For most single mothers, it would seem that the bigger the city, the better the opportunity—more jobs, better public transportation systems and a larger community for support.
But a NerdWallet survey based largely on U.S. Census Bureau data has found places outside America’s largest cities seem to offer more for single moms to thrive: social stability, economic opportunity and affordable child care.
The growth of single-parent families in the U.S. is well documented and deeply debated. Less discussed is what kind of communities are best at supporting the nearly 25 million children being raised primarily by one parent. To find out, NerdWallet analyzed U.S. communities with populations of more than 50,000 residents against several key factors that affect single mothers the most.
Our analysis sets out to answer three main questions:
Can a single parent make enough to cover rent (or mortgage) and child care? As every working parent knows child care costs are astronomical. So we considered each community’s median income, median housing costs and average day care costs for an infant and a 4 year old. We found wide variations in average day care costs from state-to-state using a 2013 study by Child Care Aware of America and the Child Care Resource and Referral (CCR&R).
Is the community stable? Poverty is a major issue for single-parent families. The census estimates that nearly half of all families living with single mothers (who make up nearly 85% of single parents) are living in poverty. We gave more weight to communities such as Towson, Maryland, which had the lowest number of single mothers below the poverty line—just 4%. The city with the highest number of single mothers below the poverty line was Delano, California, near Bakersfield. There, 68.2% of all single mothers are raising their children below the poverty line.
Can single parents have a decent quality of life? We also looked at other key quality-of-life indicators for single moms: commuting times (knowing that longer commutes can raise child care costs and hurt quality family time,) the overall strength of schools—based on data from Greatschools—and whether you would be likely to find other families with similar structures for support.
And what about dads? NerdWallet took the same methodology and swapped in data points relevant to single fathers. There were some limitations, since census data doesn’t count the percentage of single fathers living below the poverty line, but our analysis still offered some insight into the lives of single fathers. Check out our list for single fathers.
Trends and takeaways:
- Single families represent a major demographic shift for communities everywhere. The number of families with children under 18 headed by single parents in 1960 was 8.2%. By 2012, 28% of all U.S. children lived in a home headed by single parents, according to census data.
- Income opportunity and stability are major concerns for single parents: Nearly half of all the 20 million children living with one parent live below the poverty line, according to 2013 census data.
- The city with the highest percentage of single fathers versus the entire population in our data set was Hanford, California at 2.1% of total population.
- The city with the highest percentage of single mothers versus the entire population was Camden, New Jersey at 7.9% of total population.
Our top cities for single moms
1. Bartlett, Tennessee
Bartlett, a Memphis suburb, ranked No. 1 in our study largely on the strength of its affordable child care. It had among the lowest average child care costs of all communities surveyed, with parents paying just under $6,000 a year for full-time infant care, the most expensive kind of care. Compare that with an average of $16,430 a year for full-time infant day care in Massachusetts and $21,948 in the District of Columbia. Bartlett also did quite well on another key indicator: the poverty rate among its single mothers. In Bartlett, just 6% of single mothers are raising kids below the poverty line, according to census data.
2. Frisco, Texas
Frisco stood out largely because of its 10 (out of 10) from Greatschools for its public and private schools, and for its strong median income of nearly $52,000 a year for women. And while not a formal ranking factor, it’s clear that this Dallas suburb cares about connecting socially and emotionally with single parents, with many local church programs eager to minister to single mothers and fathers.
3. West Des Moines, Iowa
West Des Moines scored well on all basic markers of affordability, but jumped ahead of its peers when it came to commuting. Parents in West Des Moines enjoy an average commute time of just 16 minutes, among the lowest in our data set. In other cities we analyzed, workers power through commutes of 45 minutes or longer. When the day-to-day work of parenting falls on one person, long commutes can quickly strain budgets and family time.
4. Conway, Arkansas
Conway scored lower in median income for women than our other top communities, but its impressive combination of low-cost child care, affordable housing (under $1,200 a month) and solid schools helped boost its rank. In Arkansas, single moms and dads can apply for targeted scholarships to improve their education. The deadline to apply for the fall semester in Conway is July 15. The Arkansas Single Parent Scholarship Fund has given away more than $18 million in scholarships since 1990.
5. Owensboro, Kentucky
Owensboro, the Daviess County seat, scored quite well for its low monthly housing costs and short commutes. Parents here enjoy an average monthly housing cost of under $1,000, and an average commute of 15 minutes. Single mothers in Owensboro are nearly 4% of the population, among the highest on our list, according to census data.
6. Royal Oak, Michigan
This Detroit suburb makes the top 10 for its solid performance in every ranking: highly affordable housing, reasonable day care costs, short commutes and more. It also scored well on poverty measures with 16.5% of its single mothers below the poverty line. Single parents can connect with others at the Southeast Michigan Single Parents Meetup, which is based in Royal Oak and has more than 400 members.
