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Monday, September 26, 2016

More and more mothers, whether they wear a wedding ring or not, are becoming their family’s breadwinner.

An analysis of 2011 U.S. Census data found that 40 percent of households rely on mom as the primary or sole breadwinner. That’s a massive increase from 1960, when the figure was a mere 11 percent.

This trend won’t shock a lot of Americans. They already see it within their own homes or those of their neighbors. Plenty of mommies are better educated and better compensated than their husbands, and a growing numbers of daddies gladly accept that it is their duty, too, to change diapers and do carpool duty.

But here is the more sobering tale within the data: Nearly two-thirds of these “sole or primary” breadwinning women fit that description because they are the only one working in their household. These are primarily the single mothers. And they tend to be far less educated, and to be black or Hispanic. Their median household income was $23,000.

Compare that to the families studied where it was a married woman who earned more than her mate. Those homes had a median income of $80,000, well above the national median for all households of $57,100.

The most relevant message behind the study is not so much about marriage as about the growing economic divide in this country. If we understand that, we might just agree on policies that can address the problem.

Demographically, these single mothers are a growing and younger percentage of the population. They are the nation’s future, and it’s not a promising one.

Yet it is virtually impossible to bring up the topic of single mothers, whether in Congress or at the dinner table, without inviting a howling lecture. Everybody’s got a convenient scapegoat to blame, and their certitude of their own uprightness permits them to do absolutely nothing to change the status quo. Except to call for more discipline imposed on the already unfortunate.

Attitudes about poorer families feed into the politics of welfare reform, food stamp allocation, education grants, fair wage policy and childcare subsidies.

Concern, when it’s genuine, is not misplaced. Moralizing doesn’t help.

It’s not the fact that these women are unmarried with children that drives their household poverty. It’s their lack of education and too few jobs, including for the equally under-educated men who are most likely to marry them.

Low-income families are more likely to divorce. Arguments and stress about money, after all, are often a contributing factor in divorce.

  • JD Mulvey

    This trend isn’t anything new in poor families. What’s new the shock of the loss of millions of jobs that used to be held by men.

    Men need jobs and they’re not finding them.

    • Sand_Cat

      Everybody who has to support anyone needs a job, not just men.

  • rustacus21

    Those in fear of this ‘trend’ are the same ones trying to lock away all the money that would normally be flowing about in this restrained economy, post 2008 Depression. Why women didn’t show up in South Carolina’s special election recently, in the last years presidential election, in 2010, is an even greater mystery. All the studies in the world, just like the numbers of underemployed, underpaid women & non-whites across every demographic, that inequality can only be solved thru our civic cultural Democracy systems (legal, political, institutional). Until we understand & act upon this – especially when, after electing representatives who promise to ‘changes’, & are ‘conveniently’ overcome by ‘circumstances’, will these same OLD bias afflictions continue & remain a drag on achieving true Polyarchal Democracy in America. It’s no mystery. It’s not rocket science. It’s not some great impossibility so far from reach, we should just give up… Every 2 years we have elections. In between that, we have time to gather Enlightenment, information, resolve. Every 2 years, we’re still coming up empty… Until…

  • The role that women play in becoming the main and, sometimes, the only provider says a lot about their determination to support their families and the lack of responsibility that is evident among their male counterparts. Needless to say, generalizations seldom reflect reality and most men are still the main or sole providers, but there is an increasing trend, particularly among young couples, that suggest a role reversal. I know three men, ranging in age from 26 to 32, who spend their days playing video games, texting, and watching TV while their wives/girlfriends are working. Two of them graduated from college and all three are healthy and capable of working. All find excuses to stay at home. Their excuses range from the jobs that are available are not in their field of expertise to long commutes, low wages, no benefits, unacceptable working hours, or poor working conditions. Thank God their wives don’t mind the “draconian” conditions that prevail in our workplaces and decided to do with most of us did not so long ago, because otherwise the expansion of MEDICAID would reach epic proportions well beyond the need to fund ACA. There are simply too many parasites among us, and I am not talking about the intestinal ones.

    • Allan Richardson

      This lack of responsibility may have something to do with growing up with few HONEST male role models not living in poverty themselves. The examples you cite are not the rule; you just happen to know three very well educated lazy bums. The unfortunate fact is that the majority of young men in poor neighborhoods (of any racial makeup; remember which group likes METH the most) are under-educated academically AND under-educated by example. The men they see with the most money are the drug dealers who “won” the lottery to move up in the drug hierarchy, so they see no option better than to “enter” that lottery themselves.

      And SOME of the excuses your friends give may have a bit of truth in them. Being willing to take a lesser job than you trained for is not enough; EMPLOYERS often refuse to hire “overqualified” workers for fear that they will lose them when a better job somewhere else comes up (it would really make more sense for them to hire a willing overqualified worker to mentor that worker for the next promotion, but most do not think ahead like that, or a). Perhaps the cost of the commute, plus work clothing, really IS more than the job pays; why pay $400 a week for gas, car wear, and dry cleaning for a job with $300 a week take home? And possibly their mates ENJOY those arrangements, looking forward to having a stay-at-home dad for their future children (are you sure they do not do the traditional “woman’s” work around the house?) rather than raise them in a two-working-parent household.

      Perhaps the men you know are parasites, and perhaps they are doing what is best for all concerned in their families. I do not know them as well as you do, and you may not know everything either. There is an old saying, walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, and that person will be running after you, barefoot, to get them back.