“The jobs they held even prior to the recession were unstable, unpredictable and precarious,” said Henly, at the University of Chicago. “I think that the recession really put in the forefront a lot of challenges that people in the labor market had been experiencing for years, and brought a lot more people into a situation where they were in these pretty horrible economic circumstances.”
Another factor holding down single-mother income could be that many of the jobs available to single mothers don’t pay enough to make up for the government cash and subsidies a woman loses when she starts earning money and no longer qualifies for the assistance. A 2012 analysis by the Congressional Budget Office showed that a single parent who doesn’t work and earns zero dollars has about as much disposable income as one who earns $15,000 a year in a part-time job.
“You have this stratification in the labor market, and it’s only getting worse with the advent of the Great Recession and this long period afterward,” Shaefer said.
One way to help
High apartment rents are a particular problem in the Twin Cities, forcing single mothers to live with family or move to suburbs where transportation to day care and work is more difficult and complicated, said Gloria Perez, president of the Jeremiah Program, a national project based in Minneapolis that helps single mothers.
“Women are having to look at second- and third-ring suburbs, which increases their transportation costs, which makes it more difficult for them to find work near their children,” Perez said. “When there’s a crisis, everything goes to hell in a handbasket.”
The formula at Jeremiah is to offer inexpensive housing, child care, life-skills classes, networking and a supportive community to single mothers. In return the mothers commit to going to school and working at least part-time.
“Education is the key lever,” Perez said. “They know that will be a lever for success, but other things keep getting in the way.”
Women in the program can work toward an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. Most women who apply to the program already have a plan, Perez said, and “we help them think through the economics.”
The program has 39 units for single moms and their children in Minneapolis, right next to the Basilica of St. Mary. It also has 38 units in St. Paul, and operations in Austin, Texas, and Fargo, N.D. It gets about a third of its funding through government grants.
“Women who get a degree graduate from the program, and then have six months to look for a job or a home,” Perez said.
All about Nari
Perkins has had no trouble finding jobs over the years. She worked at Taco Bell (liked it), Buffalo Wild Wings (liked it), Abercrombie & Fitch (hated it), as a hotel housekeeper (loved it but was laid off) and now works at Team Liquor.
She goes to school but can’t take more than a couple of classes a semester because she also has to work and take care of her daughter. While on a waiting list for Head Start, Nari spends her days shuttling between grandparents’ homes, sometimes ferried by Perkins’ brother. Nari’s father will get out of prison in a year and has pledged to help care for her. He was involved in a robbery when Nari was a baby, Perkins said, and the girl longs for him.
“Her dad coming into place would just complete things for her, and make me a lot happier to see her happy,” Perkins said.
It would also allow Perkins to take more classes, especially once Nari is old enough for school, where Perkins is anxious to see her excel. Perkins says she had few positive role models growing up to push her, but she will make sure that’s different for Nari. Like all parents — single or married — she wants her child’s life to be better than hers.
“She’s so smart,” Perkins said. “If she just had a little push, I know she could go so far. And I’m not going to let her slip through the cracks.”