Single-Parent Families Become Commonplace Lower Incomes Burden Many Single Mothers

Vickie Gordy remembers how lonely and weary she sometimes felt, raising a teenage daughter by herself. “It takes two strong people to raise a child today,” she said.

So it was with sadness and surprise that she heard of a U.S. Census Bureau report Monday listing her hometown of Albany, Ga., as the metropolitan area with the highest percentage of single-parent households in the nation.

“I am stunned that we’re even higher than New York,” said Gordy, an elementary school principal. New York City ranked second.

The Albany area - population 112,500, 46 percent of them black, and in the heart of the “Peanut Belt,” only 40 miles from Jimmy Carter’s hometown of Plains - seems a world away from New York, a metropolitan area of 8.5 million.

But single parents are becoming commonplace across the country.

Thirty percent of all American families - and 63 percent of the nation’s black families - were headed by single parents in 1993, the Census Bureau says.

The last census, in 1990, found more than 7 million single-parent families - about 28 percent of all families with children.

That was up from only 13 percent in 1970, before the divorce rate mushroomed. By 1980, 22 percent of families had only one parent.

“Since the ‘70s, we’ve seen a bit of a slowdown in the divorce rate,” said Arlene Saluter, a Census Bureau statistician. “However, there has been an increase in outof-wedlock childbearing and teenage pregnancies.”

Among Albany’s families with children under age 18 living in their own homes - as opposed to living with relatives or roommates - 37.3 percent were headed by single parents, said the Census Bureau report.

In New York City’s metropolitan area, the figure was 35.9 percent, followed by Flint, Mich., 35.3 percent; Jersey City, N.J., 34.3 percent; and New Orleans, 33.6 percent.

The Provo-Orem area in Utah had the smallest percentage of single parents - only 12 percent.

The single-family statistics include mothers and fathers who are divorced, separated, widowed or never were married and represent all income groups. But the majority - about 80 percent - were families led by women, and single families as a group had lower incomes than two-parent families.

For states and cities, a high percentage of single-parent families adds to the amount of money spent on welfare programs.

In an average month, 45 percent of the nation’s families headed by a single woman are in some type of major assistance program, receiving aid such as food stamps, Medicaid, rent assistance or Aid to Families with Dependent Children, according to 1988 census figures.

Gordy, who was divorced when her daughter was 16, has seen the effects of single parenthood on her family and on many of the children at Mock Road Elementary School.

The majority of Mock Road’s single parents are women, she said, who either live off public assistance or struggle at low-paying jobs.

Many have two or more children, she said, and don’t have the time to help with their homework or drive them to ballgames.

“It’s one person having to do the jobs of two parents.”

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