Single mothers need pathway out of poverty

OPINION - Let's honor these mothers with fresh thinking, innovative models and policy decisions that will actually change the trajectory of their lives ...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

As we celebrate mothers across the nation this week, I’m reminded of a segment of mothers who likely will face more challenges than cheers this Mother’s Day.

In the U.S., the number of children in single-mother families has risen dramatically over the past four decades, with nearly one-fourth (24 percent) of the 75 million children under age 18 living in a single-mother family. Race also plays a defining role in the poverty rate, with two-thirds (66 percent) of low-income African American children living in single-mother families, compared to just over a third (35 percent) of low income white children living in single-mother households. This growing number of single-mother families has a significant impact on their children.

According to a recent report issued by the Population Reference Bureau (PRB), children of mother-headed families are more likely to live in poverty, with 42 percent of all low-income children living in single-mother families, compared to 32 percent of children in non single-mother families. For children under the age of 8, results are even more striking, with more than three-quarters (77 percent) of young children in single-mother families falling in the poor or low-income range. In addition, children of mother-headed families are more likely to drop out of high school and less likely to have health insurance.

These single mothers face their own challenges, with data showing they tend to be less educated, less likely to have a job or full-time employment and considerably less likely to have a management position or professional occupation. In fact, the largest proportion of working, low-income mothers work in services, with 41 percent of low-income single mothers working in services compared to only 17 percent of higher-income single moms.

A recent report from Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research shows that single-parent families believe their economic stability, role as parents and financial providers, and sense of well-being are all negatively impacted by the challenges inherent in single parenthood. At the same time, single parents remain hopeful and express deep commitment to their families and believe in their ability to provide a strong home life and future for their children despite the obstacles.

Ideally, we need to improve the economic conditions of families who live at 200 percent of poverty and below, or with an annual income of $44,100 or less for a family of four. To help these women-headed families establish financial economic security, there are a few components critical to success. Gender-focused strategies can work well to provide skills, careers, financial education and new models of support to create pathways out of poverty. A greater understanding of the relationship between gender and poverty and an investment in projects that take on a gender-specific focus will help us meet the needs of these families.

Secondly, connecting vulnerable families to existing services and benefits – like financial education and high-quality, affordable early learning and childcare options—can help propel them forward on the path.

Third, single mothers need career ladders and quality job opportunities. We can make this happen by connecting them with community colleges, increasing the number of quality family-supporting jobs in lower-income communities and ensuring they have access to education and training that will lead to career advancement and entrepreneurship opportunities.

We cannot merely focus on moving women-headed families above the poverty line. Rather we should consider ways to help them transform their lives from just surviving to actually thriving, with an increase in the number of women holding quality jobs; more low-income families with bank accounts, savings and increased financial knowledge; and ultimately, significantly fewer single-mother families living at or below 200 percent of the poverty line. Let’s honor these mothers with fresh thinking, innovative models and policy decisions that will actually change the trajectory of their lives and those of their children.