Hardship Personified: Single Mothers and Single Mothers of Color

Lily Casura, MSW
10 min readFeb 18, 2018

The New York Times published an opinion piece recently by several sociologists, essentially saying we shouldn’t demonize single mothers (duh) as the cause of high poverty rates. Fine so far as it goes, but I’ve been finding the opposite construction to be true: Single mothers are disproportionately affected by poverty and living in poverty, especially if they’re also single mothers of color, or have young children, or lack a high school education.

As more cities in America become “majority-minority” cities, too, that should raise specific concerns — given those cities’ particular racial and ethnic compositions. In San Antonio, the nation’s seventh-largest city, this is particularly true. We’ll see why later in the article, but first let’s take a look at the national picture.

Nationwide, households led by single mothers are more likely to be living in poverty, below the federal poverty line — or living in deep poverty, the level of acute hardship characterized by living at 50 percent or less of the federal poverty level. (You can find out what the poverty level is for your state, here.) Overall, across the country, no other household type fares worse when it comes to poverty than households led by single mothers.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau.

(Notice the above chart, where households led by single mothers experienced greater levels of poverty than any other household type, at every educational level.)

While people are entitled to wonder if single parenting, period, is the problem — assuming that single fathers have it as difficult as single mothers do — the answer is definitively “no.” (If you think about how historically men out-earn women in the U.S., that would make it a non-starter as a question. Yet it continues to be raised.)

Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Service Administration report.

The chart directly above shows that women in the U.S. are more likely to be poor than men — and single mothers are more than twice as likely as single fathers to be living in poverty.

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Lily Casura, MSW

Focused on using data as a tool in research & policy decisions. IWMF grantee. NASW-TX and Tableau Public award winner. UTSA, Harvard honors grad. Ph.D. student.