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The hidden cost of single mothers

By J. DeVoy

In honor of filing my taxes, here’s some information about the tax benefits that men, families and child-free women won’t be receiving this season.  From Butterfly Squash:

  • “Head of Household” is the filing status used by most single parents. They contribute the least to income taxes. The most are contributed by single males, followed by married couples, and then single females. Normally, married couples would pay the most, except that so many of them are homeowners and therefore eligible for the despicable mortgage interest credit.
  • WIC is only for women.
  • The child care tax credit is used more often by single parents than by married couples.
  • Single mothers are the group most likely to receive free or subsidized health care, child care, and preschool (including the popular but worthless Head Start program).
  • Single parents often receive subsidized housing and utilities.
  • The vast majority of TANF (welfare) and Food Stamp recipients are single parents.
  • Single parents benefit disproportionately from the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). The median income for single mothers ($31,818) was under the lowest bracket, and that of single fathers ($47,078) was over the highest bracket.

That means that while the majority of single mothers qualify for these and other income transfers, the overwhelming majority of single fathers and married couples do not qualify for them.

To recap, programs to help “working families” disproportionately benefit single mothers, though they theoretically exist for the benefit of all.  While exceptions exist – plenty of single mothers do well for themselves and their children, and single motherhood is becoming a trend among affluent, autonomous women – the majority of never-married mothers do not fall into this category.  Research shows that single mothers (distinct from divorced mothers, who are much less likely to ever live in poverty) and their children have, on average, worse outcomes than their peers in intact households.

Solution: Don’t pull the ladder up or rug out from under those who need these benefits, but start structuring them differently.  Have the child tax credit increase for married couples, and scale upward as household and/or individual income increases.  Make it a significant enough motivator for well-off, presumably intelligent people to have children.  This also creates a stronger incentive for parents to marry, but will at least increase the benefits awarded to single mothers who earn more and are most likely to be capable parents.

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