7. Mount Pleasant, South Carolina
This coastal community of more than 70,000 residents represents places with monthly housing costs on the high end ($2,108 a month), but its schools ranked extremely well, with an overall GreatSchools score of 9 out of 10. Single parents may also appreciate the diverse range of affordable town-sponsored summer activities for children, from lacrosse camp to day-trip excursions, with child care available before and after the daily camp sessions.
8. Rogers, Arkansas
Like Conway, Rogers combines a low cost of living with affordable child care and strong schools. This city’s family friendly vibe is backed by an impressive number of resources for summer and year-round child care. Arkansas provides an online database to help parents search for child care throughout the state.
9. Bossier City, Louisiana
Single parents here will find a growing community with strong employment opportunities. There is Shreveport next door, and the Barksdale Air Force Base, which recently learned its Global Strike Command could be upgraded to full general status, which will increase the stability and visibility of the command in years to come.
10. Cedar Park, Texas
Like Arkansas, Texas earns two spots in our top 10 with Cedar Park, an Austin suburb. Cedar Park made the top 10 because of the state’s affordable day care and also for its inexpensive housing costs. Parents there will pay a median of about $1,700 a month toward their rent or mortgage. (The highest homeowner costs in our study was $4,000 a month in Newport Beach, California.)
|Rank||City||2012 Selected Median Monthly Homeowner Costs||2012 Median Earnings for Female, Full-time Workers||Average Cost of Childcare for an Infant||Average Cost of Childcare for a 4 Yr Old||GreatSchools Rating||Single Moms with Children % of Total Population||Mean Travel Time to Work||Percent Single Moms with Children Below Poverty Line||Final Weighted Score|
|3||West Des Moines, Iowa||$1,520||$43,951||$9,053||$7,790||8||2.5%||16.3||26.5%||62.8|
|6||Royal Oak, Michigan||$1,431||$49,854||$10,114||$7,930||8||2.1%||22.6||16.5%||62.0|
|7||Mount Pleasant, South Carolina||$2,108||$44,064||$6,280||$5,308||9||2.7%||22||29.4%||61.9|
|9||Bossier City, Louisiana||$1,138||$31,572||$5,574||$4,812||7||3.9%||17.8||43.4%||61.6|
|10||Cedar Park, Texas||$1,743||$46,048||$8,495||$6,547||8||3.2%||25.2||20.3%||61.5|
|13||Lake Charles, Louisiana||$1,054||$31,287||$5,574||$4,812||6||5.4%||17.6||50.1%||61.2|
|14||Overland Park, Kansas||$1,681||$43,746||$10,518||$7,499||8||2.6%||20.6||18.3%||61.2|
|20||Ann Arbor, Michigan||$1,784||$49,144||$10,114||$7,930||9||1.3%||18.9||23.3%||61.0|
|Rank||City||2012 Selected Median Monthly Homeowner Costs||2012 Median Earnings for Male, Full-time Workers||Average Cost of Childcare for an Infant||Average Cost of Childcare for a 4 Yr Old||GreatSchools Rating||Single Fathers with Children % of Total Population||Mean Travel Time to Work||Percent Families with Children Below Poverty Line||Final Weighted Score|
|1||Rio Rancho, New Mexico||$1,325||$49,143||$7,360||$6,475||9||2.0%||29.8||9.7%||70.8|
|5||Mount Pleasant, South Carolina||$2,108||$66,677||$6,280||$5,308||9||0.7%||22||6.6%||67.0|
|8||West Des Moines, Iowa||$1,520||$56,808||$9,053||$7,790||8||0.7%||16.3||5.1%||66.7|
|10||Round Rock, Texas||$1,602||$51,858||$8,495||$6,547||8||1.2%||24.1||6.4%||66.5|
|13||Sioux Falls, South Dakota||$1,240||$39,584||$6,071||$5,781||6||1.2%||16.4||9.2%||66.2|
|14||Blue Springs, Missouri||$1,381||$47,461||$8,320||$5,772||8||1.1%||24.7||6.7%||66.1|
|16||Rapid City, South Dakota||$1,245||$40,681||$6,071||$5,781||5||1.3%||15.1||9.5%||65.5|
|17||Cedar Rapids, Iowa||$1,197||$46,456||$9,053||$7,790||6||1.2%||17.6||7.0%||65.3|
|18||Overland Park, Kansas||$1,681||$66,115||$10,518||$7,499||8||0.7%||20.6||4.2%||65.2|
|19||Bossier City, Louisiana||$1,138||$41,098||$5,574||$4,812||7||1.0%||17.8||14.7%||65.0|
Housing, income, commuting, poverty and population data: 2010-2012 American Community Survey 3-Year Estimates
Schools data: Greatschools.org ratings for each city/place
Day care cost estimates: 2013 study by Child Care Aware of America and the Child Care Resource and Referral (CCR&R)
Only places with 50,000 or more residents were included in the study. Places were excluded for lack of data availability for all variables. For the full ranking, click here.
Image: GabrielaP93/Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/gabrielap93/6957898246/sizes/l