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Being a single parent is a challenge. Not only must single parents manage debt and other financial priorities, they must balance work and time spent with their children. Unfortunately, single-parent households are more likely to be impoverished, and not all states offer the same workplace benefits for parents. That could make raising children harder.
To determine where single parents may fare best, we scored the 100 largest metros on four key indicators:
- Income score, including median income; the percentage of households living below the poverty line; and the percentage difference between median single-parent households and all households.
- Affordability score, which considers regional price parity; income limits for in-state child care assistance; the percentage difference between single-parent household median income; and income limits for child care assistance.
- Time score, which includes the average commute and the average number of hours worked per week.
- Workplace protection score, which considers statewide paid family leave insurance and protected time off for school events.
Here’s what we found.
- Single parents in Springfield, Mass. came first in our rankings, with a score of 65.2. The city had an especially high time score and workplace protection score.
- Sacramento, Calif. and Buffalo, N.Y. followed Springfield, with final scores of 62.2 and 61.5, respectively.
- In McAllen, Texas, a whooping 60.8% of single parents live below the federal poverty line. Honolulu had the lowest incidence of single parents living below the poverty line, at 24.9%.
- Houston, Texas had the lowest score among the 100 metros we studied. Its final score was 26.7. Notably, the difference between the median income of single parents and all households was -51.4%.
- Atlanta and Birmingham, Ala., which were No. 99 and No. 98 in our rankings, didn’t fare much better, with final scores of 27.7 and 28.1, respectively.
- So-called “blue states” tended to dominate the top of the list, thanks mostly to strong workplace protection laws for parents and generous childcare subsidies.
- On average and across all metros, 39.2% single parents are living below the federal poverty line.
Children aren’t cheap, and raising them is hard. This map highlights locations where being a single parent may be easier or more affordable. Hover your cursor over the dots on the map to review how each metro fared across our key indicators and overall.
10 best places to live as a single parent
This table outlines the 10 best places for single parents to live from a financial perspective. California and New York parents are in luck. Three of the top 10 locations were California-based and four were New York-based. The combination of their high income, affordability, time and workplace protection scores helped determine these locations rankings.
10 worst places to live as a single parent
These locations had the lowest rankings due to their scores in our four key indicators. Single parenthood appears to be more challenging financially in Southern states, with locations in Texas, Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina ranking in the 10 worst places to live as a single parent. Most notable are these 10 locations’ nonexistent (or very low, in the case of Chicago with a score of 10/100) workplace protection scores.
Understanding these rankings
In order to understand how we ranked these locations, it’s important to look at the four following categories that we scored. The average of the scores was individually calculated for each metric within each category and was used to determine the overall metro scores. Those sub-scores were calculated on a scale of 0 to 100, based on where each metro falls between the highest and lowest values among all the metros we reviewed.
The four key indicators that were scored and the metrics within each indicator are:
Income of single parents in the community
- Median income of single parents.
- The difference between the median earnings of single-parent households and the median income of all households. This gives us a sense of whether single parents are having a harder time earning money than other members of the community.
- The percentage of single-parent households that fall below the federal poverty line.
Comparing the difference between incomes of single-parent household and all households gives us a sense of whether single parents have a harder time earning money than other members of the community.
Affordability of the community, particularly related to child care
- The income limit for child care subsidy assistance from the state.
- The difference between median earnings for single-parent households and the child care assistance income limit.
- Regional price parity, which compares local costs – including housing, goods and services – to the nation as a whole. The regional price parity for the U.S. is set at 100, so a number lower than that means that costs are lower and a number above that means costs are higher.
Child care expenses are an absolute necessity for single working parents. So, we wanted to see whether or not a typical single-family household would qualify for assistance from its state, and how much below the qualifying line they fall. This is significant because many assistance programs offer graduated subsidies depending on family income.
However, some states have long waiting lists for assisted child care, so falling within the qualification limit for subsidies doesn’t necessarily mean that parents will actually get the child care they need to earn a living for their families.
