A Qualitative Study of Single Mothers in Allegheny County

A Qualitative Study of Single Mothers in Allegheny County

The requirements of social service programs often are not aligned with the realities of the lives of single mothers who need those services, a report from the Pittsburgh Foundation finds. According to the report, A Qualitative Study of Single Mothers in Allegheny County: A 100 Percent Pittsburgh Project (36 pages PDF), 72 percent of households living in poverty in the county are headed by single mothers, even though they make up only 28 percent of all families with children — in part because cash benefits to low-income families with children have declined since 1996. And while 64 percent of single mothers work, few have the training and skills needed to secure a living-wage job with benefits. Based on interviews, the report highlights how the lack of affordable housing in the county forces poor households to live farther from public transportation, job opportunities, and services, as well as how the so-called benefits cliff — the withdrawal of government-subsidized food assistance and child care as a recipient's wages increase — traps single working mothers in a cycle of poverty. The report also describes complex program requirements and limited service hours that effectively render services inaccessible to many working single parents. Recommendations for service providers include improving the dissemination of critical information, co-locating services, and extending agency hours; doing more to provide job skills that are in demand as well as financial management skills training; offering programs that support the emotional well-being of single mothers; eliminating stigma around public assistance and including single mothers in the program design process; and supporting single mothers' participation in advocacy efforts and leadership training.