Posted Oct 19, 2022 8:36 AM
By Patricia Jones, Alliance Community Task Force: Creating Opportunity
A friend recently sent me an opinion column from Froma Harrop, “Where are dads when single moms are struggling?” Harrop shares stories of single women struggling to stay financially afloat, holding a paying job while caring for young children. Then she asks the question of whether the fathers of these children are absolved from responsibility, since they regularly disappear from any of our media’s stories.
The Kids Count Data Center of the Annie E. Casey Foundation published research in August about current child poverty rates in single-parent families. Nationally nearly 30% of single-parent families live in poverty. For married couples, the rate is 6%. Among one-parent households: single parents are more likely to live in poverty when compared to cohabiting couples, and single mothers are much more likely to be poor when compared to single fathers.
In Nebraska, 10% of all families live below the poverty line. For married couples, the statistic is 3%; for single-parent families, 25% live below the poverty line.
Nearly 24 million children in the United States live in a single-parent family. This is about one in three kids under the age of 18 in America. Within single-parent families, 15 million children live in mother-only households. Cohabitating parents are raising 6 million children, and around 3 million live in father-only households.
For Nebraska’s 3rd Congressional District, which includes Box Butte County, 34,000, or 25% of our children, live in single-parent families.
It is well established that mother-only households are more likely to live in poverty. That means these children experience the consequences of growing up poor. Kids Count reminds us that, “Children in poverty are more likely to have physical, mental and behavioral health problems, disrupted brain development, shorter educational trajectories, contact with the child welfare and justice systems, employment challenges in adulthood and more.”
Poverty is also linked to parental stress. Single parents may struggle to cover their family’s basic needs, including food, utilities, housing, child care, clothing and transportation. A single parent may have to work more than one job to make ends meet. The family may often move homes or witness or experience violence. Single parents often lose social support networks of friends and family that might help them deal with stress.
High parental stress can spark lifelong challenges for the children involved. These children generally spend less time with a parent, or any adult. Kids from single-parent families are more likely to face emotional and behavioral health challenges like aggression or engaging in high-risk behaviors. They are more likely to drop out of school, to have or cause a teen pregnancy, to be arrested, and to experience a divorce in adulthood.
Please don’t think that all single-parent households experience all these problems, or that only households with married parents can meet the needs of our children. Family structures have changed over time. We see not only cohabitating parents, but blended step-families, same-sex parent families, children living with other relatives. Children can thrive in any family where there is a loving, stable environment.
None of the statistics from the Census Bureau or the Kids Count Data Center answer Froma Harrop’s question: Where are dads when single moms are struggling? How many of these fathers are providing child support? How many are active non-custodial parents? I couldn’t find any of that data. Harrop argues that when we let dads disappear from these stories of single-parent families, we are being sexist. This places a “brutal burden” on the female’s shoulders.
Fathers have a powerful and positive impact upon the development and health of children, and they play a vital role in fueling their family’s economic success. Let’s do a better job of holding them accountable.