Number of Parents is Related to Whether Children Are Poor
The number of parents living with a child is generally linked to the amount and quality of human and economic resources available to that child. Since women generally earn less than men for various reasons, single women have a higher risk of being poor than single men.
Nationally, children of single mothers are much more likely to live in low-income families below 200% of the FPL (71%) than are children of single fathers (46%) or two parents (27%). In 2003, the poverty rate for female-headed households nationally increased to 28%.
Absence of Fathers Denies Children Crucial Support
Fathers are very important in the development of a child. Research overwhelmingly supports the benefits that accrue to children and families through positive father involvement. When children do not receive support from both parents, they lack crucial financial and personal resources in their lives. According to 2001 national data, among families in which children are living with their mothers and have noncustodial fathers, just under half receive child support payments.
For poor families, the likelihood of receiving child support is much lower—only about 36% receive payments. For those who receive child support, the average received is $2,550 per year, or $213 per month. For families with income between 100 and 200% of the poverty level, about 50% receive payments, and the average received is $3,980 per year, or $332 per month.
Under the best of circumstances, a father is a source of love, nurturance, guidance and support. Research shows that children need the care of both parents. Unfortunately, changing family structures and social and environmental pressure have left many children with just one parent.
Research shows that a father’s absence in a child’s life can be devastating.
Children living in fatherless homes are:
• 5 times more likely to live in poverty
• 9 times more likely to drop out of school
• 37% more likely to abuse drugs
• 2 times more likely to be incarcerated
• 2.5 times more likely to become a teen parent
• 20 times more likely to have behavioral disorders
• 32 times more likely to run away
During the 1990s, policy makers concentrated on reforming the welfare system to help get single mothers back into the workforce. Support systems with employment-based services were created to assist women meet the financial needs of their families. There has been little investment in low-income fathers – the other half of the parental equation.
Low-income fathers share many of the same characteristics as welfare mothers- minimal job skills, limited work history and low education levels. They can benefit from the same type of supports and services. Currently, no formal social service network exists to assist low-income fathers to become financial providers or help them gain skills to become better parents to their children.
Fathers and others, often judge their worth as parents by the financial contribution they can make. This notion is reinforced by systems that usually recognize fathers only after they fail to meet financial expectations. Men have far more to offer their children than financial support. Research demonstrates that children benefit in a variety of ways when they have significant positive involvement with their fathers. Children have fewer behavioral problems, higher levels of sociability, high level of school performance, demonstrate important problem solving skills and have increased cognitive capacities when their fathers are involved. It is of course, important to underscore the importance of financial support when we discuss the needs of poor children. Yet it is equally important to make clear that a father’s presence in his child’s life is important to the child’s well being and healthy development.
High Crime Levels, Parental Incarceration Add to Isolated Families’ Difficulties
High levels of crime in some communities further isolate poor families with children. Family members in high-poverty urban neighborhoods are more likely to be victims of crime.
Children in these neighborhoods are also more likely to have a parent – usually a father – go to prison. While information about the children of the incarcerated and the economic status of their families is not available, it is safe to assume that most of the incarcerated have come from, or have left behind, families that live at or below the poverty level.
Persons of color and men are more likely to be incarcerated. Non-Hispanic Whites make up an estimated 77% of the Connecticut population.84 However, of the 18,583 inmates in Connecticut on July 1, 2004, 29% were white, 43% were African-American, and 27% were non-white Hispanic. The vast majority (93%) of the inmates were male.
Rates of Incarceration Per 100,00086
Connecticut’s rates show an even greater racial and ethnic disparity than the national rates. The glaring disparity in the incarceration rates, translates to a similarly disproportionate economic impact on the families and children of the African American and Hispanic prisoners. About 70% of Connecticut’s prisoners are people of color and almost half of them come from just four cities—Hartford, New Haven, Bridgeport, and Waterbury.
A national ratio of children dependents to prisoners is roughly children for every 100 incarcerated.88 If this formula were applied to Connecticut’s incarcerated population, for a very conservative estimate, we would find that at least 13,891 children in Connecticut have a parent in prison.
Incarceration of a parent takes away a wage earner and further impoverishes children. It also increases the likelihood that a child will be an offender and imprisoned himself later in life. A child whose father is incarcerated is five to seven times more likely to be incarcerated later in life.
Children who grow up with a parent in jail are more likely to live in low-income neighborhoods where they are exposed to violence, drugs, hunger, homelessness, abuse and mental health problems. Parents that are left raising a child alone because a partner or other parent is incarcerated is often left struggling financially, which can drag a family into poverty.
Unintended consequences of incarcerated parents on children include problems with separation, caretaking, schooling, antisocial behavior during childhood, educational failure, precocious sexuality, premature departure from home, early childbearing and marriage, and idleness and joblessness during adolescence and early adulthood. Often times older children in families with an incarcerated parent are left to care for younger children, reducing the chances of school success.
Children whose parents are in prison – like children of other parents who leave the home --are more likely to be raised by a non-parent. In Connecticut, nearly 19,000 grandparents are responsible for meeting the basic needs of their grandchildren. Of Connecticut grandparents responsible for their grandchildren under age 18, an estimated 17% live in poverty.
The factors leading to child and family poverty are numerous, diverse and complex. They start with economic self-sufficiency and the difficulties that many families have in finding and keeping quality jobs with benefits that provide protections and supports. The reasons for poverty also include educational deficits, the high cost of living, health care crises, a lack of assets and supports to build family financial security, family structure changes, discrimination and other factors.
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