Against All Odds- How can we break the cycle of poverty for single mothers?
Single mothers are forced to make tough choices every day. Choices like finishing the laundry or getting to bed on time to get enough rest…. or whether to stay home from work with a sick child when they are out of paid time off. Ultimately, most single mothers are forced to make the most impossible of choices: to continue in a cycle of poverty or not be fully present for their children.
The first outcome is pushed upon many of them by the astounding cost of childcare.
According to kidsdata.org, the average cost for an infant to receive full-time childcare is $1,110 per month in California, $1,025 per month in Sacramento County. A pre-schooler's care is not much more affordable at $759 and $722, respectively. This cost is second only to housing costs. California is ranked as the second most expensive state to live in, and housing costs are sky-rocketing in the greater-Sacramento area. Average fair market rent for a 2-bedroom apartment is $1,026 and a 3-bedroom is $1,580, according to rentdata.org. Because single mothers often lack the skills and education required for high wage positions, they often find that the cost of child care negates their ability to work. Imagine paying over $2,500 per month just for childcare and housing, while making anything close to minimum wage? It’s actually not possible. The monthly earnings for a minimum wage earner are just $1907 before taxes and other deductions.
Let’s look at Sarah’s scenario. Sarah is a single mom in Sacramento. She has worked hard and been loyal to her company for several years and currently makes double the minimum wage at $22 per hour. Her gross monthly income is $3,806 per month, so she takes home $3,043 per month. Sarah’s sons are two and four years old. If they were both in full-time care (to allow her to work full-time), the cost of care would be $1,747. If the children shared a bedroom, her rent for a two bedroom apartment would be $1,026, bringing the total of just housing and child care expenses to $2,773. This would leave Sarah $270 for food, utilities, entertainment, diapers, gas, and let’s hope she doesn’t have a car payment or any other debt. I know what you are thinking- what about child support? Sarah’s ex is incarcerated, and she is not receiving any support at this time. So, how does she do it? She lives with her parents, a compromise that many single mothers make in order to get by.
Not much has changed in 20 years. My own scenario was very similar. The rent for my 2 bedroom apartment was $750 per month and my daughter’s pre-school cost $695 per month. And child-support? My ex-husband was in the Air Force when we first separated, but by the time we divorced, he was a civilian living in Florida. The inter-state workings of the child support system are flawed and slow, and my ex-husband had a special talent for knowing exactly when the support order would catch up with him, then quitting his job, so my receipt of support was infrequent and unreliable. This situation is not unique to me or Sarah. Nationally, only one third of single mothers received any child support in 2017 and the average amount these mothers received was only about $430 a month.
So, what do those moms do, moms who don’t have the family support like Sarah to assist with child care, or don’t have the skills to earn wages to cover all of these costs on their own like I did? Some apply for childcare subsidies, like Child Action, a program that pays a portion of your child care costs, based on your income. I am very familiar with that program, as it was the only form of assistance I applied for as a young single mom. My request was declined. I was told that I made $27 too much per month to qualify. The frustration and defeat I felt in that moment was devastating. Luckily, I made enough to get by, but I made nowhere near enough for a young woman and child to thrive. So, I can only imagine how those mothers feel who aren’t earning enough to even get by. Given the high cost of living, exorbitant child care costs, and frequent lack of support from the other parent, it’s easy to understand why so many single mothers are living in poverty.
Single Mom Strong has a solution in its Empowerment Center. The Empowerment Center will house all of Single Mom Strong’s existing programs, plus a co-operative style childcare center. Single mothers will have the opportunity to volunteer time in the center, in exchange for reduced cost care. Not only will this make childcare more affordable, but it will deepen the sense of community among these single mothers and children.
It takes a village to raise a child. We have created a village in support of our single mothers and children. We hope you will consider being a part of that village by volunteering or making a donation toward the remaining $11,000 needed to open the Center.