The lighter side of real estate

The 50 Hardest Working Cities in America

Lace up your boots and roll up your sleeves! It's time to find out where the the Hardest Working City in America is located.

David Cross

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I’m sure you’ve heard the adage, “If you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere.” Well, maybe that used to be true, but nowadays, if you really want put your money where your mouth is and work your tail off to get ahead, you’ll need to move to Seattle, aka America’s Hardest Working City.

What’s this you say, New Yorkers? I’m crazy? You might be half-correct. After all, I am the guy who writes stories about the value of fictional homes such as Hogwarts and Tony Stark’s mansion. But in this case, I think I’m right on the money.

A while back over the Fourth of July weekend, I got to thinking about what traits make America, you know, so American. One that kept sticking in my head was the idea of the American work ethic. The idea that, if you, John or Jane Smith, put in the hours, you’ll climb the social hierarchy and arrive in that land known as Middle Class. Essentially, I’m talking about a meritocracy. You can disagree with me on whether the States actually have a meritocracy, but you can’t debate that the concept is ingrained in our culture.

What this all means is that Americans like to work hard.

With this in mind, I set out to find which cities in America are really bringing home the bacon, probably by walking uphill both ways. I found that you’ll need to get up early in the morning if you’re going to outwork residents in these 10 cities:

  1. Seattle, WA
  2. Arlington, TX
  3. Fort Worth, TX
  4. Austin, TX
  5. San Jose, CA
  6. San Francisco, CA
  7. Dallas, TX
  8. Virginia Beach, VA
  9. Washington, D.C.
  10. Houston, TX

What I found striking about this list is that it’s heavy in cities from California and Texas. While there might be a blue state, red state divide between the two, it’s good to know there’s something they can agree on, and that is working hard.

If you’re interested in figuring out how I came up with this list, roll up your selves and skip lunch, because there’s work to be done.

The Hardest Working City in… Everything

Frequent readers know the drill. Movoto Real Estate’s Big Deal Lists look at a number of criteria, in this case seven, and rank them. We then take the average score of all the criteria and calculate our Big Deal Score. Essentially, the city with the lowest average score across all our criteria is crowned the winner, or in rare occasions the loser. We’re looking at you St. Louis—the Most Sinful City in America!

Recently, we have been looking at the country ‘s 100 most populous cities. For this piece we looked at the 50 most populous cities. Don’t fret, people of Rochester, NY (the 100th most populous city), as we’ll be bringing back the full list in a little bit. The reason we chopped our list in half for this survey is that large sections of the data we used did not have statistics for all 100 cosmos.

What’s in Elbow Grease?

My own personal brand of elbow grease includes seven ingredients. In other words, each city was measured on these criteria:

  • Average hours worked per week
  • Unemployment rate
  • Commute time
  • Employed workers per household
  • Hours volunteered per year
  • Lack of sleep
  • Cost of living

Below you’ll find a breakdown of each criterion, including the winner of each category. That said, if you just can’t contain yourself and you really, really want to get back to the old grind, you can skip to the bottom of the post where you’ll find a detailed chart explaining it all. I’m warning you though, it won’t be as satisfying.

Average Hours Worked Per Week

For this criterion, I looked at the average number of hours people work in a week in each city. I don’t think this needs much of an explanation, but because this is the Internet, I’ll say this: More hours equals more pay. Simple.

According the Bureau of Labor Statistics, workers in Houston are putting in more time than the rest of us. Resident of the Texas city averaged 37.6 hours of work each week. Coming in second was a three way tie between Fort Worth, Arlington, and Dallas, each with 37 hours. This is likely because the data collected was for the metro area.

At this point I need to remind everyone that anything over 35 is considered full-time. Keep on trucking, Houston, the rest of us will try to keep up.

Unemployment Rate

Working hard means you are actually working. In most places this means you have a gainful employment and are slugging away at your 9 to 5. According to recent reports, the city with the lowest unemployment rate is Seattle, with just a 4 percent of its population out of work. If this number seems low to you, it did to me too. I doubled checked.

Commute Time

Technically, commuting isn’t part of your employment hours, but it does feel a lot like work, especially if you have to travel a significant distance before you put in your 8, 10, or 12-hour day. For this criterion we relied on Census data, which estimated the average commute time for each city. The city with the longest commute turned out to be Chicago, though with the recent BART strike in San Fran, I’m willing to bet we had the Windy City beat—at least for a little bit.

According to the Census, Chicago residents spend 33.7 minutes on their way to work.

Workers Per Household

The goal for this criterion was to figure out how many households in each city have multiple people working. I did this by using Census data to figure out the estimated number of employed residents in each city and the number of households. After some simple division, I ended up with an estimate for the number of working stiffs in each abode. New York City easily took the top spot with 2.4 workers per household. Right behind was San Jose with 1.49 workers per household.

Volunteer Hours

I know what you’re thinking: What does this have to do with working hard? This is my acknowledgement that your day job isn’t everything. Some people put in extra hours for other causes that are important to them.

