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Here’s What it Takes to Make it as a Single Parent in Your State

Parenthood isn’t cheap, and single parents often bear some or all of the financial responsibilities on their own. But how much you need to earn to be a single parent making what is known as a “living wage” varies by state — by almost $20,000. New data from MIT’s Living Wage Calculator looks at exactly how much single parents need to earn to be considered as “getting by” — a.k.a. not relying on outside help or living below the poverty line — in each state.

The Living Wage Calculator was created in 2004 in part due to the failures of the federally-created poverty line to reflect actual costs of living. The poverty line is calculated by looking solely at the bare minimum cost of food and assumes food is a family’s largest expense. It does not factor in things like transportation, rent, or other basic needs. For a family of two, for example, the 2019 poverty line is $16,910.  The MIT calculations take a more comprehensive approach but do not take into consideration “luxuries” such as dining out or vacations. It also notably doesn’t take into consideration any extra money for savings, debts, or investments. In other words, if you’re a single mother of two in Tennessee earning $52,900, you still may be barely scraping by.


The calculations from the living wage calculator also show that no matter where you live, it costs far more to be a single parent with a child or children than the federal poverty line would indicate. For example, a single parent must earn $62,871, in California, the most expensive state in the rankings, to “get by.” That is 3.7 times above the federally set poverty line for a family of two. The cost of being a single parent is lowest in Mississippi, where a parent must earn at least $43,828 to be making a living wage. While nearly $20,000 below California, this is still 2.5 times more than the poverty line. In both cases, many parents earning less than their state’s living wage (but more than the poverty line) may watch the number of government services available to them, such assisted lunch or childcare subsidies, shrink and disappear.

A lower cost of living also comes with its own disadvantages; comparably low-cost Alabama, for example, ranks 50th for education in the U.S. Mississippi, the least expensive state to raise a child alone, might also be the least healthy one. In other words, in states where children of single parents can benefit the most from public services such as education, they also will need to earn more to take advantage of them.

To find out how your state ranks, see the full list on CNBC.

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