Toughest Cities to Be a Single Mom

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The share of children living in a single mother household has nearly doubled over the past 50 years. Single mothers in America today face unique challenges balancing the responsibilities of work and childcare and are almost four times as likely to live in poverty than the typical U.S. family.

While unmarried female householders with children are more likely to be poor, unemployed, and food insecure than married couples, some metro areas are better for single mothers than others. To determine the best (and worst) cities for single mothers, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed a range of social and economic indicators related to income, housing affordability, access to early education, and public transportation.

Click here to see the full list of the 10 worst cities for single mothers
Click here to see the 10 best cities for single mothers
Click here to read our methodology

Housing is often the biggest expense for any family and is a particularly heavy burden on single mothers. The typical unmarried female household with children in the United States earns 45.3% of the national median for all households, and there are not many options available when it comes to public programs that subsidize housing costs for single mothers. To afford an average two-bedroom apartment without spending more than 30% of her income on rent, a single mother in America would have to work anywhere from 46.0 hours a week in Midland to 181.5 hours in Santa Cruz — more hours than there are in a week.

One factor that can help reduce the burden of work and childcare for single mothers is access to high-quality preschool programs. Not only do public early education programs help set up a foundation for a child’s academic success, but they also provide families with free or subsidized childcare, often allowing single mothers the chance to pursue job or education opportunities. 

Public preschool programs are often funded at the state level, and enrollment varies significantly throughout the country. In U.S. metro areas, school enrollment of 3- and 4-year-olds ranges from 24.2% in Chambersburg-Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, to 69.0% in Boulder, Colorado. Low preschool enrollment can make it more difficult to raise children for all families and not just single mothers. Here is a full list of the worst cities to raise children.

Public transportation can also help connect single mothers with job and education opportunities that they otherwise might not have access to. While nationwide 5.1% of workers commute using public transit, less than 1% of workers do in over half of all U.S. metro areas. Access to public transportation is greater in dense, urban areas, with the largest shares of commuters using public transportation in New York, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. metro areas.

While New York City is one of the most expensive places to raise a family, it is one of the best cities for single mothers because of its universal pre-K programs and public transit infrastructure. Many other expensive cities do not have these advantages. Here is a full list of the most expensive places to raise a family.