Think Progress, May 13, 2012 by Sarah Jane Glynn
Today is Mother’s Day, the day reserved for children and fathers to lavish the moms in their lives with praise and attention. The news is, of course, full of beautiful and heartrending odes to mothers.
Yet there is one group of moms that are not usually beatified in the press, in fact they are vilified more often than not: Single mothers. The press has unleashed an onslaught of articles in the past few months bemoaning the fact that an increasing number of births are to single moms.
Whether one approves of single parenting or not, the fact is that the majority of births to women under the age of 30 occur outside of marriage. It is in our best interests as a nation to support these women and their children.
Families headed by a single mother are more likely to live in poverty than those headed by a married couple or a single father. Increased employment among single mothers helps in reducing their poverty rates, but the inflexible nature of most workplaces presents unique challenges to single moms. Single mothers who experience work-life conflict are less likely to be employed and less able to maintain employment stability.
A lack of flexibility and paid leave can make keeping a job nearly impossible for many single mothers already struggling to make ends meet. Without a partner to share childcare responsibilities with, single moms must often choose between going to work or staying home with a sick child.
A single mother with no paid sick days, working full-time earning $10 an hour (the average wage for a worker without paid sick days), would fall below the poverty line if her child caught a bad case of the flu and she had to miss three days of work without pay. This doesn’t even take into account the fact that she may be fired for having to miss work in the first place.
While it is hard enough for single moms to balance paid employment with caring for children, in cases where a child has a serious illness the stakes are even higher and the outcomes worse. While the United States does have a federal leave policy that provides job-protected leave from work to care for a seriously ill child, the Family and Medical Leave Act, the leave is unpaid.
Since single mothers are likely to be the sole breadwinner for their family, taking unpaid leave is not always an option. And because eligibility is dependent upon the size of the employer, how long the worker has been employed, and how many hours they have worked, single moms are less likely to even qualify in the first place.
This Mother’s Day, while honoring our own moms, let’s also remember those mothers who tend to be less celebrated by the press. And rather than giving them flowers or chocolates, let’s work to promote and establish federal workplace policies that would reflect the difficulties all working parents — but especially single mothers — face.