A story release today by the Associated Press reports
that when one thinks about what a family does to plan a financial future,
what often comes to mind is a mom and dad caring for their children. But increasingly,
families are headed by a single parent, and the steps to ensure a secure future must
be taken with the grim reality that there isn't a back-up partner should things go awry.
"The normal rules and advice that apply to married couples don't
apply for single parents," said Deirdre Weaver, author of "Loosely Braided Fog:
A 3-D Single Mom In The Making" and a speaker for the American Association for Single
People in Glendale, an advocacy group for singles.
That doesn't mean that single parents and coupled parents don't have the
same financial concerns. It's just that for single moms and dads, the pressure to get it
right is more intense because they're it.
More than 20 million children, or more than 27 percent of young people,
now live in a single-parent household, said Thomas F. Coleman, executive director of the
single people association.
And while most single-parent homes are headed by women, a growing number
of men also are raising children on their own, he said. The number of single dads grew 25
percent between 1995 and 1998, from 1.7 million to 2.1 million, while the number of single
moms remained constant at about 9.8 million.
But be it a single mom or dad, experts say single parents need to realize
that just because their income is cut in half, doesn't mean their expenses will be as
well. It's not that simple.
"Single-parent families in this lower income group spend a larger
proportion of their income on their children," said Mark Lino, an economist with the
Agriculture Department. "As single-parent families have one less potential earner
(the absent partner), their total household income is lower and child-rearing expenses
consume a greater percentage of income."
This doesn't mean that single parents can't make a life for themselves and
their children. They just have to be vigilant about how they spend their money. Among the
things to keep in mind:
Do a budget and stick to it as best as you can.
Cut your debt as much as possible.
Talk to the kids about the finances.
Protect what you have with adequate insurance.
Continue saving -- even if it's a small amount.
In addition, single parents should try to cut their expenses as much as
possible and be frank with the children about the family's finances.
Finally, have a carefully crafted estate plan.
Make sure you have a will and name a guardian for your minor children.
Be clear about how you want the money distributed for your children. This
is especially important if you're divorced and have primary custody of the kids.
If something happens to you, and your children are cared for by your
former spouse, you must ensure that the money you leave will be used for their benefit.
You can also establish a trust into which your children's inheritance will
flow when you die and you can spell out how the money will be used.
A trust is a legal entity that holds title to assets and property for the
benefit of another person or persons -- called a beneficiary or beneficiaries.
A trustee, whom you designate, administers the trust, handling such duties
as record-keeping, distribution of assets to beneficiaries and paying taxes.
"That way, you put responsibility on the trustee to make sure the
assets are used in the way the deceased parent intended," said Marcia Williams,
president and chief executive of Independence Trust Co. in Franklin, Tenn., a financial
and trust management firm.
A story published today by the Plain Dealer reports that an
expanding political movement in Washington is promoting marriage as a powerful
prescription for many modern ills. Couples who marry, proponents argue, are likely to be
richer, happier, healthier, more productive and less expensive to taxpayers than those who
The very conclusions widely ridiculed in 1992, when Vice President Dan Quayle exalted
the nuclear family while condemning TV character Murphy Brown for bearing a child out of
wedlock, are being verified through research.
Among the findings:
The poverty rate of 28 percent for female-headed households is five times the rate of
married couples, according to the 2000 U.S. census.
Two of three families receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (welfare), are
single parents, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
A 1996 survey of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth reports that children of
divorced families were more likely to lie, steal, get drunk, damage school property and
seriously hurt others than those of intact marriages.
Critics charge that the research oversimplifies complex matters, and that the
pro-marriage movement favors one segment of America at the expense of others.
On Capitol Hill, Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana, head of the centrist Democratic Leadership
Council, has introduced a bill to give $380 million to states for marriage and fatherhood
initiatives. "This isn't about a slogan or criticizing a situation comedy," Bayh
said in an interview. "This is about putting into place those things that will
actually help children and strengthen families."
