freeing neighborhoods and nations from the virus of poverty pt 2 Single Parents

May 3, 2020    By: Matt W. @ 1:29 pm   Category: Life

Single Parent Families with Children under 18 have a markedly higher rate of poverty. 26.6% of single parent families (41.4 % in the US (, 2nd only to Ireland’s 45.8%) are below the relative poverty line. This is 3.5X the rate of dual parent or childless homes (which are similar, 7.6% and 8.9% below the poverty line). The number one cause of single parent families is still Separation or Divorce, followed by unwed pregnancy. (56% of childless homes from divorce per pew research for the US, and more dramatic in other nations like Japan, with 96%+ from divorce). While there are some indications that unwed single parents are financially worse off (30% of median 2 parent income vs 49% for divorced), there isn’t a good source I have yet found which breaks out single parents in poverty by these two cohorts and by the definition of relative poverty in the prior post, both would be below the relative poverty line.

As a brief side note, because Holland called for the end of any form of prejudice, single mothers’ rate of Poverty is higher than single fathers.

But what can be done or has worked in the past to reduce poverty for Single Parents?

Let’s address the elephant in the room first. Teen and other Unplanned Pregnancy Prevention is a method that has been shown to be effective in reducing poverty. Typically, when this is brought up, people immediately think of abortion. However, Teen Pregnancy Prevention is a wide range of things. It is inclusive of comprehensive sex education, communication with parents or other adults, and making birth control widely available. Some basic aims are to encourage youth to begin sex at a later age, use condoms and birth control if they do have sex, have sex less often, and even to improve communication with romantic partners (preventing future issues like divorce). Also, these programs are working.  Because they are working, teen pregnancy has dropped from almost 10% of teen girls near then end of the 60s to just under 2% in 2018. And because teen pregnancy has dropped, abortion has also dropped from 44% or teen pregnancies in the late 80s down to 24% in 2013.

Teen Pregnancy Prevention reduces Poverty because it increases education opportunities for women, as delaying child birth increases opportunities to finish high school and college. Additionally, as teen mothers typically have sired children by teen fathers, they do not get any monetary support from the child’s father, as he has no income. In terms of return on investment, in 2014 it was estimated that for every dollar the government spends on programs aimed at pregnancy prevention, it saves $7, an ROI of 700%.

But again, pregnancy prevention can’t be the only solution to single parents’ poverty. Returning to the facts already stated, 56% of single parent homes are caused by divorce. Divorce prevention has less literature available than pregnancy prevention, but one study finds that pre-marriage training programs is associated with a 30% decline in the chance of divorce.

Prevention is great, but again, is not enough. No society has found prevention to completely remove situations where people are in poverty due to being single parents. For these single parents, there are five things that have evidence of helping.

  1. Improved Investment in Childcare for working mothers and schooling mothers. Often studies are sited about the benefits to kids that early education has, but another key data point is that single parents who have access to child care have more opportunities to work or to continue schooling because of the support this child care provides.
  2. More Leave for working mothers who are having children. This is inclusive of paid maternity and paid time off in general. Minimum wage jobs often do not offer these benefits. Often Divorced Women have been out of the workforce for some time and do not have the job experience to compete for higher paid roles which have benefits. Extending these benefits more fully would enable mothers to be able to not have to choose between caring for an ill child and maintaining employment.
  3. Improved income for single mothers. We have already noted the education gap on single mothers and the job experience gap that is often on divorced mothers. This often means these mothers take lower income jobs. There are two traditional options for improving income in these roles, increasing the minimum wage and lowering tax incentives.
  4. Modernize Welfare Benefits. Often, Welfare Benefits have strict cut-offs based on employment or level of income. For example, a Woman may take a Job and this Job would make her ineligible for food stamps or other benefits. Moving the welfare program to more of a phased approach without concern of citizens “double dipping” would enable people to actually move out of poverty more quickly. Additionally, reducing the barrier to entry to receive benefits would also improve their use. Currently, it can take multiple days a month working with government officials to obtain or maintain benefits. This is time lost where a person cannot be working. Often these denial of service tactics are used to keep costs down. Costs could stay low if we modernized these programs and allowed benefits to be drawn and set up through non-human interactions
  5. The last area where we can reduce the poverty impact is by reducing the social stigma of being a single mother. Single Mothers are frowned upon by society as ignorant, lascivious, or even greedy. Often this comes from our cultural construct that we are fighting against teen pregnancy or we are fighting against divorce (with programs as outlined above) so supporting single mothers or divorced mothers could be seen as counter to that effort. However, I think we as a society ought to be more nuanced. In the Covid-19 pandemic, we are trying to prevent the spread of the disease. We don’t call sick people filthy people who refused to wash their hands.

So what can I do really to effect poverty for single parents?

  • I can vote for elected officials who support funding childcare and modernizing welfare benefits and improving income for the working poor
  • I can check myself when I see or work with a single mother. I can pick up an extra shift to help out if needed. I can be understanding and patient and kind. In my employment I can make sure I don’t allow prejudices about pregnancy or being a single mother influence the hiring decisions of my company.
  • I can give financially to programs which support single mothers and help them progress towards financial independence
  • I can avoid or correct social media which disparage teen pregnancy prevention programs.
  • I can avoid rhetoric, media, and attitudes which glorify sex and sexuality such as pornography or refusing to be alone with people of the opposite sex.


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