Welfare and the Single Parent Family
Pgs 2-5, BC Benefits Monthly Statistical Report Released March 1997, December 1996 Statistics
Much recent public discussion has focused on the welfare caseload as if it were a static and unchanging block of individuals and families. In fact, the caseload is subject to constant change as people are assisted by the welfare system through difficult financial circumstances. Different family types respond differently to changes in the economic and social environment, as well as to changes in Income Support policies. This article focuses on single parent families, and is the first in a series that will look at the Income Support caseload by family type.
Single parent cases are predominantly in the Age 25-59 (Welfare to Work), Age 19-24 (Youth Works) and Under 19 caseload. This group of programs (referred to as Basic BC Benefits in this article) accounts for 96 per cent of single parent cases and 97 per cent of children in single parent families. Other programs (Seniors Benefits, Age 60-64 and Disabled Persons) account for the balance. Data used in this article has been restricted to Basic BC Benefits. However, in view of the large per cent of cases accounted for, this does not reduce the usefulness of the analysis.
Compared to two parent families, the number of single parent families does not change dramatically in response to changes in the economic cycle. Figures 1 and 2 show the numbers of single parent and two parent families over the past 17 years. These graphs are very different. The two parent family caseload has considerable winter-time variation, with the increase/decrease in the 10-25 per cent range. The single parent caseload exhibits no such variation. Furthermore, caseload increases as a result of the Canada-wide recessions in 1982 and in 1990 are earlier and much sharper for the two parent caseload than for single parents. The increases from 1982 to 1986 and from 1990 to 1995 are about 100% for two parent families, compared to about 60% for single parent families. And this is despite a background demographic shift where the number of single parent families has been increasing faster than two parent families.
For single parents, the principal driver of caseload growth has been the increase in the number of single parents in the general population. This has driven the slow but steady increase in single parent families on welfare-tempered by slight changes to the rate of growth over the economic cycle. Women in single parent families have, on average, much lower incomes from employment and have difficulty in collecting maintenance payments for their children. Often, female single parents lack the necessary education, skills and training to find jobs that will provide a living wage and adequate medical and dental benefits.
With the introduction of BC Benefits in January 1996, change has been much more dramatic. The near continuous decline since January 1996, stands in marked contrast to any other period in the past 17 years (Figure 1). This decline can be attributed to single parent families' response to the BC Family Bonus, Healthy Kids, Transition to Work Allowance and increased access to daycare, training and Student Financial Assistance.
|Facts About Single Parents
|Average no. of children in single parent family on welfare
|Average no. of children in two parent family on welfare
|Average no. of children in family in B.C.
|% of single parents on welfare designated unemployable
|% of single parents on welfare who are female
|% of single parents in BC who are female
|% of single parents in BC on welfare (estimated)
|Average length of first IA spell
|% of single parents who return within 24 months of leaving IA
|% of all cases who return within 24 months of leaving IA
|Principal reason that single parents apply for IA
|% who apply because of relationship breakdown
|Average age of single parent on welfare
Figure 3 shows the breakdown of single parent cases by 5 year age cohorts. Contrary to public perception that single parents on welfare are very young, the largest cohort is 30-34. This is to be expected, as the principal reason that single parents apply for welfare is relationship breakdown. Note that there are relatively few teenage single mothers on welfare. The number of teenage single parents on welfare has declined considerably over the past three years and now stands at the same level as March 1991 (Figure 4). Single parents in this age group make up only 1 per cent of the single parent caseload.
As Figure 5 shows, single parents as a per cent of the female population by age cohort has changed over the past 14 years. The average age of single parents has increased, so that the largest age cohort, relative to population, has moved from the 25-29 cohort to the 30-34 cohort. Single parent cases as a percent of the female population have increased by 1.2 percentage points (from 3.2% to 4.4%). This compares to a 1.6 percentage point increase in the per capita income support rate (from 6.7% to 8.3%) over the same time period.
It is often believed that single parents on welfare continue to have more children in order to stay on welfare. This is not borne out by the data. For this to be true, the average number of children per single parent family would be expected to rise over time. Figure 6 shows that this is not the case. The average number of children per single parent family has not varied more than 0.01 children over the past 6 years. Indeed, it implies that the decline in the number of single parents since the introduction of BC Benefits has occurred across all single parent families, regardless of the number of children. Furthermore, as Table 1 notes, single parents actually have fewer children, on average, than do all B.C. families.