Finance for Parents

10 Best Cities in America for Single Parents

By Allison KadeJun 24, 2019

Single-parent households were once a rarity in the U.S. In 1950, the U.S. Census Bureau found that only 7.4 percent of households with children under 18 were single-parent households.

But that number has steadily increased since the decade of Father Knows Best and Leave it to Beaver. The latest statistics show that single-parent households now account for 30.9 of all households with young children.


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graph - single parenting is on the rise

Historically, one-parent families are more commonly headed up by women than by men. The latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that trend holds true. Single-mother households represent 24.8 percent of all households with kids, compared to 5.5 percent for single-father households.

American families by whether they are headed by mother only, father only, two parents married or two parents unmarried

Solo parents face unique challenges. According to the American Psychological Association, stressors unique to single parents include custody challenges, inter-parent conflict, disruptions of extended family relationships and less time spent with the children, among others.

Single parents often bear full financial responsibility for their families, as well. In addition to standard household bills such as mortgage/rent, electricity and groceries, there’s also childcare, medical bills, social outings and extracurricular activities.

As child care costs in the U.S. skyrocket, these bills alone often eat up a substantial portion of a single parent’s paycheck.

Fortunately, many single parents find ways to make the most of their budget and time. One of the most important factors in quality of life is location. Certain cities have more to offer single parents based on factors like average income, unemployment rates, child care costs, home prices and commute times.

To identify the best cities for single parents, researchers at Fabric, a one-stop shop for families to organize their finances, looked at metropolitan areas all around the country. They analyzed cities with at least 350,000 people and created a composite score based on the following metrics:

  • Median household income for single parents

  • Unemployment & employment rates for single parents

  • Cost of living

  • Housing costs as a share of income for single parents

  • Average annual state child care cost

  • Percentage of single parents with a bachelor’s degree or higher

  • Average commute length

Takeaways

  • The median household income for single parent households in the U.S. is $37,100. Across major metros, this number ranges from a high of $78,000 to a low of $22,000. Nationally, the unemployment rate among single parents is 5.9 percent and ranges from less than 1 percent to as high as 19 percent.

  • The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) considers families who pay more than 30 percent of their income on housing to be “cost burdened.” On the whole, housing accounts for 23 percent of household income among single parents in the U.S. That fluctuates dramatically across major metro areas, from 16 percent to 38 percent.

  • Research shows that parents’ educational level has strong positive effects on the educational and occupational success of children. In cities where many single parents have a college education, we’re interpreting that as a sign that they’re “doing well,” even though that’s a subjective measure. Across the U.S., one-third of all single parents hold a bachelor’s degree or higher. Some major metro areas fall far beneath that average. In parts of Texas and central California, less than 20 percent of single parents have a bachelor’s degree. On the other hand, in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area, that number is 57 percent.

  • Less time commuting means more time with the kids. The average American worker spends 26 minutes commuting each way (53 minutes per day). At 19 minutes each way, Wichita, Kansas, is the only major metro area in which workers have a commute that’s under 20 minutes.

The Best Metros for Single Parents

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

10. Naples-Immokalee-Marco Island, FL

  • Overall score: 92.36

  • Median household income for single parents: $39,000

  • Single parent unemployment rate: 3.0%

  • Cost of living: About average

  • Housing costs as a share of income for single parents: 27%

  • Average annual state child care cost: $9,018

  • Single parents with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 46%

  • Mean one-way commute time: 25 minutes

The Naples-Immokalee-Marco Island area of Florida is situated on the Gulf of Mexico, giving its single-parent families plenty of opportunities for sun and water-soaked fun. The metro area has repeatedly been recognized as the happiest, healthiest city in the U.S.

Beyond its weather and location, however, the region offers single parents lower-than-average child care costs and a low unemployment rate. Housing costs are on the higher side of the national average, but so is income. The community is also among the safest in Florida, according to the National Council for Home Safety and Security.

