Iowa single parents struggle to cope with rising inflation

Hannah Davis, 3, eats a snack from the refrigerator while her mother Erin and sister Grace, 6, cook dinner, on Tuesday, June 7, 2022, at their home in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (Geoff Stellfox/The Gazette)

Hannah Davis, 3, watches her brother Sam, 13, make side dishes for dinner, on Tuesday, June 7, 2022, at their home in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (Geoff Stellfox/The Gazette)

Grace Davis, 6, cooks her family burgers on the stove while her siblings and mother clean the house, on Tuesday, June 7, 2022, at their home in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (Geoff Stellfox/The Gazette)

Grace Davis, 6, and her sister Hannah, 3, fold laundry together before dinner on Tuesday, June 7, 2022, at their home in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (Geoff Stellfox/The Gazette)

Hannah Davis, 3, eats cereal on the couch as her family cleans before dinner, on Tuesday, June 7, 2022, at their home in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (Geoff Stellfox/The Gazette)

Four days a week — after her full-time job — Erin Davis, 38, a single parent in Cedar Rapids, works at her second job at Hy-Vee to provide for her three children.

The reason? She cites inflation, which is at its highest rate in almost four decades.

“It’s hard,” Davis said. “I don’t really buy myself new things and I wear things until they can’t be worn anymore just so I make sure that they have everything that they need and are not feeling less than a lot of kids.”

The Consumer Price Index increased 8.3 percent from April 2021 to the same month this year, marking the largest increase since 1980, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported.

In the same 12-month time frame, the bureau recorded a 14.3 percent increase in prices for meat, poultry, fish and eggs.

Davis said she started her second job in November 2021 and worked every other weekend, but now works every week as prices of food and gas rise. She said almost all the single parents who she knows work two jobs or have a partner to provide a dual income.

Her children “really don’t like that I have go to work some nights,” Davis said. “My mom will watch them until they go to bed and my (13-year-old) son will make sure they get to sleep.”

The other children are three and six years old.

Davis said she wants to provide nutritious food, but struggles to afford fresh produce.

“You think, Oh, I will wait to pay my electric bill until next month so I can buy them nutritious food or I will wait to pay my phone bill until my last minute because I have to pay for something else,” she said. “I was just trying to make it to the next paycheck and I barely made it.”

“Watching your gas tank go down… it’s just like what do you do? I just don’t have an option.”

Helle Bunzel, an Iowa State University associate professor of economics, said inflation affects single-parent and low-income households more than any other segment of the population.

“They are spending much more of their money on food or gas, which are really going up right now,” Bunzel said. “For example, they might be using a much higher percentage of their income on fuel, both for heating their home and car.”

To mitigate the effects of inflation, Bunzel said single parents can try to consume less and buy store brand items.

“Single parent families will have a harder time accessing the benefits of a good labor market because there is a shortage of child care,” she said. “That’s of course going to hurt single-parent families more than two parent families.

Single income households

George Medina, 31, is a Cedar Rapids parent with a five-month-old daughter. He is the only parent generating income because his wife is blind. His wife, Christina, takes care of his daughter when he is at work.

“This month I am probably going to have to put off car payments to pay the rent because I just switched jobs … . For that period in between that I didn’t have money coming in,” he said.

“I’m not able to catch up and the situation can get bad fast.”

Medina recently started at Whirlpool in Middle Amana.

“I was paying like $500 a month to put gas in my car to work at Domino’s. It wasn’t worth it anymore,” he said.

“They give you a $1.25 for every delivery. Without tips, it isn’t helping much.”

He said paying for gas and food has been difficult as his wife’s food stamps don’t buy as much as before inflation climbed.

“Last week we went to the food bank to supplement our food,” he said. “Mostly meat has gone up a lot. Rice and pasta is affordable, but meat has gone up and (baby) formula is hard to find.”

Medina said it is stressful to budget every month with fluctuating prices of food and utilities.

“There’s only a couple hundred if nothing goes wrong for the month,” he said.

“That’s not counting for if I have to pay out of pocket for formula and food. Then that couple hundred becomes nothing really fast.”

Medina plans to attend classes in web development at Kirkwood Community College in September, with federal grants to help with tuition.

“It is kind of hard to find higher paying jobs without a college degree,” he said. “I’ll be taking care of my family and working full time, so I can only go to school part time.”

Mariah Soto, 25, a parent in Waukee, is the main provider for her husband — who has a severe migraine disorder — and their 11-month-old. Soto lives with an additional roommate, to help cut the cost of rent.

“Being the only person is like, if I am sick, I am making a grave error not going to work. I don’t have any PTO, so if I am sick that is eight hours that I am missing,” she said.

“I feel like a failure as a mother and a partner if I am not taking care of my family.”

Soto said the total for groceries for her family and a roommate every two weeks has gone up to about $370. She said she noticed even the price of ramen instant noodles has increased.

“It’s a horrible, vicious cycle,” she said. “In terms of how inflation is and how there have been shortages … is because some companies just aren’t regulated.”

She said along with the ongoing nationwide baby formula shortage, which is limiting distribution and raising prices, her medication also is more expensive.

“It is very scary to raise a kid right now and is just going to get worse and go up,” Soto said. “I have to take Adderall, and it is equally expensive to see a psychiatrist to get medication.”

Soto said as someone who makes $40,000 a year, said she hopes minimum wage will be raised.

“If I made even remotely a livable wage, even what my parents had, that was a better inflation-to-income ratio, we would be so much better,” she said. “There’s no way I can buy a house.

“That’s not even a bad salary, that’s a good salary, but that’s barely enough to make it through for us.”

She said if she buys a house in the future, it will be with her roommate because her husband doesn’t have credit or money to get approved for a loan.

Iowa follows the Federal Minimum Wage of $7.25 per hour, and has not adjusted the minimum wage to match inflation since 2008, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

Minimum wage

Eighteen states and Washington, DC, raise the minimum wage to match inflation. Those states are Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Maine, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Washington, DC

source: Economic Policy Institute

Joshua Rosenbloom, Iowa State University economics department chairman and professor, said depending on what someone purchases, the effects of inflation vary.

“For lower income households, things like housing, food, fuel are probably more important than they are for people with higher incomes who have more discretionary income and spend it on leisure activities,” Rosenbloom said.

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