How Big Cities Are Ignoring Their Single Parents

By: Shashank Rai, Policy Innovator

Over the last fifty years, the number of children living in single parent households has doubled, with more than fifteen million kids living in fatherless households while over five million children are being raised in households without a mother. There is a race element to the problem as well with 54 per cent of all black children being raised by single mothers nationwide. Only 12 percent of black families below the poverty line have both parents present, compared with 41 percent of poor Hispanic families and 32 percent of poor white families. In all but eleven states, most black children do not live with both parents. In comparison, 70 percent of white children and most Hispanic children, in all but two states, do.

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Why this might be one of the gravest social problems in the country today is obvious — children growing up in single parent households are more likely to grow up in poverty and are at a much greater risk of delinquency. But it also has a growing urbanization side to it, something that the big cities in the US have failed to cater to adequately. As a NerdWallet study points out, the smaller cities in the country have been able to provide for the most important needs of the single parents much better than the bigger cities. This is a little counter-intuitive because one would imagine the bigger the city, the greater the opportunities, and hence greater the capacity of the single parent to provide for their family. However, big cities entail much higher costs of living and child care. This, coupled with low skill levels of a large majority of single parents, makes sustenance a much greater challenge.

Empirical evidence points to three major factors that seem to be failing the single parents in big cities. These include high costs to cover rent and child care services, a lack of an established support mechanism for single parents in poor communities in the cities, and factors affecting lifestyle such as greater distance to workplace, low quality of budget schools, and poor employment and skill development opportunities. And while there are dedicated resources for the welfare of single parents in almost all cities, they fail to provide adequately for funded training or paid work experience for the parents, child care services, and in-school support to manage children. Community support programs to help parents focus on family management issues and help improve relationships with children and other family members have also seen very few success stories.

Hence helping single parents to take the leap to move above poverty is a challenging task because it requires building numerous microcosms that provide resources to cater to the three impeding factors mentioned above. These realities call in for a relook at how the cities plan for single parents. Newer policies for flexible working hours, child support at workplaces and at schools, counseling and drug rehabilitation services for parents, and maternity leaves are all initiatives that will go into the building of a support structure that can help single parents sustain their families. These policy initiatives need to be further strengthened by improving coordination and collaboration channels between NGOs and the government. As the number of single parent families continue to rise in the country, it is not only the well-being of the present generation that is threatened, but also the future of nearly half of the next generation. Not acting now to stem this tide is a risk we can ill-afford.