NerdWallet, the site that brands itself as a “source of truth for all of life’s decisions,” has ranked the country’s best cities for women in the workforce, and a few Texas locales made it onto the top 20. For the “big cities,” Austin ranked second just below Aurora, Colorado (guess the term “big city” is all relative), and Fort Worth came in at number 17. But on the small cities list, a town in the Rio Grande Valley’s Hidalgo County ranked first.

Yes, it seems that Pharr is the best small city in the country for women in the workforce. According to the ranking, full-time female employees in the border city earn 112 percent of male income, and the town gets bonus points for having incredibly low rent costs. Another crucial factor listed is the population growth Pharr has seen over the last few years—between 2009 and 2011, NerdWallet says the population grew by roughly 10 percent.

NerdWallet ranked the nation’s municipalities on a four-factor scale:

  1. Median earnings for female, full-time workers

  2. Median rent

  3. Women’s earnings as a percentage of men’s earnings

  4. Population growth from 2009-2012

On those four factors, Pharr does surprisingly well, although it’s unclear why, exactly. US Census Bureau data does show a population increase, but it’s not like Pharr has an incredibly disparate number of men and women living in its city limits; the demographic breakdown between male and female residents is almost a perfect 50/50, with women making up about 52 percent of the adult population. But, according to that same Census data, it appears that 32 percent of businesses are owned by women, above the state average of 28 percent.

Of course, this should also be put in perspective. It’s well known that counties in the Valley are among the poorest in the nation, and just five years ago, the McAllen Monitor reported that Hidalgo County—which includes Pharr—was the poorest place in Texas, according to that year’s Census data. 

Hidalgo County’s median household income last year was $30,460 in inflation-adjusted dollars, slightly higher than the poverty line threshold of $22,050 for a family of four. The average household size was 3.4 people.

“In Hidalgo County, there are areas of wealth, but in these areas, like in south Pharr … we have other riches, but not in terms of economics,” said Andrea Olvera, who runs Las Milpas branch of A Resource in Serving Equality, a colonia service and support organization better known as ARISE.

Since then, Hidalgo County has bootstrapped itself up from that unfortunate ranking, and the county’s median household income has ticked up to $34,146 (Pharr’s sits at $32,087). 

At around 79,000 people, Pharr definitely isn’t huge, but it does butt up against the Valley’s largest city, McAllen (which incidentally didn’t rank on NerdWallet’s list). Aside from being home to an international bridge between Texas and Reynosa, Tamaulipas, in Mexico, there’s nothing on the surface that signals why women in Pharr are uniquely positioned to earn slightly more than their male counterparts, though data from the American Community Survey found that roughly 20 percent of Pharr’s residents work in retail and roughly 27 percent work in “educational services, and health care and social assistance.” Thanks in part to a number of population growth factors and the implications that has—like the opening of more stores to serve a swelling community, such as the Rio Grande Valley Outlet Malls in 2006, and increased numbers of health care jobs at hospitals in the Valley—there’s a spot of bright news for the small community in South Texas.

Photo courtesy of ThinkStock.