- In a new poll, urban parents are worried about good paying jobs, affordable housing, high-quality schools, and public safety. Tweet This
- Asked about the two most important factors in determining where they lived, parents were notably more likely than non-parents to list access to good schools (19% versus 5%) and good jobs (20% versus 15%). Tweet This
Despite its amber waves of grain reputation, America is a metropolitan nation. Some 80% of residents live in urban areas. That goes more so for families: according to data from the 2019 American Community Survey, Americans who reported having at least one child at home were about 2 percentage points more likely to live in a metropolitan area (although 4 percentage points less likely to live in the urban core).
What urban parents are thinking, then, tells us a great deal about what parents in general are thinking. That’s part of why my colleagues at the Manhattan Institute recently conducted a poll of the 20 fastest-growing metro areas—to gather a sense of the concerns, thoughts, and priorities of America’s urban residents. That included detailed information on respondents’ parental status, including information broken out by race and income, providing valuable insight into the American parent.
The most pressing issues for parents in our surveys were, unsurprisingly, dinner table fare. Asked about the two most important factors in determining where they lived, parents were notably more likely than non-parents to list access to good schools (19% versus 5%) and good jobs (20% versus 15%). White parents were disproportionately looking for access to parks and recreation, while black and Hispanic parents were notably worried about crime.
Parents’ concerns about providing for their families is reflected elsewhere in the survey. They are 16 percentage points more likely than non-parents to think that the ability to find well-paying jobs in their city is a problem, and 28 percentage points more likely to say that the availability of good jobs could cause them to move somewhere else. Over 80% of parents of all races and income levels see future job prospects as important to where they decide to live.
Parents are also concerned about housing affordability: 69% said they were worried about the cost of housing in their city, compared to 62% of non-parents. As my colleague Michael Hendrix wrote, this extended to policy preferences:
the most consistently positive support for increasing housing supply came from parents, especially black parents. Black resident`s are also more likely than other racial or ethnic groups to support housing near transit stops.
Naturally, schools are also front and center in parents’ minds: 55% are concerned about the quality of local schools and curricula, compared to 39% of non-parents; Hendrix notes that “nonwhite parents and those in households making less than $50,000 annually gave public schools lower ratings.” They also have strong policy preferences: a large majority of parents of all races and incomes support both charter schools and allowing funding to follow students between schools in a voucher-style system. Also notably, a “majority of parents of all races—73% of white parents, 54% of black parents, and 61% of Hispanic parents—support “remov[ing] lessons based on critical race theory about concepts such as white privilege and systemic racism from public school curriculum.”
One other area where parents express stronger views than non-parents is policing. A bare majority, 51%, are concerned about a lack of police presence in their city, compared to 41% of non-parents. Surprisingly, then, a majority of parents support diverting some police funds to mental health, housing, and education, although that effect is driven by parents making over $50,000 per year. And a majority of parents—including a plurality of non-white and poor parents—would prefer to see a larger police presence in their city.
What to make of all this? In some senses, the results are unsurprising: parents are worried about good paying jobs, affordable housing, high-quality schools, and public safety. At the same time, that’s useful knowledge for policy makers and entrepreneurs interested in keeping parents in, and attracting them to, their city.
Parents are an attractive citizenry, after all. They become parents later in life, so have higher earnings and pay more taxes. They have higher fixed costs, so may spend more in to the local economy. And their children, if they can be induced to stay in the city, provide the next tax base and labor force for urban vibrancy.
In these ways and others, a family-friendly city is likely to be a healthier one. If America’s fastest growing cities want to keep those parents, they should take careful note of what it is, exactly, they want.
Charles Fain Lehman is a fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a Contributing Editor at City Journal.