Louisiana was in the movement's vanguard, enacting the country's first "covenant
marriage" law in 1997. Couples who choose to participate - whether marrying or
already married - must seek counseling and wait two years before a divorce becomes final.
Other states have also begun their own pro-marriage experiments.
Arizona and Arkansas offer covenant marriages, with Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee
declaring a "state of marital emergency." Oklahoma has put $10 million in
federal welfare money toward an effort to cut the divorce rate by one-third in 10 years.
Gov. Frank Keating views broken marriages as the main cause of poverty. West Virginia,
meanwhile, pays married parents who receive welfare a $100-a-month bonus.
But to Heather Boushey, an economist with the Washington-based Economic Policy
Institute, the marriage movement misses the key point: Poverty is about money, not
According to a July 23 report authored by Boushey and others, 4 million American
working-class families wonder whether they will have enough money to meet basic expenses
at the end of the month. Single mothers were nearly three times as likely to experience
economic hardship as married people, but the authors chose not to highlight that fact.
There was a reason, Boushey said. "We don't know how to convince people to find
someone who treats them well, someone they can get along with. It's not something
government and public policy can do.
"What we do know is that access to a good job, to health insurance, to subsidized
health care and child care are effective. In the end," she said, "you can stand
there holding a marriage certificate, but that doesn't mean you'll be able to meet your
Single-parent families on the rise
in North Carolina
A story released today by News & Record reports that according to just-released
2000 Census figures in the state of North Carolina, 12 percent of all white families and a
staggering 43 percent of all black families in Guilford County, are headed by females
with no husband present. The number of single fathers is also rising fast, though single
mothers still represent the overwhelming majority of single-parent households.
Those numbers reflect national and regional trends that continued from the 1990 census.
Virtually everywhere in the Triad and across America, the trend toward more single-mother
families is continuing.
In most cases, there's a disproportionate number of minority families, especially
blacks, for reasons ranging from poverty to divorce to cultural challenges. Statistics
also show that while about a third of all American children are born out of wedlock,
nearly 70 percent of African American children are born outside marriage.
In North Carolina, 40 percent of black families and 12 percent of white families are
headed by single women.
In Asheboro and Lexington, one of every two black families with children is led by a
single mother. High Point is one of the few area cities where those numbers decreased
slightly over the past decade, yet still 14 percent of its white families and 47 percent
of its black families are led by single females.
That worries Peggy Dilworth-Anderson, a professor of human development and family
studies at UNCG, because of the accompanying likelihood that such families will live in
"Single-parent households tend to be poorer than two-parent households,"
Dilworth-Anderson says. "When there's a lack of a partner, there's a lack of a
Children living in single-parent families are four times as likely to be poor as
children raised in two-parent homes, according to the Urban Institute's 1999 Survey of
Experts say that families headed by single females of any race are much more likely to
Family structure is changing because society and Americans' attitudes and expectations
are changing, some experts say.
"Marriage is in a state of crisis," says Ida Simpson, a Duke University
sociologist who teaches a course called "The Changing American Family."
"The crisis is two-pronged," Simpson says. "One is bearing children
outside of marriage. The other is divorce. In each case there is a strong impact on the
family -- namely, what happens to children."
From 1960 to 1999, the number of children living with a single parent rose from 5.8
million to 19.8 million. And more than 40 percent of those 19.8 million children were
living in poverty in 1999, experts say. Other studies have indicated that children from
fatherless families are more likely to be incarcerated and less likely to finish college
than their peers from two-parent homes.
Steve Lilley, an N.C. State sociologist, says that more single-parent families are to
be expected in the United States, where the divorce rate has approached 50 percent of all
marriages for decades.
"There's also a trend toward independent living for women at both ends of the age
range," Lilley says. "Young men and women are delaying marriage longer than in
the past, and women are less likely to marry (again) if their marriage falls apart. And at
the other end, older women with children don't remarry as quickly as in the past.
"Women in general are more economically sufficient. The need for another man to
support them, or for another income, is not as great as it was in the past."