Forbes Magazine named Providence the fifth of 20 top cities for working mothers in a ranking released earlier this month. According to its website, Forbes ranked the top 20 cities out of the 50 most highly populated metropolitan areas, using the priorities of working mothers as a checklist. Metrics included cost of living and schooling, number of physicians, crime rates, unemployment rates, weekly earnings for women and average commute.
Many Providence moms agree that proximity to home is a necessity for managing a full-time job and a family. According to the article, the average commute in Providence is a mere 27 minutes – far from the 80 minutes New Yorkers spend commuting each day, Bert Sperling, author of “Cities Ranked and Rated,” told Forbes.
“Being new to Providence, one of the things I’ve noticed is that things are close,” said Cathy Kahane, a local teacher and mother of two school-aged children, who worked in California prior to moving to Providence. “Even though I do work, I can get home half an hour after my children do, if that.”
“I see Providence as, in many ways, a great place to live,” said Carolyn Mark, president of Rhode Island National Organization for Women, a local organization that brings awareness to women’s rights. She pointed to the cultural and ethnic diversity as well as the variety of opportunities for kids like the Providence Children’s Museum and the Rhode Island School of Design art museum.
Despite the benefits of living in Providence for working mothers, Mark challenged some of the elements Forbes used for its ranking. The magazine put an emphasis on the importance of “job opportunity and high earnings potential” in its search for friendliest cities for working mothers. In the Providence statistics, Forbes estimated women’s annual earnings at $32,187. But Mark said the “average salary of working mothers in Providence isn’t that high.” Women are only making “80 cents on the dollar compared to men,” she noted. While the gap has closed in Providence, Mark said there are indications that this is because “men are doing worse, not because women are doing better.”
Mark also said Forbes misrepresented the expense of childcare in Providence, estimating the cost at $1,140. “Childcare is scary expensive,” Mark said, noting that childcare for children under 6 years old averages over $10,000 dollars a year. She said Forbes most likely used a monthly rather than an annual cost for its ranking.
Taft Avenue Daycare Center, previously a childcare provider for those affiliated with Brown, recently closed, creating an unpleasant surprise for Brown faculty and staff with children. The closure, which was blamed on new facility regulations, took away a source of affordable child care for the Brown community.
“Compared to other comparable institutions, we can’t really hold a candle to what other places offer,” said Elizabeth Moloney, an academic assistant in the Department of Theater Arts and Performance Studies and a member of the childcare committee commissioned by Provost Mark Schlissel P’15 in the wake of Taft’s closing. She noted that a former Taft parent is headed for post-doctorate studies to Yale, which offers on-campus child care.
The new administration provides an opportunity to reexamine the University’s childcare offerings, Moloney said.
Maloney’s own 13-month-old daughter is now at Cozy Corner Child Care Center. Other former Taft children have also moved to Cozy Corner, said Donna Neales, a preschool teacher there.
Despite the presence of highly-rated schools, such as Brown/Fox Point Early Childhood Education Center on Hope Street, concern for education – especially public education – is ubiquitous.
“Everyone goes, ‘When (your daughter) goes to kindergarten, you’re going to move to Barrington, right?'” Moloney said, a phrase she commonly hears regarding the “conventional wisdom” of public education in Providence.
The Barrington and East Greenwich school districts surrounding Providence are the most highly-rated schools in the state, according to Forbes, U.S. News and World Report, and GreatSchools. But Providence falls short – the city closed five public schools last year and is struggling with inadequate test results. Most parents seem to send their children to private schools or move out of the Providence school system, Moloney noted. She said she would love to send her daughter to a public school in Providence but is unsure whether it is a good idea.
“What matters most to working mothers is that we have an educational system that is producing great results,” Mark said. Despite her concerns about education, wages and childcare, she said she “loves Providence.” But “it’s a little surprising that Providence ranked as high as it did,” she added.