Would a Substantial Fall in Unemployment Help Single-parent Families?

Greg Hannsgen | April 23, 2012


(click to enlarge)

Has the tough labor market of the past five years caused an increase in the severity of the economic problems facing women who are raising children mostly on their own? In this blog entry, we provide updated information on a topic featured in a 2010 post to this blog. The idea of the figure shown above is to illustrate how the labor-market situation affects this group of women (known as “female householders” or by the roughly equivalent category of “women maintaining families”) and their children. The red line indicates that both of the two most recent recessions triggered sharp increases in the relevant unemployment rate. The most recent increase began in 2007—about five years ago. Fortunately, the first few months’ data for 2012 indicate a possible reversal of the post-2007 trend, with the unemployment rate falling to 11.5 percent on average for January, February, and March, compared to 12.9 percent last year.

Will lower unemployment bring lower poverty rates for female householders and their children? The 2010 post referred to above noted that poverty among families with a female householder rose from 2000 through 2008. This improvement followed a decline that lasted through most of the 1990s, the decade of a landmark welfare reform bill at the federal level. Unfortunately, according to Census Bureau data, the upward trend that we noted in our earlier post continued in 2009–2010. The blue line depicts data on children under 18 years old in female-householder families. The most recent publicly available data, which are for 2010, indicate that poverty among these children reached approximately 47 percent that year.


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