Raising children on a single income is no easy feat, and single mothers in the United States struggle more than almost any other group of Americans. Still, some cities are easier for single mothers trying to make ends meet — and some cities are far worse.
The costs of housing, food, childcare, and education give some sense of the challenges facing single mothers in the United States. The difficulties of single motherhood often go far beyond these basic considerations. For example, the availability of and access to pre-K public schools, paid maternity leave, and the quality of public transportation all tend to disproportionately impact women raising children alone. 24/7 Wall St. reviewed a range of social and economic indicators to determine the best (and worst) U.S. metropolitan areas for single mothers.
Housing is usually the largest expense for any family, and especially for single mothers, who tend to be responsible for larger families. The average single mother household has 3.5 occupants, almost a full person more than the national average household size. Single mothers earning the median wage would need to work as few as 47 hours a week to afford a typical two-bedroom apartment in Bloomsburg-Berwick, Pennsylvania. In Honolulu, Hawaii, however, they would need to work as many as 152 hours a week — an impossible feat. In such a difficult rental market, many single mothers struggle to afford stable and suitable housing. Nationwide, less than half of all single mothers own their homes, compared to 64.4% of all households who do.
> Hrs./week for typical single mother to afford rent: 74.1
> Market rent for two-bedroom apt.: 1147.2
> Median income for single mother household: $26,542
> Share of 3 and 4 year olds enrolled in school: 53.8%
In an interview with 24/7 Wall St., Ariane Hegewisch, program director for employment and earnings at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, said there are several other issues of particular importance to single mothers. She explained that for single mothers, the question is, “Can you leave your kids somewhere that is safe; can you get to and from childcare or work reasonably easily; and, are you protected when you or your child gets sick?”
For Hegewisch, these questions can be largely addressed by city and state level public programs. When a mother can enroll her child in pre-kindergarten school, for example, not only does her child receive childcare and an education, but she becomes liberated to work or further her own education. Nationwide, 47.4% of three- and four-year old children attend school. In all but one of the 10 best cities for single mothers, more than half of young children are enrolled in school. In nine of the 10 worst cities for single mothers, the opposite is true.
In the New York City area, 62.4% of three- and four-year old children are enrolled in school. This percentage, which is already seventh highest compared with U.S. metros, will likely increase in coming years as New York City recently implemented free full-day pre-K school for children of city residents.
Single mothers tend to earn far lower incomes and are far more likely to live in poverty compared to every other household arrangement — the national median income for single mother households with young children is $24,403 a year, and 30.9% of these households live in poverty. Since the economic conditions are often so dire, government subsidies and programs such as universal pre-K are often not enough to alleviate the bulk of the challenges. California is among the states offering relatively generous government programs, for example. However, due largely to extremely poor socioeconomic factors, three of the worst cities for single mothers are in California.
Hegewisch noted that the challenges facing single mothers in the United States are numerous, and compounding. Not only are single mothers less likely to have completed high school or college, but attaining further qualifications and education is also extremely difficult. Similarly, “becoming a single mother increases the likelihood that you will live in poverty but also living in poverty increases the likelihood that you will become a single mother,” Hegewisch said.
The responsibilities of single motherhood — working one or multiple jobs, ensuring children arrive and leave school or daycare on time, and so on — are often coupled with financial distress. For this reason, access to transportation is another vital element of a city favorable to single mothers. As Hegewisch explained, the generally reliable access to transportation and other services in cities means urban centers are almost always better for single mothers than rural regions.