The aftermath of the worst recession in decades hit everyone hard, but it was especially harsh on single mothers, whose unemployment rate last year reached a 25-year high.
Single mothers are more than twice as likely to be unemployed as married men and women, and 40 percent of households headed by single mothers with children in Montgomery, Greene, Butler, Clark and Warren counties fall below the poverty line, according to a Springfield News-Sun analysis of federal labor data and U.S. Census Bureau figures.
As a result, many single mothers are forced to rely heavily on their parents and family members for financial and child-rearing support, and many depend on government assistance to survive.
“When push comes to shove, they will do whatever they have to in order to take care of their children — their dependents,” said Shawn Cassiman, assistant professor of social work at the University of Dayton.
About 14.6 percent of unmarried, divorced, separated and widowed mothers were unemployed last year, up from 13.6 percent in 2009, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
That compares to an unemployment rate of 6.3 percent for married women and 6.8 percent of married men.
The unemployment rate of single mothers is the highest it has been in more than 25 years, said Joan Entmacher, vice president of family economic security with the Washington, D.C.,-based National Women’s Law Center.
While the jobless rate of single mothers is always higher than the overall population, Entmacher said it has worsened at a time when the job picture for other members of the population has improved.
The overall unemployment rate in the United States fell to 9 percent in October from 9.7 percent in October 2010 and 10.1 percent in October 2009, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Entmacher said men suffered more than women during the recession, because they held about 70 percent of the jobs that were shed and their unemployment rate jumped by a larger percentage.
In the wrong direction
But she said since the economic recovery began in June 2009, women have lost more than 100,000 jobs and their unemployment rate rose while men gained 1.1 million jobs and their unemployment rate dropped.
Women also on average earn 77 cents for every dollar earned by men.
“Women are headed in the wrong direction,” she said.
Entmacher said one of the main reasons the economic recovery has left women out in the cold is that public sector jobs are disappearing as the state and local governments attempt to balance their budgets in the face of shrinking revenue.
Women are nearly 50 percent more likely as men to work in the public sector, and 18.2 percent of women worked in those jobs in 2010, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Ohio and other states have made large cuts to public education, which has led to layoffs at schools, where women account for about 75 percent of K-12 teachers, Entmacher said.
Many families have at least one member who is unemployed. In 2010, 12.4 percent of families included an unemployed person, up from 12 percent in 2009, according to the federal government.
But the loss of employment or reduction of wages is especially crushing to single parents because they do not have the income of a spouse to fall back on when times get tough, said Cassiman, the UD assistant professor.
Leslie Redmon, 47, of Dayton, is the divorced mother of three teenagers who has been unemployed since 2008. Redmon said after losing her job, she moved her family into her mother’s home because she could not afford her own place. She said she has applied for a number of jobs, but has not made it passed the interview stage.
‘Barely getting by’
With no income, Redmon said she is unable to afford a computer or vehicle, which consequently makes it extremely difficult for her to search for openings and apply for positions. She said she relies on Medicaid and food stamps to scrape by.
“I am barely getting by,” she said. “I need my own place for me and my children, so it’s not so overcrowded.”
Single women especially are often at a competitive disadvantage on the job search because their responsibilities as a parent often prevent them from being available at all hours, and flexibility of work schedules is attractive to employers, according to experts.
They said also that some employers undoubtedly are wary of hiring single parents with young children because they fear they may miss work because of their parenting duties.
“It’s not unreasonable to think that this does happen, and employers choose the person who they think is going to be able to show up and not have trouble with day care and sick children and no one to take care of them,” Cassiman said.
High unemployment, inflation and the steep costs of raising a child has plunged many single mothers into deep poverty, she said. Child care is also often a huge financial obstacle.
About 50,350 households in Montgomery, Greene, Butler and Warren counties are headed by single mothers who have children under the age of 18, according to 2010 data from American Community Survey.
Of those households, about 20,756 had incomes that fell below the poverty line, which is $22,113 for a family of four.
In the face of grim economic situations, many single mothers turn to government assistance programs. In 2010, about 42 percent of single mothers relied on food stamps, compared to 25 percent of single fathers, according to a report by the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire.
According to data from the Ohio Department of Job & Family Services, women account for the majority of recipients of food stamps and cash assistance through Ohio Works First. Women accounted for about 56 percent of food stamp recipients and 59 percent of recipients of cash assistance, but those estimates include children.
Erica Barrow, 29, of Huber Heights, was unemployed for six months before she was hired at a local retail store. Barrow, who has three young children, said it became easier to hold down a job when she moved closer to her mother, who could help watch her children when she was scheduled to work.
Barrow said she had a tough time finding a job as a single mother, because some potential employers clearly probed into her family life to see if she had children. In interviews, she said, employers seemed concerned about her reliability as a worker because of the need to take care of her children. But Barrow said the need to support her children is why she is the ideal worker, because her paycheck is so important to the well-being of her family.
“To me, it makes you more dependable, because you have responsibilities,” she said.
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