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MEETING SINGLE PARENTS' NEEDS

There are more single parents today than ever before, and many of them are living in poverty.

Once an anomaly, the single parent has become the norm in many segments of the population, and familiar in all. But a society that still has not come to grips with the needs of dual-career families has pretty much ignored those of the single-parent household.

According to the National Displaced Homemakers Network, the single parent population increased by 80 percent in the 1980s, growing from 3.2 million to 5.8 million. Most are between 25 and 34, and almost half live below or near the income level that Americans consider poverty.

The network identifies single parents as mothers who have been married and work full time year-round, and never-married mothers who work full or part time. If displaced homemakers, those mothers who have been married but are out of the work force or in it only marginally, are included, the single parent population soars to close to 9 million.

How did so many women become solely responsible for raising children? Half of them are widowed, divorced or separated, and they are likely to be financially better off than the other half, women who never married, many of whom are or were teen-age mothers.

The largest number of single parents are white, but the percentage of blacks and Hispanics has increased to the extent that whites no longer are the majority.

Educational levels for single mothers have improved over the past 10 years. Now, almost half have completed high school and 28 percent have had some college education. However, one in 20 did not finish the eighth grade, and about one-fourth did not finish high school. Educational deficits are more common among the youngest single mothers and among blacks and Hispanics.

Though the proportion of single mothers who work is greater than among all American women, almost two-thirds of teen-age single parents are unemployed. Poverty is highest among this group and among blacks and Hispanics.

Increased education and work force participation has not improved the situation of these women, according to the displaced homemakers network. It notes that another year of education and training is not worth as much in wages for a woman as it is for a man.

"Most jobs held by women still do not pay wages that ensure a path out of poverty. Women of color are poorer and have more barriers to overcome. Older women still have less education and training than is needed to enter high-wage jobs. The number of women who must raise children alone continues to grow," states the network's report, "The More Things Change . . . "

According to the network, single parents living in poverty need education and job training programs that provide a host of support services. Most of these women do not have health insurance and cannot afford child care.

A combination of public and private-sector initiatives is needed to address the needs of single parents, the network says. Increased job training, improved vocational education, expansion of pay equity and increases in the minimum wage, housing assistance programs, expansion of child care facilities and greater employer participation in recruiting and training women for non-traditional jobs are just a few of the network's recommendations.

Are some men on the "daddy track"? A New York City research and consulting firm surveyed 58 men and 52 women working at Fortune 500 companies and found that men mention children as a reason for leaving their jobs more often than women.

Women, they discovered, were quitting their jobs, not to spend more time with their children or domestic chores, but because they were dissatisfied with their opportunities. In this survey, 73 percent of the women quit their jobs to go to another firm where they perceived greater career opportunities. Only 7 percent quit to go home.

However, motherhood remains relevant. A New York Times report on the appointment of a woman to a top corporate job noted that she was "balancing motherhood and a career."

How often is it noted that a male CEO is balancing fatherhood with his career?

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