The vast majority of Pittsburgh families in poverty are headed by single moms

The problem was bad in 2005. It’s even worse now.

Courtesy Women and Girls Foundation
Sarah Anne Hughes

In 2005, the vast majority of families living in poverty in Pittsburgh — 75 percent — were headed by single moms.

In 2016, that number is even higher.

Seventy-seven percent of families living in poverty in Pittsburgh today are headed by single moms, according to a report by the Women and Girls Foundation. This type of family makes up 42 percent of all Pittsburgh households.

Nationally, 63 percent of families living in poverty are headed by single moms.

“It’s just worse for our community,” the Women and Girls Foundation’s chief executive officer, Heather Arnet, told a group Wednesday. 

The problem is particularly acute for single moms of color. Black families make up 26 percent of Pittsburgh households, while black families comprise 60 percent of the city’s households living in poverty.

Families in poverty headed by black women? Sixty-eight percent.

These numbers are not inspiring, Arnet said. But Women and Girls hopes that by shining a light on the issues facing single moms in the region, local groups and governments can start to take action. 

Wednesday’s conversation focused on the question, is Pittsburgh a femisphere?

To get to that question, you have to answer another one: what is a femisphere?

If “a biosphere is a whole system that has everything it needs for life to thrive,” Arnet said, then a femisphere is one that has “everything women and girls need to thrive.”

Those are things like transportation, childcare, housing and jobs.

To answer the question, the foundation analyzed data from the city and the region with assistance from the county Department of Human Service’s Office of Data Analysis, Research and Evaluation. The group also surveyed 22 local single moms, one each from 22 of Allegheny County’s Family Support centers.

Their top concerns? Childcare and transportation.

Sixty-six percent of women surveyed said there is unsatisfactory access to childcare in their community. The data backed this up.

The Women and Girls Foundation’s analysis founded that 118 of the city’s 223 childcare facilities are not rated for quality through the state’s Keystone STARS program. In the Hill District and North Side, for example, there is only one facility with a STAR 4 rating, the highest possible.

The group also examined how many bus routes serve areas with a high concentration of single moms in poverty. Sixty-six percent of the women surveyed said transportation is unsatisfactory in their area.


The majority of the single moms surveyed said paid sick leave, paid family leave and a higher minimum wage would have a positive effect on their communities (90 percent, 81 percent and 76 percent, respectively).

As Arnet pointed out, local groups like Pittsburgh United are working to achieve all three. Over the next three years, Arnet said the Women and Girls Foundation will focus on the establishment of a state family and medical insurance fund.

“We’re convinced that these large pieces of policy can have such a huge impact on families,” Arnet said.