Single Parents Need to Earn Much, Much More To Actually Make a “Living Wage”

In some counties, there would need to be up to a 229% increase in wages to cover the most basic needs.

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A single mom does work at home with her daughter in the same room.
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A new report highlights just how impossible making a living wage is for parents across the United States. Between stagnant wages and economic crisis, families are struggling to afford basic care, and they have been struggling for some time. The 2022 County Health Rankings study highlights just how close to the financial edge millions of families are, and that pretty much no single parents are making a wage that will cover the basic needs of their family.

Single Parents Need to Make Way More Than They’re Earning Right Now

The study found that to make ends meet — meaning covering the costs of medical care, transportation, food, housing, and childcare — a family with one adult and two kids needs to earn an average of $35.80 an hour (or about $75,000 a year). In some counties, that amount could dip as low as $29.81 an hour (or about $63,000 a year). In others, it could rise to $65.45 an hour (about $138,000 a year.)

However, when compared to the average hourly wage in the United States, which is approximately $31.73 according to government data (about $67,000 a year), it’s easy to see that many families are not earning enough to stay afloat, let alone thrive. In fact, the study found that in nearly every county in the U.S., a typical worker earns less than what would be a livable wage for a single parent with two kids. (In April 2022, ZipRecruiter estimated that the average wage for a single parent was about $51,000 a year, or $25/an hour, which is about the same as the national average salary.)

Only two counties out of 3,100 across the U.S. provide a living wage for the average worker, as defined in this study. And this doesn’t factor in a wage that would also cover retirement, education costs, emergency savings, or long-term financial security. In order to make a living wage in these counties, there would need to be a 73% increase in wages, and some counties would need as much as a 229% increase.

A Third of America’s Workforce Makes Less Than $15/an Hour — and Almost a Third of Minimum Wage Workers Are Parents

Average wages obscure the financial struggle some parents are facing. The situation is even direr for families that have minimum wage jobs, which in many states is just the federal minimum: $7.25 an hour. A full-time, year-round worker making the federal minimum wage in the United States makes only $15,000 a year.

Thirty-two percent of the U.S. workforce (some 52 million U.S. workers) make less than $15 an hour. Twenty-eight percent of minimum wage workers are parents.

Statistics show that one in four kids are raised in single-parent households. The U.S. has the world’s highest rate of children living in single-parent households, a majority of those single parents being working moms. The report also highlights financial structural issues, like racism and sexism, as being detrimental to the well-being of families.

“Women earn little more than 80 cents on the dollar men earn, and by comparison, the earnings for women living in rural areas and women of color remain among the lowest,” the report finds. “To earn the $61,807 average annual salary of a white man, women of all races and ethnicities must work several more days, if not months, into the following year.”

Single Parents Pay Nearly a Third to Half of Their Income in Child Care

In order for parents with children to work, there needs to be affordable access to childcare, which is far from reality in the United States. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the benchmark for affordable childcare should be no more than 7% of total income. The report shows that for a married couple with an annual combined income of more than $100,000, parents are paying nearly double the benchmark for childcare. A single mom with kids will end up paying approximately 45% of her annual salary, which is on average around $30,681. For a single dad with an annual average salary of $47,375, 29% of that will go toward childcare.

Essentially, the report highlights that it’s nigh impossible for many Americans to be able to afford to cover their most basic needs. The federal government could rectify many of these problems by enacting a more realistic minimum wage, and subsidizing and even making child care free for many more Americans.

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