What I found was that people in Oklahoma City are stockpiling good deeds. The fine folks Oklahoma City had an average of 76.6 volunteer hours per person in 2008.

I’d be remiss, however, if I didn’t explain how I figured this category out and why I used data from 2008. As I mentioned at the start of the article, some data was difficult to come by. Volunteer hours was some of that data. I relied on information found in the Volunteering and Civic Life in America report. I used 2008’s data because it was the most complete. Still, a few cities on my list were missing. In that case I used that average number of volunteer hours on a state level.

Lack of Sleep

Around our office—and we’re betting a lot of your offices as well—emails are zipping back and forth as late as 11 p.m., maybe later. We decided to include amount of sleep each city gets every night as an indicator of extra work hours.

What I looked at specifically were the number of days in a month that person reported not getting enough sleep. Columbus, which I profiled a few weeks ago, had a highest number of sleepless night at 9.7, essentially a third of the month.

Cost of Living

Finally, I looked at the cost of living in each city. Cities with high costs of living ranked higher in this category. My thought was that city where it cost you billion dollars for a burger and fries was a place you’d probably be working hard just to survive. That said, it came as no surprise that San Francisco, home to the billion dollar burger and beer, came in first. (Yes, I cried a little when I saw this. It doesn’t matter how many times I see it, I still cry.)

Now, I should remind you that you’ll probably need to log a few more minutes at the office before you catch the 5:01 home. That is unless you’re Seattle, who I’ve decided is trying to make us all look bad.

Now get back to work!

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posted on: July 24, 2013
[views], 47 comments


  1. Chris

    This looks terribly flawed. Commute and volunteerism has nothing to do with how hard you work; unemployment can be used to swing the data in either direction, and sleep time isn’t solely a result of your time in the office.

    • Jackie in response to Chris

      I agree it’s flawed. My husband is a trucker. He’s generally up at 2am and may not get home until 7-10pm. He works hard and long hours. I care for my grandson anywhere from 7 to 10 hours per day. I know alot of people whose jobs would not make this list because they do not punch a time clock. They need to go back to the drawing board.

    • Eli. in response to Chris

      well… neither is ‘college rank’ nor ‘commute rank’
      I see all the liberal big cities scored bigh in them while coming close to nothin’ in the thing that counts
      we wouldn’t want a graph where all the winners were southern, prairie and Midwestern now would we?
      while deep down we all know that to be true

  2. Kim Feil

    I live in Arlington and work 10 hour days trying to educate folks and city leaders how our 60 padsites of natural gas wells drilled near our homes and schools isn’t healthy. I live, breathe, and blog in Arlington Gasland Texas.

    • Charles Jones in response to Kim Feil

      Move to Seattle.

      • SheilaKA in response to Charles Jones

        No, please DON’T move to Seattle. The traffic is already insane.

      • Cesar in response to Charles Jones

        Why move to Seattle when we already live in heaven… Texas !

    • Jake in response to Kim Feil

      The gas ain’t bad. Don’t use energy if you don’t want to deal with the “pollution”

    • Charles in response to Kim Feil

      I heard that liberals were moving to Texas, so they could complain about natural gas. Yep, you are trying to educate too! Don’t ya just love it? Liberals won’t be happy until we are all broke and eating wood; wait a minute, wood is protected too! We’re screwed.

  3. Ralph

    I suspect for larger cities your survey is pretty good. However, there are many small rural communities in the Midwest where the workweek is long, the spirit of community giving is strong and the productivity of the citizens far exceeds the 50 cities in this survey. I have a small farm near Columbus, NE and these people work hard and the resulting unemployment rate is <3%.

  4. grayjohn

    Liberal bias much? Jesus.

    • saltydog in response to grayjohn

      If your math is new York math then 2 cities in ca, is the same as 5 cities in texas.
      that is a sad liberal education there.

      • Leila in response to saltydog

        Not that I think politics has anything to do with it, but for the sake of argument: Austin, Dallas, and Houston are liberal Texas cities. Fort Worth and Arlington tend to be more on the conservative side. It’s funny how everyone seems to think every city in Texas is red just because we are in the south.

  5. Chris Brooks

    “Washington, D.C.”

  6. thelonious

    yes, grayjohn, jesus was a liberal. and john wayne was a racist.

    • johnwaynewasanjgger in response to thelonious

      thats s laugh

    • Jesús in response to thelonious

      thelonious, listen, saltydog es corecto, I amow his yard right now. But you, liste, the first Jesus, he was only sort of a liberal…sí, he gave many good things to people…but it is ok to be liberal with your own power to do miracles…actually he was quite conservative with how little he allowed himself to do…but it is not ok to be liberal with other people’s resources, so I think the first Jesus would agree with people being conservative about society’s things. He said to be liberal with charity and your OWN PERSONAL giving to others, etcétera, which both political parties fail at.

