WASHINGTON — The number of mothers receiving all the child support they were due increased by more than 25% during the late 1990s, the Census Bureau reported Friday.
A strong economy and stricter enforcement prompted more fathers to pay in full, analysts said.
More than 2.8 million women collected all the child support they were owed, representing nearly 46% of all custodial mothers due payments in 1999. That was up from nearly 2.2 million, or almost 37% of the mothers owed support in 1993.
The report included other upbeat statistics for mothers raising children without a father at home. More custodial mothers worked, fewer lived in poverty and fewer collected public aid during the six-year period. The welfare overhaul of 1996, which is up for renewal in Congress, nudged more single mothers off assistance rolls and into jobs.
Critics noted that the report failed to paint an updated picture of life for single parents since the economy started to sour in 2000. "The problem we are seeing now is that so many people are struggling again," said Geraldine Jensen, president of the Assn. for Children for Enforcement of Support. "In a lot of ways it makes child support more important than ever."
The percentage of custodial mothers who received none of the support due them remained unchanged at 25% from 1993 to 1999, though tougher enforcement rules were installed midway through that period.
Still, said David Siegal, deputy commissioner for child support enforcement for the Department of Health and Human Services, enforcement cases have increased since federal and state governments began cracking down on deadbeat parents.
The census survey, taken every two years, is the nation's only estimate of all child support paid and owed across the country, including private agreements between parents. HHS keeps more recent figures, but only tracks cases that go through government collections systems.
Child support enforcement was overhauled in 1996 as part of welfare reform. Since then there have been other new outreach initiatives -- such as job search assistance for fathers who cannot afford to pay support -- that have improved the situation, HHS officials said.
Among custodial fathers, about 248,000 received the full amount of child support from an absentee mother. That was more than 37% of the 658,000 custodial fathers due money.