As Mother's Day approaches, South Dakota moms deserve particular recognition. Nearly eight of 10 moms in the state are employed, giving South Dakota the highest percentage of working mothers in the U.S., according to a new analysis by Ancestry.com.
Why South Dakota? The state's large percentage of women in the labor force largely reflects its thriving economy. Robust job-creation in South Dakota in recent decades has given it one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, at 3.7 percent, compared with 6.3 percent nationwide.
Led by a strong energy and mining sector, along with a healthy tourist trade, the local economy even proved somewhat impervious to the Great Recession. South Dakota's job market rebounded quickly after the housing crash and never coming close to the double-digit unemployment rates seen in other states.
Perhaps not surprisingly, other parts of the country with a large share of working mothers also tend to have a healthy job market. The No. 2 state in Ancestry.com's ranking, North Dakota, has the lowest jobless rate in the nation at 2.6 percent (North Dakota also has the dubious distinction of being the most dangerous state for workers.)
All the states that made the genealogy research site's list had below-average unemployment, according to federal labor figures. The states with the lowest percentage of working moms? West Virginia, where unemployment still tops 6 percent.
Todd Godfrey Sr., director of content acquisition at Ancestry.com, notes that Plains and Midwestern states long trailed other parts of the country in the percentage of working mothers, while Southern states led the way. But the regions have traded places in recent decades, he said.
Of course, women have been entering the workforce en masse for more than half a century. Examining U.S. Census data going back more than 150 years, Ancestry.com found that only 7.5 percent of mothers held jobs in 1860, compared with 67 percent today.
Although many historical currents paved the way for women to find paid employment over the years, the number of working moms rose especially sharply during World War II, when women took factory jobs vacated by men fighting overseas.
Today, working mothers are the main breadwinners in some 40 percent of household with children, the Pew Research Center found last year.