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families headed by black females represents an ominous trend for the back family and along the rising divorce rate and the large number of pregnancies among black teenagers will only lead to further growth in the proportion of black families headed by females.

• At least part of the explanation for the relative poverty of this group lies in their heightened vulnerability to those factors that are so closely associated with poverty in this society: being non-white, being female and giving birth at an early age.

• The combination of these vulnerabilities contributes to the high rates of poverty among single female-headed households, but again, more information is needed if we care to gain further understanding of the phenomenon. Fortunately, there are data that can contribute to an explanation. In 1979 and 1980 the National Urban League conducted a nation-wide survey of black households which was called the Black Pulse. Funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Black Pulse was an hour-long, in-person interview of 3,000 black heads of household which covered a variety of topics ranging from personal income to informal support structures in the black community.

• Although they themselves were single heads of households, more than half of the sample (55%) were raised primarily in two-parent families and cannot be said to be carring on a tradition of single parentage. On the other hand, nearly one in every three (31%) were raised by a single parent-26% by the mother alone and 5% by the father alone-so about one out of four did come from single parent homes. Most of the remaining household heads were raised by other family members such as grandparents (8%) or aunts and uncles (3%). Finally, only about 4% were raised by non-family members or in unspecified "other" circumstances.

• In 1980 about one of every five (22%) black female household heads interviewed in the Black Pulse survey had never been married while over two out of five (43%) were either separated (23%) or divorced (20%). Nearly one-third of the single female household heads had been widowed, and a small proportion (3.5%) were in fact married but their husbands were not living at home for some reason other than separation of divorce. 

• Well over half (59%) of our sample of female household heads had not completed high school in 1980, a figure which helps explain some of the difficulties they had experienced in the job market and helps account for their relative poverty. It is difficult for anyone to get a job without a high school diploma and this is as true for female household heads as it is for anyone else. On the other hand, this group showed a wide range of educational achievement. Twenty-six percent had graduated from high school, and over 17% had at least attended college although only about 3% had completed four full years.

About one out of every five (41%) female-heads of household in our sample were employed, while nearly three out of five were not. Of those who were working, almost a third (32%) worked for some level of government, either a federal or state and local and nearly two-thirds (64%) worked in the private sector. Of those who were not working, nearly one-fourth were looking for work and could possibly be counted among the unemployed. On the other hand, over three-fourths were not looking for work, and, therefore, could not be counted as unemployed.

• As would be expected, a second major source of income for black female-headed families was welfare. Over 38% of those interviewed had received income from welfare payments in the year preceeding the survey, while only 15% of all other families interviewed had received welfare during that period. The heavy reliance on welfare as a source of income is another indicator of the poverty in which these families live. But the fact that fewer than two out of five of one of the poorest groups in the country had been on welfare at all, belies the popular conception of the black female-headed family as being primarily dependent on welfare.

•Black female headed households were victims of crime at a higher rate than the genreal population, but nor at significantly higher rate than other black households. When asked whether a household member had been a victim of a crime during the preceeding year, over 12% of our sample indicated that they had. The rate for all other black households was only slightly lower at just under 12%. The rate of crime victimization in the U.S. population as a whole was about 35 per thousand persons in 1980-considerably lower than the 42 per thousand for blacks.


• One step in the right direction would be the creation of low-cost child care for single parent households. Parents who want to work may be discouraged from seeking employment by the cost of child care which could amount to a significant portion of their total income, Or the unavailability of child care at all. Again, a programmatic thrust in this area by government, and by community agencies could address this problem.

• Regular, full-time employment and reliable low-cost child care are the ways to a better life for most of the women we have been discussing. These would constitute a sizeable investment in the human capital these heads of household represent, but an investment that we believe should be made because the consequences of not making it on their lives, and the lives of their children, will be with us for decades to come.

National Urban League-July 29-Aug. 1, 1984- 
Cleveland, Ohio
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