New report highlights need for policies and programs that support low-income working mothers

The recession has hit female-headed households hard. Working mothers now head over 4 million low-income families, according to a new report from The Working Poor Families Project. “Low-Income Working Mothers and State Policy: Investing for a Better Economic Future” outlines the pressing need for state policies that help these working mothers move themselves and their children out of poverty and toward financial stability. The report shows the importance of programs like All Our Kin, which address the prevalence of poverty among female-headed working families by supporting and sustaining mothers in careers as child care providers.

First, some of the data takeaways from the report:

  • Female-headed working families are disproportionately low-income. They make up just 22 percent of all working families, but 39 percent of low-income working families.
  • 8.5 million children are being raised in low-income families headed by working mothers.
  • The proportion of female-headed working households that are low-income increased by 4 percentage-points—from 54 percent to 58 percent—between 2007 and 2012.
  • Connecticut alone has 40,985 female-headed, low-income working families.

So, what are we to make of this bleak picture? The authors of this report have done an admirable job of outlining the need to better support working mothers—and their children—and of describing policy steps to address this issue. In particular, they focus on the potential for post-secondary education to help women find pathways out of poverty. But there is one area where we take a slightly different approach from the report’s authors, and that is in treating child care as an opportunity rather than merely an obstacle.

As the report’s authors note, the lack of affordable, high quality child care impedes the ability of working mothers to succeed in school and in the workforce. Often, these mothers struggle to pay their child care costs or are forced to rely on informal care arrangements that don’t adequately support their children’s development. Lack of access to child care is certainly an obstacle, and one that is ripe for policy action.

But working mothers aren’t just consumers of child care. They’re also providers of it. The report notes that 2.7 percent of working female heads-of-households are involved in child care professions, making this career one of the 16 most common professions for these women. At All Our Kin, we work directly with low-income mothers who are building careers caring for our community’s youngest and most vulnerable children. We capitalize on the potential for these women to find empowerment and financial security as family child care providers.

Providers participating in one of All Our Kin's professional development events.

Providers participating in one of All Our Kin’s professional development events.

Because of our demonstrated impact on the community, we know that family child care providers can build sustainable, profitable child care businesses that serve children and families, and that they can lift themselves and other working parents in their community out of poverty in the process. For instance, after becoming licensed with help from All Our Kin, close to 60 percent of our providers report earning at least $5,000 more annually, and their earnings continue to climb in the second year. We’ve proven that when family child care providers have access to professional development, they lay the foundation for the next generation to thrive in school and beyond while helping other working mothers succeed professionally.

The authors of this report recognize that efforts to improve the quality of the professional options available to low-income working mothers are crucial. Describing another common profession for low-income working mothers, that of health aides, the authors write:

“More needs to be done… to ensure that these jobs, with their high availability and relatively low barriers to entry, are good jobs with benefits, career growth and viable, family-supporting wages.”

This statement is as true for child care providers as it is for health aides. With support and training, providers can have a transformative effect on their families, as well as on children and parents in the community.  They need our support to do it.

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