REPORT: Working Single Mothers Are Disproportionately Likely to Live in Poverty

A new report finds that working single mothers, who head up more households than ever across the nation, are more likely to be in poverty than their married counterparts.

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The Working Poor Families Project’s policy brief “Low-Income Working Mothers and State Policy: Investing for a Better Future” [PDF] found that out of 7.1 million families headed by women, 4.1 million lived in poverty, encompassing 8.5 million children. 39 percent of low-income working families across the nation are managed by a single mother, and that number is heavily influenced by factors like race: 65 percent of African-American low-income working families, 31 percent of Latino low-income working families, and 45 percent of low-income working families of other races are under the helm of single women.

For many working single mothers, their economic challenges are compounded by various factors. Education is becoming more and more unattainable for low-income women, especially women of color, and most single mothers are unable to complete their education due to their resposiblities at home. Congress’ cuts to the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps) make it more challenging for single moms to get by, as do state-by-state failures in the Temporary Asisistance for Needy Families program. Prior to the Affordable Care Act, many of them lacked health insurance to cover medical costs as well.

Most of all, these women – a majority of whom are employed full-time – face discrimination and pay inequity in the workplace and are siloed in lower-wage fields. According to the policy brief, “even full-time hours are not enough to lift families out of poverty.”

Although the brief only outlines state-level policy recommendations to combat a rising number of economically disadvantaged families in the nation, including increasing access to education, Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, and raising the minimum wage, federal-level policies could also have a big impact on the lives of single mothers. The FAMILY Act, which expands paid family medical leave, would help women raising families independently to maintain employment if their children become ill. President Obama also encouraged employers across the country to pay their workers equally without regard to sex or gender in his State of the Union speech this January, which would help low-income women of all races, especially women of color, and strengthen the economy.

Media Resources: ThinkProgress, 2/19/2014; “Low-Income Working Mothers and State Policy: Investing for a Better Future” Policy Brief, Winter 2013-2014; Feminist Majority 12/12/2013

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