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

9. Huntsville, AL

  • Overall score: 92.56

  • Median household income for single parents: $35,000

  • Single parent unemployment rate: 8.2%

  • Cost of living: 10% below average

  • Housing costs as a share of income for single parents: 17%

  • Average annual state child care cost: $5,858

  • Single parents with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 39%

  • Mean one-way commute time: 23 minutes

Huntsville, Alabama, or “Rocket City,” is home to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center and NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. While it may be a bit more difficult to secure employment in the Huntsville metro, single parents benefit from below-average living costs.

In particular, home prices are low and the average annual cost of child care in Alabama is about half the national average. U.S. News and World Report ranks Huntsville as the eleventh best place to live in the country, thanks in part to its affordability.

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

8. Omaha-Council Bluffs, NE-IA

  • Overall score: 92.61

  • Median household income for single parents: $38,515

  • Single parent unemployment rate: 4.6%

  • Cost of living: 7% below average

  • Housing costs as a share of income for single parents: 23%

  • Average annual state child care cost: $10,131

  • Single parents with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 33%

  • Mean one-way commute time: 20 minutes

The Omaha-Council Bluffs metro area is known for its affordability. In addition to saving money, single parents in this area also save time. The typical one-way commute time is just 20 minutes, nearly six and a half minutes below the national average. When it comes to schooling, Omaha also offers a rare option for parents: The city has an open school system that allows parents to choose their child’s school based on needs and interests, not neighborhood.

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

7. Raleigh, NC

  • Overall score: 92.62

  • Median household income for single parents: $42,000

  • Single parent unemployment rate: 5.1%

  • Cost of living: 4% below average

  • Housing costs as a share of income for single parents: 23%

  • Average annual state child care cost: $9,254

  • Single parents with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 49%

  • Mean one-way commute time: 27 minutes

Dubbed the “Smithsonian of the South,” Raleigh, North Carolina features a number of free museums and historical attractions. The capital city is also rich with other low-to-no cost fun and recreation opportunities for families.

Single parents in Raleigh are highly educated and earn an average of $42,000 a year, 13.2 percent above the national average. With such an educated population, it makes sense that Forbes ranks Raleigh as the second best place in the country for business and careers.

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

6. Wichita, KS

  • Overall score: 92.78

  • Median household income for single parents: $36,700

  • Single parent unemployment rate: 5.8%

  • Cost of living: 11% below average

  • Housing costs as a share of income for single parents: 18%

  • Average annual state child care cost: $10,955

  • Single parents with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 33%

  • Mean one-way commute time: 19 minutes

In Wichita, Kansas, single parents save time and money. The cost of living in this Midwestern metro is a full 11 percent below the national average. On top of that, single parents get a boost from lower-than-average housing and child care costs.

Commute times are shorter as well. While most individuals throughout the country spend an average of 26 minutes commuting every day, the typical commute time in this city is a slim 19 minutes. Wichita is also home to eight public libraries that offer fun, affordable and educational programs for kids of all ages.

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

5. Little Rock-North Little Rock-Conway, AR

  • Overall score: 93.10

  • Median household income for single parents: $36,400

  • Single parent unemployment rate: 5.1%

  • Cost of living: 9% below average

  • Housing costs as a share of income for single parents: 20%

  • Average annual state child care cost: $6,726

  • Single parents with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 33%

  • Mean one-way commute time: 23 minutes

Single parents in Little Rock, Arkansas earn approximately 2 percent less than the national median. However, they make up for the difference with a cost of living that is 9 percent below average. Single parents in the central Arkansas region also save significantly on child care costs. Residents in Arkansas pay an average of $6,726 per year for child care, compared to the national average of $11,297.

Single-parent families here can stretch their dollar further, helping them afford kid-friendly attractions such as the Little Rock Zoo, Museum of Discovery and Arts Center Children's Theater.

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

4. Asheville, NC

  • Overall score: 94.00

  • Median household income for single parents: $37,800

  • Single parent unemployment rate: 1.4%

  • Cost of living: 7% below average

  • Housing costs as a share of income for single parents: 21%

  • Average annual state child care cost: $9,254

  • Single parents with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 39%

  • Mean one-way commute time: 21 minutes

The unemployment rate among single parents in Asheville, North Carolina, is just 1.4 percent. That puts the city well below the national rate of 5.9 percent. Single parents in Asheville also benefit from a cost of living that is 7 percent below the national average.

