Prosperity Threatened: Perspectives on Childhood Poverty in California is a new report from Next Generation worth checking out.
This section in particular is a wake-up call for policymakers and advocates:
Rates of poverty among single mothers in California also stand out, particularly when observing this trend at the county level. Single mothers make up 22 percent of all households in California with children under the age of 18 years of age.
Among all single parent households, women make of nearly 73 percent of the total, making poverty among single households an issue disproportionately affecting mothers.
As expected, the rates of poverty for single mothers were highest in counties with higher overall poverty rates, as seen in Appendix D, yet the persistence of single mother poverty rates may be their defining feature. In no county outside of Calaveras County do single mother poverty rates dip below 20 percent. And while the statewide poverty rate for single mothers is at a shocking 35.5 percent, there are six counties where the majority of single mothers live in poverty.
If policymakers and advocates were to really consider the implications of single moms and poverty, I think there would be a seismic shift in how we design programs and deliver services.
Frequently the focus in policy debates is on protecting or expanding existing programs. Rarely do you hear this question: If a program is primarily intended to serve single MOMS, how would we design the program?
Take, for example, welfare. If you were designing a welfare-to-work program to serve a single parent, you would insist upon part-time work as a real option — so that mothers could be available to their children, providing support and nurturance and stopping the generational cycle of poverty.
You would insist upon flex-time, so that doctor’s appointments and parent-teacher conferences would be a priority — not a reason to lose a job.
Schools would offer easy access to social services. Child care, after-school care and school meals would be available, dependable and engaging for the kids.
Educational training would be a priority — not a hurdle — to help single parents jump-start their financial independence.
Rather than offering one-0n-one counseling and oversight, county services might build social networks to help single parents support one another.
For a host of reasons, the shift to single-parent families is a trend that will not be reversing, despite the admonishments of conservative politicians. Quite the opposite.
In fact, unless we want to see an economic restructuring of society along gender lines, we better start thinking about how our social services and our workplaces support single moms and do more to design programs that meet their needs.