Young, lower-income African-American single parents in second-city apartments
Life can be a struggle in Hope for Tomorrow, a transient segment of young African-American singles and single parents in the nation’s second-tier cities. Home to one of the highest concentrations of African Americans in the nation, this segment faces stiff economic challenges. The high school dropout rate is 50 percent, the average income is the second lowest in the nation and more than two-thirds of household heads are single parents, a startling seven times the U.S. average. For these relatively young adults, more than 40 percent are under the age of 35. Just finishing high school is considered an achievement.
Hope for Tomorrow are found throughout the eastern half of the U.S., especially in second-tier cities in the Midwest and South. More than eight in ten households rent apartments, typically in older buildings and projects and duplexes built in the first half of the last century, and many buildings are showing their age. However, that’s all they can afford because of their low-paying service-sector jobs as security guards, restaurant workers and school aides. Few talk of spending their lives in these settings filled with transient residents; nearly half have been at the same address for less than a year.
In this financially-challenged segment, most residents lead modest lifestyles. They’re young enough to enjoy nightlife, and that usually means heading to a bar or nightclub. If they want to get exercise, they generally go to a park or playground for a pickup game of basketball. This is no segment to sell cars, travel packages or season tickets to cultural and professional sports events. Many members spend their evenings at home just to save money. However, to keep their kids entertained, they often go over-budget to get a decent DVD player and premium cable channels. Residents tend to be fond of traditional media; they listen to urban radio stations, read a wide variety of magazines and watch a lot of TV. These young parents also loosen their purse strings to buy toys, comic books and video games. If they can afford it, they’ll also get Internet access to download music, stream videos and check out social media sites targeted to the black community.
As consumers, Hope for Tomorrow like the latest fashion and hippest styles, but they can only afford the apparel at discount shops and the clearance racks at pricier chains. Kmart, Dress Barn and Foot Locker are all popular retailers. These consumers say that they look for clothes that can last a long time. Still in the meet market, they buy cosmetics and fashion accessories.
Many members of Hope for Tomorrow aren’t satisfied with their lifestyle. They want to get a better job, advance in their careers and be better providers for their kids. Some take adult education courses to improve their lives, and they have the support of their church, where they tend to be active members. Although they’ve only lived in their neighborhoods a short time, they tell researchers that they still want to improve their communities as volunteers.
Young African-American singles and single parents dominate Hope for Tomorrow, a downscale segment concentrated in the nation’s second-tier cities. Overwhelmingly black and nearly 90 percent single, these households consist mostly of single parents struggling to raise relatively young children on low incomes; the segment’s 70 percent rate of single parents is nearly seven times the national average. They’re young - more than 40 percent under the age of 35 - and not very well-educated. Half failed to complete high school and less than 5 percent have a college degree. Nearly two-thirds work at lower echelon sales and service-sector jobs, typically in food preparation, protective services and educational services.
Hope for Tomorrow are concentrated in smaller cities throughout the Midwest and South. In cities like Cleveland, Ohio, Chicago, Ill., Saint Louis, Mo., and Norfolk, Va., they’ve settled in rental units within apartment complexes, duplexes and a variety of ranch houses on tiny lots. Most of the housing stock is old, with three-quarters built before 1950 and half before 1925. Members of this segment are crowded into these small apartments in neighborhoods known for transient residents and overwhelming economic problems. Many residents only recently moved in; nearly half have been at the same residence for less than a year and regard their units as only a temporary stopping place on the path to someplace better.
These young consumers lead busy, multitasking lifestyles limited only by their weak finances. They spend a lot of time in their apartments, reading books and comics, listening to hip hop and gospel, and cooking. Their meals range from intricate dishes using new recipes to frozen dinners after a long day. They play a lot of sports in nearby parks and playgrounds, such as basketball, baseball and football. They like to socialize with friends at a bar, billiards parlor or nightclub, and many look to their local church for worship services as well as social activities. Occasionally, they’ll take in a play or dance performance.
With their growing families, Hope for Tomorrow spend as much as they can on their children, buying games and dolls, toys and ornaments. They’ll occasionally splurge and take the kids to a bowling alley, ice skating rink or city aquarium. However, a lot of entertainment revolves around their TV and computer at home, though they can ill afford the large screen, high-definition models. Most make do with standard sets and screens smaller than 31 inches.
Hope for Tomorrow are all about utilitarian consumerism. Although they’re fashion forward and like to make a statement with their clothes, they’re bargain shoppers who try to buy clothes that will last a long time. Their highest-rated stores include Dress Barn, Kmart, Foot Locker and Bealls. Bigger ticket items are more of a challenge for these consumers. While they like to keep up with the latest automotive trends, they buy no cars more than the average. The same goes for technology. They claim to be early adopters of consumer electronics who love to buy new gadgets and appliances, but they buy few gadgets.
Hope for Tomorrow are a middling market for most media, except for ethnically-targeted content. They like listening to urban radio, watching cable channels like BET and reading magazines such as Ebony, Essence and Jet. They’re also fans of a wide range of mainstream media, especially cable channels like Disney, Lifetime, MTV, TBS and truTV. These households excel in subscribing to premium channels. Of course, these networks have the added benefit of being commercial-free, a plus to these consumers. Many dislike commercials, changing the channel or muting the sound whenever ads come on.
Their economics may be bleak, but Hope for Tomorrow are striving to change their lives for the better. A majority says that they believe in the maxim, “If at first you don’t succeed, keep trying”. They say that they enjoy owning good things but, more importantly, they want to be able to provide things for their kids that they never had. They want to earn the respect of their family and close circle of friends.
In Hope for Tomorrow, money is the best measure of success; they subscribe to that notion at a rate more than five times the national average. They regard a good job as the key to higher earnings. Self-described workaholics, they say that they’re willing to give up family time in order to advance. These young people maintain that they want to get to the top in their career. Although they still like to have a good time, they’re willing to pursue different opportunities and change in order to provide a better life for themselves and their children.
Hope for Tomorrow are active politically, with three-quarters registered to vote and two-thirds belonging to the Democratic Party. These Democrats tend to be of the conservative stripe, however. They say that their faith is important to them. They worry about crime and violence in their neighborhoods. Though they’ve only lived a short time in the community, they still want to be involved and are willing to volunteer for a good cause or march in a protest.
One of the poorest segments in the nation, Hope for Tomorrow have the second lowest income in the nation - under $25,000 - and little in savings. They’re only a third as likely as average Americans to have checking or savings accounts at banks. They’re one-tenth as likely to own any investments. Most survive by using government benefits to supplement their earnings. Without equity or assets, they carry few credit cards and rarely take out any loans, though they do use MasterCard Gold and American Express Gold cards as much as the average. These Americans also tend to have some insurance products. In fact, they often own whole-life insurance, although their policy tends to carry a low balance, under $20,000.
Hope for Tomorrow may have big digital dreams, but their limited resources hamper their ability to achieve them. Few go online at home. Instead, these mobile young people access the Internet over their cell phone to visit chat forums, download music files and look for jobs. In addition, they visit Websites that offer social networking, fashion tips, sports scores, games and employment training. Among their favorite sites are a number targeted to the black community, such as mocopace.com, blackpeoplemeet.com and blackplanet.com. They are increasingly turning to the Internet for family entertainment, and many say they are sleeping less because of the Internet’s draw.