The mountainous city offers single parents job security, an affordable lifestyle and plenty of kid-friendly activities. According to the Asheville Convention & Visitors Bureau, families can enjoy and explore an “8 million acre backyard.” Well-known attractions include Sliding Rock and the Adventure Center.

Photo Credit: Sean Pavone / Alamy Stock Photo

3. Austin-Round Rock, TX

  • Overall score: 94.33

  • Median household income for single parents: $48,500

  • Single parent unemployment rate: 3.0%

  • Cost of living: About average

  • Housing costs as a share of income for single parents: 24%

  • Average annual state child care cost: $9,102

  • Single parents with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 49%

  • Mean one-way commute time: 27 minutes

Nationally, 33 percent of single parents hold a bachelor’s degree or higher. Single parents in Austin-Round Rock far exceed that figure, at 49 percent. Perhaps not surprisingly, single parents in this metro area also earn more. Round Rock, especially, has plenty to offer families and children with an interest in sports. Often referred to as the “Sports Capital of Texas,” Round Rock hosts world-class sports facilities and numerous national tournaments. As such, the city provides ample opportunity for kids to get involved with recreational sports leagues.

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

2. Lansing-East Lansing, MI

  • Overall score: 95.04

  • Median household income for single parents: $46,390

  • Single parent unemployment rate: 3.3%

  • Cost of living: 8% below average

  • Housing costs as a share of income for single parents: 21%

  • Average annual state child care cost: $10,603

  • Single parents with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 32%

  • Mean one-way commute time: 22 minutes

Lansing and East Lansing offer single parents high wages and low living costs. The cost of living here is 8 percent below the national average. At the same time, single parents earn more than $9,000 above the national median.

In 2017, East Lansing voters demonstrated their commitment to the city’s families by voting in favor of a $93.7 million school bond to rebuild or renovate six elementary schools. When not in school, children in the greater Lansing area enjoy educational attractions including the Impression 5 Science Center and MSU Museum.

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

1. Ann Arbor, MI

  • Overall score: 96.46

  • Median household income for single parents: $55,350

  • Single parent unemployment rate: 2.3%

  • Cost of living: About average

  • Housing costs as a share of income for single parents: 24%

  • Average annual state child care cost: $10,603

  • Single parents with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 49%

  • Mean one-way commute time: 24 minutes

Ann Arbor, Michigan tops the list as the best metropolitan area for single parents. The unemployment rate among single parents in Ann Arbor is 2.3 percent, well below the national rate of 5.9 percent. Single parents in this Midwestern metro also earn more than single parents nationally and pay less for child care.

Most notably, Ann Arbor is home to the University of Michigan, which helps shape the local economy by attracting students, researchers and other businesses. Culturally, Ann Arbor hosts impressive museums, libraries, performing arts groups and fairs. A strong local economy combined with myriad cultural attractions makes Ann Arbor a terrific place to raise a family.

Methodology

Statistics on single-parent households were derived from the U.S. Census Bureau 2017 American Community Survey Public Use Microdata Samples. The analysis looked at all households with children under 18 headed by a single parent. Households with an unmarried partner present were not considered to be single-parent households.

Statistics not specific to single-parent households include: mean one-way commute time, cost of living and state average annual child care cost. Mean one-way commute time is from the 2017 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates. Cost of living is from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis Regional Price Parities. State-level average annual child care costs are from Child Care Aware.

To identify the best metropolitan areas for single parents, Fabric created a composite score based on the following metrics:

  • Median household income for single parents

  • Single parent unemployment rate

  • Percentage of single parents employed*

  • Cost of living

  • Housing costs as a share of income for single parents

  • Average annual state child care cost

  • Single parents with a bachelor’s degree or higher

  • Mean one-way commute time

*The single parent unemployment rate only includes individuals in the labor force, while the percentage of single parents employed includes everyone. Both statistics are included to account for situations where the unemployment rate is brought down by individuals who leave the labor force after not finding work.

Only metros with at least 350,000 people were included in the analysis.


Fabric exists to help young families master their money. Our articles abide by strict editorial standards.


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Written by

Allison Kade

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