Time devoted to work
- Average commute time in minutes for the metro.
- Average hours worked each week within the metro.
How much time a single parent spends working impacts their time spent with family and can increase the amount spent on child care costs, such as if the parent needs to put their child in day care while they are away at work or commuting.
Workplace protections for parents
- The number of weeks under the Family and Medical Leave Act that a state will pay an employee from a state insurance program. Under federal law, workers of certain tenure can’t be reprised for taking up to 12 weeks of leave to care for themselves or close family members per year, however that time is unpaid, barring workplace policy or short-term disability insurance. A handful of states have created insurance programs, similar to unemployment insurance, to pay employees a portion of their usual earnings while they are on approved leave.
- Protected time off for school events. Because participation in children’s schooling is so important, some states have passed laws to guarantee that parents can take a certain number of hours away from work to attend events and meetings related to their children’s schooling.
Parents in general, but especially single parents, can benefit from regulations that protect them when they take time off work due to family-related issues.
Full rankings: 100 best places for single parents
The following table breaks down the overall score for the 100 best locations as well as presents their subscores for each factor taken into consideration. Each column is sortable in either ascending or descending order. By sorting the chart, you’ll see how the different factors contribute to their scores.
Managing your finances as a single parent
Based off our findings and further research, there are a few ways single parents can better manage their finance on one income and with children.
Consider your debt relief options: If you’ve found yourself in debt and are struggling in repayment, you could review your debt relief options. Chapter 7 or 11 bankruptcy, debt settlement and debt management plans may be available to you. Learning how these options affect your credit score is something you should also research.
Review your personal loans options: Those with credit card debt or high-interest loans may want to consider refinancing or consolidating their debt into a personal loan with a lower interest rate. Doing so could reduce your overall costs for repayment. You could also extend your repayment term to reduce monthly payments, though this could increase how much total interest you pay on your loan.
Learn about government resources for parents: Single parents who are struggling financially may qualify for assistance through government or charitable programs, such as food banks. A 2017 study found that not all single parents were aware of the help that is provided at food banks or were not certain they were entitled to support.
Know your rights: Paid time off for sick children and protections against reprisal for going to parent-teacher conferences can make a big difference, although these policies may not be well enforced. Learn your rights regarding the Family and Medical Leave Act and any protected time off for school events you may be eligible for. Knowing what your rights are will help you protect yourself against employer repercussion.
Limiting our research to the current 100 largest metropolitan statistical areas (“MSAs”), we tracked each metro across four categories. The data was derived from the 2017 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimate from the U.S. Census (“2017 ACS”), except where otherwise noted.
- Median income of single-parent households (2017 ACS)
- The percentage difference between median single-parent households and all households (2017 ACS)
- The percentage of single-family households that fall beneath the federal poverty line (2017 ACS)
- The income limit to qualify for child care assistance from the state (“Overdue for Investment State Child Care Assistance,” National Women’s Law Center, October 2018 (“NWLC 2018”))
- The percentage difference between the single-parent household median income and the child care assistance income limit (NWLC 2018, 2017 ACS)
- Regional price parity for all items (“Table 6. Regional Price Parities by Metropolitan Area, 2016”, US Bureau of Economic Analysis (“2016 RPP”))
- Average commute time in minutes (2017 ACS)
- Average hours worked per week (2017 ACS)
- Workplace protection score
- Statewide paid family leave insurance (“State Paid Family and Medical Leave Insurance Laws,” National Partnership for Women & Families, February 2019 (“NPWF 2019”)
- Protected time off for school events (“School Related Parental Leave – State Laws,” workplacefairness.com (“workplacefairness.com”))
Each data series was scored relative to highest and lowest values across all metros. For each category, these scores were averaged for a highest possible category score of 100 and a lowest of 0. The four category scores were then averaged for a final score. The highest possible final score was 100 and the lowest was 0.