Cones, barriers and workers wearing orange vests and holding stop signs have taken up residence on many of the streets around my home, making attempts to travel almost anywhere a bit of a headache.
While slogging through my morning commute one day last week, I spent several minutes stopped at a traffic light. That might not seem unusual, except for the fact that the light was green. So much traffic was stacked up ahead of me, due to construction, that I couldn't move forward.
However, even on the worst construction days, my commute rarely takes more than 35 minutes, and most days it's closer to 25. (I'm bound to have a few hour-plus commutes during snowstorms in the winter, but hey, it's Utah.)
And if I still feel like whining about my commute, I just remember that one of my wife's sisters, who lives in Los Angeles, regularly spends more than an hour on the road to get home from work. Talk about a traffic nightmare.
As anyone who has faced such an exceptionally long commute can tell you, those extra minutes (or hours) in the car on the way to and from work can have a serious impact on a person's work-life balance. Time stuck in an interstate parking lot will cut the number of hours a person can spend at either work or home — usually home.
NerdWallet understands that, which is why it considered commute time as a major factor when building its recent list of metro areas in which residents have the best work-life balance.
Relatively short commute times helped both the Provo-Orem and Logan areas make the top 20 on NerdWallet's list.
NerdWallet, a website that says it "empowers consumers to make better decisions about their personal finances, travel plans, health bills, or higher education," used U.S. Census data about various cities to produce work-life balance scores based on the answers to three questions:
- "Do people work reasonable hours?" This was based on median hours worked per week.
- "Are commutes short?" The mean commute time for the various cities was used for this measure.
- "Do people earn enough so they don't have to worry about money?" NerdWallet used the median earnings for full-time, year-round workers.
According to the NerdWallet study, Provo-Orem's mean travel time to work is 21 minutes. Its median earnings for male, full-time, year-round workers are $51,525, and for female, full-time, year-round workers, $32,201. Median weekly hours worked are 34.3. Mix all of that together, and you get an overall work-life balance score of 69.2.
Logan's overall score was 67.1, based on a 17.2-minute commute time, $40,174 median earnings for men, $28,131 median earnings for women and weekly hours worked of 35.3.
The top-ranked city in the NerdWallet list was Corvallis, Ore., with an overall score of 78.3.
"The economy of Corvallis is robust, and Oregon State University, a major local employer, is located just downtown," the NerdWallet blog post about the study said. "With only 33.4 hours a week worked on average, Corvallis residents use their ample leisure time to head to the world-class ski slopes nearby or enjoy the many art galleries and museums the city has to offer."
Next on the list was Ames, Iowa, with an overall score of 76.4. Again, Ames is a college town, home to Iowa State University.
Rounding out the top five were Ithaca, N.Y., with an overall score of 75.8; Bloomington-Normal, Ill., 74.5; and Champaign-Urbana, Ill., 72.4. Ithaca is home to Cornell University. Illinois State University is in Bloomington-Normal. And the University of Illinois is in Champaign-Urbana.
Are you seeing a trend here?
Almost every one of the cities on the top 20 list is home to a major university, including the Provo-Orem area, with tens of thousands of students at both Brigham Young University and Utah Valley University, and Logan, which features Utah State University.
Clearly, the presence of a university as a major employer in a town bumped up cities in NerdWallet's rankings, based on the measures it chose to use. Some people would rather not live in such a city, because they don't like the "down side" of life in a college town. But I don't think that means the list should be ignored.
I went to college and lived for several years afterward in the small town of Brookings, S.D. South Dakota State University (home of the mighty Jackrabbits!) is one of the dominant employers in town, as well a major cultural force and both an attractor and generator of businesses. SDSU's presence makes Brookings a better place for families.
Thanks to SDSU, Brookings residents enjoy musical and theater events, athletic competitions and other activities that you wouldn't expect in a town of about 22,000 people. On the other hand, it gets really cold there in the wintertime. Really, really, really cold. I'm shivering just thinking about it.
But my point isn't that the only way to have good work-life balance is to live in one of the cities identified in the NerdWallet study, or to find a nice little college town in which to settle.
Rather, I think the lesson of the study is to consider how we choose where we're going to live, and to recognize that those decisions have consequences.
When you look at purchasing a home that's far from your office, don't forget the impact your commute time will have on your family life. Likewise, if you're considering a home that's closer to work but costs a lot more, think about the impact making that purchase will have on your family's lifestyle.
What's more important in your life is up to you and your family to decide. But it makes sense to approach such decisions with your eyes open, realizing that where you live — and how much time you have to spend getting back there at the end of each workday — can and will have an impact on your efforts to achieve work-life balance.