Left Behind

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Continued: Raising kids alone gets even tougher

  • Article by: ADAM BELZ , Star Tribune
  • Last update: April 7, 2014 - 10:05 AM

Loch came back to Minnesota, took a job at a salvage yard making $15 an hour, and set out to prove to social workers that he could take care of his daughter. He drove 100 miles round trip to visit her and attend mandatory meetings with county officials.

He now has Lily full time. He’s watched her learn to talk, walk, run and climb stairs, and figure out how to open Christmas presents. He teaches her to dance the hokey pokey and buys fresh vegetables for her to eat. “It’s just so cool watching her learn all these things; every day you see her pick up something,” he said.

But it’s been difficult to keep up financially. He pays $1,100 per month in rent and utilities, he said, because foreclosures have flooded the market near Park Rapids with renters, pushing up the cost of any home where he would feel comfortable raising his daughter. Fruits and vegetables, diapers, gas money — they add up. The critical cost is day care.

He had a spot for Lily lined up with a woman in Menahga, where they live, for $24 a day, but it fell through when another family needed two spots. Loch has started a better-paying job with a commercial construction firm in Perham, but a day-care center there would cost $8 an hour, he said, which is prohibitive.

“That’s about 40 percent of my hourly wage, and then throw another 30 percent to Uncle Sam, you walk away with 30 percent at the end of the day,” Loch said. “You can’t make it on that.”

Federal funding that subsidizes child care hit a 10-year low in 2012. In Minnesota, more than 8,000 families are on a waiting list for a child-care subsidy and 82 percent of those who qualify are not enrolled, said Hogenson, of the Children’s Defense Fund.

There’s little wiggle room for single fathers or mothers who must work part-time in order to care for their kids. The median wage offer for part-time openings in Minnesota is $10 per hour.

‘Tough fall’

No one would look at Veronica Perkins and pity her. She’s poised, energetic and hopeful about the future.

But her daily life is a battle. She and her daughter sleep on the couch at her mother’s house. One week in mid-January, she said she didn’t have enough money for food.

“I have to work on everybody else’s time right now because I’m homeless,” Perkins said. “I can’t find stability.”

Single mothers took an especially hard hit in the recession because a historically high share of them were working when the economy crashed and thus had more to lose, said Ron Haskins, co-director of the Brookings Center on Children and Families.

Welfare reform signed in 1996 by President Clinton was meant to move more people from welfare into the workforce, and it had the desired effect. In the early 1990s, 45 percent of never-married mothers — the poorest and least-educated — had a job, according to data compiled by Haskins. By 2007, almost 65 percent of never-married mothers were working, meaning a fifth of them joined the workforce in one decade.

“An irony is that when that happens, then the families are vulnerable to the economy, rather than to just welfare payments,” Haskins said. “In the old days, a lot of female-headed families, what did they know about recessions? They weren’t in the labor force anyway.”

The late 1990s were an anomaly, said Luke Shaefer, a professor of social work at the University of Michigan. The economy was booming, and single parents gained ground financially. When the recession hit, those gains were erased.

“By 2000, income inequality had tightened up a little bit, and gotten a little better,” Shaefer said. “Basically it’s been a tough fall ever since.”

About 31,000 parents in Minnesota received any sort of cash assistance from the government in 2012, the vast majority of them single mothers. A study over the course of the last decade showed that about half of those newly enrolled for cash assistance in Minnesota are coming straight out of a job, and about three of every five people getting food stamps, cash welfare, or child care assistance either is or was working in one of four largely low-wage industries — retail, restaurants, hotels and temp agencies.

These types of jobs often come with shifting and unpredictable work schedules, which make it even more difficult for single parents to plan ahead and arrange for baby sitters.

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