Being a parent is a job in itself, which means that most married Americans with children are essentially working two jobs. In fact, 63% of families with children have two parents in the labor force, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.
When raising a family, working parents consider a variety of factors — such as their income potential, affordability, child care costs, quality of schools and the community. Since all of these are heavily dependent on where they live, NerdWallet analyzed nearly 1,000 places across the U.S. with populations from 25,000 to 100,000 to find the best small cities for working parents.
We looked at small cities because they are most often the places that offer the best environments for middle-class families. The places that topped our list are cities that offer the best mix of income potential, affordability and top-notch schools.
Southern suburbs are among the best. Tennessee is home to three of the best small cities for working parents — Brentwood, Franklin and Germantown — while Bentonville, Arkansas; Vestavia Hills and Madison, Alabama; and Wildwood, Missouri, are other Southern cities in the top 10. Characteristics shared by these suburbs include higher affordability relative to the rest of the nation and strong school districts.
Despite the high cost of living, the San Francisco Bay Area thrives. Los Altos, Saratoga, Cupertino and Palo Alto all rank among the top 20 cities, thanks to very high average family incomes that partially offset the high cost of living, along with nationally renowned schools.
Child care costs are lowest in Mississippi, Tennessee, Louisiana, Arkansas and South Dakota. When both parents of young children are working, child care can be a significant expense. We included data in our analysis from Child Care Aware of America, which found that costs are lowest in those five states.
Top 10 small cities for working parents
1. Brentwood, Tennessee
This suburb of Nashville is home to top schools and a high percentage of households with children. The median income for families with children is very high as well, at $150,557. The largest local employers include Comdata, a payment processor company headquartered in Brentwood, and AT&T. Local child care options include The Children’s Playroom, which offers drop-in child care services in Brentwood and Nashville.
2. Los Altos, California
This city in Silicon Valley is a wealthy community that in recent years has experienced strong growth, much like the rest of the Bay Area. Although the cost of living is quite high here, families with children have a median income of $250,000, and have access to schools that received a perfect 10 score from GreatSchools, a nonprofit that rates schools nationwide. One of the local child care centers, Twinkle Twinkle, offers care for kids age 2 and older.
3. Saratoga, California
The second city in Silicon Valley on our list boasts many of the same characteristics that make nearby Los Altos a top city for working parents: high incomes, strong schools and a high rate of homes with children. About 39% of all households have at least one child, and parents of infants and toddlers have several child care options, including My Preschool Child Development Center.
4. Franklin, Tennessee
This Nashville suburb just 10 miles from Brentwood scores high in a variety of key metrics for working parents. Incomes and affordability ranked high, and schools here have a perfect 10 rating by GreatSchools. Franklin Child Care provides services for local families and their kids ages 6 weeks to 12 years old.
5. Bentonville, Arkansas
Bentonville, known as the headquarters of Wal-Mart, happens to also be an attractive town for working parents and their families, as demonstrated by the nearly 39% of households with children and the GreatSchools rating of 9. The region is home to other Fortune 500 companies, such as Tyson Foods and J.B. Hunt, so it’s not surprising to see that Bentonville’s workers enjoy the shortest average commute time of any city in the top 10.
6. Vestavia Hills, Alabama
Vestavia Hills is a suburb of Birmingham and home to many high-earning families and strong schools. Alabama also enjoys the benefit of having low child care costs relative to other states. Working parents with young children here can take advantage of resources like the Primrose School at Liberty Park, which provides early childhood education and child care services.
7. Germantown, Tennessee
Germantown boasts top schools and has a high median family income relative to its affordability. As a suburb of Memphis, the city also offers its residents access to job opportunities with the state’s largest employers, such as FedEx.
8. Madison, Alabama
Families with children in Madison enjoy the second-lowest monthly homeowner costs of all top 10 cities, while still earning an income of $104,217, compared with the national median income of $82,788 for families with children. Madison is located in the Huntsville metro area, which is the technology epicenter of the South. One of the local child care options is KidTowne, where parents can enroll kids ages 6 weeks to 12 years old in various care and learning programs.
9. Dublin, Ohio
This suburb of Columbus may have a relatively high cost of living and child care compared with other cities in the top 10, but its median family income of $132,775 (about 60% higher than the national average) helps offset that. More than 46% of Dublin’s households have at least one child under 18, the second-highest rate of the top 10 cities.
10. Wildwood, Missouri
Wildwood boasts a perfect 10 rating at GreatSchools, which is great news for those with children — about 43% of the city’s households. The city is 30 miles west of St. Louis and offers families a plethora of parks and trails to enjoy. At the Elaine Rosi Academy in Wildwood, parents will find a variety of developmental resources for their young children.
Top 100 small cities for working parents
Here’s how we calculated the overall score for each city:
- Median income for families with children is 30% of the score. Data are from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2013 American Community Survey.
- Monthly selected homeowner costs (mortgage payments, real estate taxes, insurance costs, utilities, fuel and other bills), cost of child care for an infant and cost of child care for a 4-year-old are 30% of the score. Data are from the 2013 American Community Survey and Child Care Aware’s 2014 Cost of Child Care report.
- GreatSchools.org ratings are 15% of the score.
- Percentage of households with children is 15% of the score. Data are from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2013 American Community Survey.
- Average commute time is 10% of the score. Data are from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2013 American Community Survey.
We analyzed 961 cities with populations from 25,000 to 100,000.
Franklin, Tennessee, image via iStock.