Federal Way single parents struggle with poverty

By all accounts, it’s tougher for single-parent households to survive, especially in today’s economy.

In Federal Way, almost one out of three single parents are likely to live in poverty. About 37 percent of Federal Way’s nearly 33,000 households are headed by a single parent with children under age 18, according to the city’s consolidated plan. In King County overall, that number is 27 percent, and for Washington state, it’s about 31 percent of households.

“A lot of single parents, mostly women, have faced some kind of trauma,” said Pam Taylor, development director at Valley Cities, a non-profit behavioral health center that serves Federal Way and South King County. “Divorce is a trauma unto itself.”

Single parents can face steeper obstacles in meeting the financial demands of a household, and often lack support for flexible child care and transportation.

“If you have a sick kid, somebody’s got to watch them,” said Taylor, noting that single parents miss more days of work. “It’s a web of things that add up to make it really tough.”

Higher shares of single-parent families occur in areas with large minority populations like South King County, according to a report by Dick Morrill, University of Washington professor and urban demography expert.

Other areas with more single-parent families include Indian reservations and military bases. On the other end of the spectrum, affluent suburbs have the lowest share of single-parent households.

Single parents often run into economic and emotional trouble not because of one particular trauma, but when traumas pile up, Taylor said. It can start with a divorce or unemployment, which can snowball into losing a home or falling into depression, for example.

Poverty further complicates these life situations. About 31 percent of Federal Way households headed by a single female with children under age 18 were in poverty. For King County, the overall figure is 27 percent.

The poverty line is defined as the minimum level of income needed to secure life’s necessities.

“Poverty generates all kinds of different problems,” Taylor said. “You’re always put in a position to always ask for help. It has a tendency to put people in a position of powerlessness.”

One indicator of an area’s poverty is the rate of free and reduced meals in schools. The Federal Way School District reports that as of June 2011, nearly 56 percent of students receive free or reduced price lunches. Olympic View and Mark Twain elementary schools have a rate of nearly 83 percent. These schools are located in areas of Federal Way where the percentage of low- to moderate-income households exceeds 51 percent, according to the city’s report.

On that note, black and Hispanic households have a slightly lower annual median household income (just over $40,000) than Asian (approaching $60,000) and non-Hispanic white households ($60,000-plus), according to the report. The National Kids Count Program estimates that in 2009, black families comprised 67 percent of single-parent households, and Hispanic families comprised about 40 percent.

About 13.6 million single parents live in the United States, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Those single parents are raising 21.2 million children, or about 26 percent of children under age 21.


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