  7. Jerry

    In rural cities your traffic delays are not 1 to 3 hours weekly on any given day. Time away from home has an impact on your stress level and goes into the cost per hour when you look at a commute. When I lived ina rural area 50 mile commute daily was no issue at 30 minutes. In a 6 million person metropolitan area that is now 2 to 3 hours a day. Yes that does make a difference.

    • Mike in response to Jerry

      Jerry, unless you are part of the Morman Mafia who would want to life there?

  8. Mormon

    Didn’t even attempt to sample Salt Lake City, did you?

    • Census Bureau in response to Mormon

      We did try collecting data from Utah, but everyone we approached immediately insisted that they only have one spouse and then would not allow us to ask anymore questions.

  9. Dan

    Lowest Commute; High Volunteer; Low Household; Low Lack of Sleep and Lowest COL to boot – I wanna’ live there. Wait…I do! 🙂 All about life priorities and the “smartest” working city in the US.

  10. Apple

    They HAVE to work hard in Seattle because the cost of living is insane.

  11. bill

    Who is working in Washington DC?

  12. ausrtin

    Anything you read on the internet is terribly flawed. They would not know a true news story if it hit them in the face.

  13. Dan

    Another useless list.

    If people have to work so much, they need to ask for help or get organized. Just because someone is at work doesn’t mean they are working. I work with a lot of people who are “at” work and not doing anything.

    Work smart- not work all the time. A work-life balance is what people need. A former coworker retired at 55 years-old, just died at 57 years-old. He was a hard worker by this articles description and got to enjoy not quite 2 years of retirement. That sucks.

  14. Mike

    I have lived all over the US, and world. No where is business as demanding and cut throat as NYC, period.

  15. michael

    I Just moved back east after living in Phoenix for 5 years. I was born and raised in N.Y.C. I have to say any list that places PHX anything hire than #49 has it’s facts crossed. I have never meet more lazy, complacent and out right stupid people in my life. Their slow mentality and do it tomorrow attitude is only match by their unwarranted sense of entitlement.

    • david in response to michael

      I agree with you man! I just moved back west after living in NYC for 5 years. I was born and raised in Phoenix. I have to say any list that places NYC anything lower than # -2 has it’s facts crossed. I have never met more crazy, never-happy, and out right better-than-thou people in my life. Their now-now-now mentality and it-can’t-wait attitude is only matched by their unwarrented sense of being better than everyone else.

    • Bear in response to michael

      Lets see, you said

      “I have to say any list that places PHX anything hire than #49 has it’s facts crossed. I have never meet more lazy, complacent and out right stupid people in my life.”

      I bet they know it is Higher… not hire.. guess some New Yorkers are not as smart as they think they are.
      Apparently you were not able to get a job there.

  16. Jim

    Sounds like Spain

  17. Phillip

    I did not know
    20% CA = 50% TX

  18. steve valkenburg

    williston nd casper wy they did not say one world

  19. Nate

    I think this survey is totally off in Left Field I think one a commute has nothing to do with how many hours you work a day. The facts are totally off everyone I know in New England are the hardest working people they work long hours 40-50 plus hours a week and some multiply jobs. I don’t need a skewed survey from a Real Estate site telling me this.

  20. ted

    You guys are on crack.

  21. George Orwell

    ” We’re looking at you St. Louis—the Most Sinful City in America!”

    Alright, I looked at the list, St. Louis isn’t even on it.

  22. warren

    Try different professions like farmers, or truck drivers and see where they rank. As an over the road truck driver I usually work 70 hours per week and time away from home is 26 out of 30 days. The rest of the time is in the truck

  23. NYProf

    I have noticed that most people in NYC just stand on escalators, while most people in Washington DC walk up or down on escalators.
    Surprising; I thought the reverse would be true.

  24. thejustavenger

    Arlington, Fort Worth and Dallas are all the same place, why split them up. Where is the cost of living?

  25. Jack

    What a typical misstatement of facts, TX has more than double the CA cities on the list. Maybe if you combine all the blue states they work as hard as the one red state.

  26. Chris H.

    Don’t move to Baltimore or Maryland period. The traffic is terrible. The taxes are outrages with Gov. Martin O’Malley (or O’moran / O’Money / O’Tax man) heard today, they are looking into a new air tax. Thought that was why we have emissions for cars? Will it never end. All tolls on I-95 doubled. What cost me $4.00 to my mom’s and back is now $8.00. New – water tax, tolls. They are robbing us blind. Enough already. Stay as far away as possible.

  27. Skunk

    How can D.C. be ranked? Government workers are the laziest of all.

  28. Dennis Killy

    Need to add one column to chart … “Government Friendliness To Hardworking Citizen/Taxpayers”

    Dennis Killy, Arlington … home of Jerry’s world famous “Silver Cockroach” and “Penthouse King” Ryan, site of the 2011 Super Bowl XLV debacle, scene of notorious 13 story tall beer signs, and world capital for government morons.

  29. Billy Bumtrip

    Seattle? You gotta be kidding. I live here. I would put Seattle on the top ten slacker list. Not as Bad as Portland and Frisco, but not a working man’s place. Pittsburgh and Cincinnati should be on top.


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