RALEIGH – North Carolina, the nation’s ninth largest state in population, appears near the bottom of a list of the best states for working mothers, according to a recent analysis of 17 key metrics by financial news and information WalletHub. A state that normally ranks highly in many reports measuring quality of life, workforce development and economic development comes up short in numerous areas cited by this new report issued just days ahead of Mother’s Day.

In the study, published today, WalletHub ranks North Carolina 36th overall in the report, 2022’s Best & Worst States for Working Moms.  That’s 16th worst among the 50 states and Washington, D.C., which were all included in the analysis.

North Carolina ranked 37th in the metrics associated with child care, and 36th in the metrics associated with work-life balance.  The state finished 17th in the category pertaining to professional opportunities.

The study analyzed 17 metrics within three broad categories:

  • Child care
  • Professional opportunities
  • Work-life balance

After analyzing the metrics within these categories, an overall score was calculated for each state. North Carolina’s score was 40.69, trailing Colorado, which scored 40.89, and ahead of Arizona, which scored 39.64. Massachusetts ranked first overall, with a total score of 62.99, and Louisiana ranked last overall, with a total score of 27.38.

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So what’s North Carolina to do?

WRAL TechWire reached out to Dr. Anne York, professor of economics at Meredith College in Raleigh for her reaction to the report and suggestions for how to improve the state’s performance. Private companies can’t make changes all by themselves, she said.

“While companies can have better policies for their employees, such as offering longer paid leave for caregiving or on-site childcare facilities, that only helps the women who work for that company,” she explained.

“To help all women in NC, we need state legislation that addresses these issues.  For example, the states at the top of this ranking all have passed legislation that goes beyond the minimum requirements of the federal law, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).  The federal law allows for states to be more generous, but North Carolina’s policymakers have not yet chosen to be more generous.

“As a state, we can have the law apply to businesses with fewer than 50 workers or expand the types of caregiving arrangements that are covered.,” she added. “Other states with better rankings also have enhanced their unemployment insurance systems to allow workers who quit working for caregiving reasons to apply for unemployment benefits when they start their job search to return to the labor market. There are a lot of policies at the state level that could be enacted to help working parents in particular, but will help all workers who have any caregiving duties.”

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Behind the scores

North Carolina performed well when it comes to the state’s friendliness for remote-based work and working from home.  It  ranked 4th overall among the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

But North Carolina did not measure up in other areas.  That includes the state’s share of nationally accredited child care centers, where the state ranked 41st.

The state ranked 42nd for childcare workers per total number of children, according to WalletHub’s analysis.

At an event in January, Harry Davis, an economist with the North Carolina Bankers Association, told the audience that many childcare workers were “so frustrated, and they’ve left the labor force, and I’m not sure they will be returning.”

Childcare workers who leave the labor force, said Davis, are “tired of working and taking care of our kids and making a substandard wage.”

More workers are leaving their jobs for family-friendly roles.  Some leave the workforce all together.

And that affects the labor participation rate, which was the topic of discussion at the January event.  For those who have left the labor force during the pandemic to care for children, said Davis. “it’s going to be harder to come back into the labor force when the cost of childcare is exploding up, and that is, in fact, going to occur.”

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Economic security

And when it comes to the share of women living with economic security, the WalletHub analysis ranked the state 36th, noting 35% of working women do not live with economic security.

Beyond economic security, North Carolina ranks 40th for the share of families living in poverty, with a poverty rate of 37.8%, according to the WalletHub data.

“This has been a really difficult time for families, because of all the disruptions, and if you dig into the data, the reduction in the labor force participation rate has been predominantly in the retiring population and in minority women,” said Laura Ullrich, Regional Economist, Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, during a panel at the January event hosted by the North Carolina Bankers Association and North Carolina Chamber of Commerce.