect.) In California, after paid leave legislation was implemented, low-income and minority women saw their weekly work hours and wages improve by 10 to 17 percent, according to one study.
Could more change be on the way? President Trump has promised to “help ensure new parents have paid family leave.” And there’s a viable option out there, the FAMILY Act, which would create a gender-neutral program offering 60 days of paid family leave for all American workers, regardless of the size of the company they work for. So, maybe.
In the meantime, it’s largely up to employers to provide paid leave for new parent employees. And the existing landscape looks pretty bleak. Fewer than 15 percent of private-sector workers have access to paid family leave. Thing is, there are legitimate business benefits for providing leave. Moms who have paid maternity leave are far more likely to return to their pre-birth employers and remain loyal, productive contributors to the organization. We’re seeing more companies stand up and share success stories by the day.
Research has further shown that women whose husbands take advantage of paternity leave will earn more over the course of their careers—ostensibly because dads who take an active parenting role after the birth of a new child are more likely to share in caregiving responsibilities for years down the line.
2) Care Assistance
Child care is the single biggest budget item for many families. When you layer the cost of care on top of other work-related costs, like commute time and taxes, families across all income levels end up weighing whether it really pays for a second parent to work. That’s why a lack of quality, affordable care remains one of the biggest barriers to female labor force participation. Improving access to child care helps women to remain engaged in their careers. A new study of family-friendly policies in 22 industrialized countries found that government spending on early childhood care and education had a bigger positive impact on women’s employment, their earnings, and on reducing the gender wage gap than other factors like job flexibility or even parental leave.
President Trump has also promised to make child care accessible and affordable. While there’s no official Trump child care plan at press time, the most recent version of the administration’s plan, as described by legislators and policy makers, appears to be built around an expansion of the existing child and dependent care tax credit. While we wait for Washington to act, a growing number of employers are filling the gap by providing child care resource and referral benefits, as well as backup child care to cover last-minute care needs. Access to care has become not just a benefit but a competitive advantage: Companies that provide care assistance benefits find employees report higher levels of job satisfaction, and are able to work more hours each week and more days each year. For instance, Care.com’s corporate clients report their employees miss six fewer days of work each year because of access to Care@Work services.
The Best States for Working Moms rank is based on scores in four categories: Child Care, Gender Equality, Economic Opportunity, and Workplace Support.
“Child Care” includes the cost, quality, and availability of child care. The cost of child care is normalized by the median household income in each state to account for differences in earnings. Other factors that contribute to child well-being are also included in this category: number of pediatricians per 10,000 children, the percentage of children without health insurance, and the percentage of students at or above proficiency in math and reading. Data are from Care.com, American Board of Pediatrics, Kaiser Family Foundation, and NationsReportCare.gov.
“Gender Equality” measures the gender pay gap, the ratio of female executives to male executives, the female labor force participation rate, and the gender representation gap (calculated as the ratio of female employees to male employees). Data are from the US Census Bureau, and the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
“Economic Opportunity” includes women’s median salary, the percentage of families in poverty, and the female unemployment rate. Women’s median salary is normalized by the cost of living in each state to arrive at purchasing power. These data are from the US Census Bureau, and the MIT living wage project.
“Workplace Support” includes women’s average commute time, the number of companies listed in Working Mother Best Companies for Women operating in the state, and women’s weekly average hours worked. These data are from Working Mother, and the US Census Bureau.
Metrics in these categories were normalized on a scale from 0 to 100, and combined using a weighted average with the following weights: Child Care (30%), Gender Equality (30%), Economic Opportunity (20%), and Workplace Support (20%).
This article was originally published on Care.com.