Over half of all babies born in the United States today are born to unmarried mothers, a demographic trend with tremendous potential to reshape public policy for the better.
Unmarried motherhood has economic implications for families and children that we should expect to surface in this year’s coming election. Not only should we expect increased clamor for progress on wages, paid leave, affordable child care and other policies that level the playing field for women in the workplace, but reproductive health and rights will be front and center as the lynchpin of women’s economic security. It’s more clear than ever that the decision of when and how many children women have are determinative when it comes to their financial security and family stability.
Significant work remains to transform the economy into one that works for today’s families.
More than half of unmarried young mothers with children under the age of 6 live below the poverty line; that’s five times the number of married women with children. In addition:
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Almost 50 percent of the 3.3 million adult Americans earning minimum wage or below are unmarried women.
58 percent of all children living in poverty live in single-parent households, most often led by an unmarried mother.
Among unmarried women, Black, Latina and Native American women face greater challenges than white women when it comes to earnings, wealth, health care access and other indicators. African-American women made 64 percent, American Indian and Alaska Native women made 59 percent, and Hispanic women made just 54 percent of what white men make in the US.
The number of unmarried new moms is increasing most rapidly among non-college educated women who are also most impacted by economic downturns, stagnant wages in low-wage industries, lack of access to health care including reproductive health services, as well as antiquated workplace standards that leave most working women without affordable child care, earned sick days or paid family leave.
2016 will be a landmark election year for women, the majority of them working moms. Not only do we expect woman nominees on presidential ticket this year, for the first time, unmarried women will outnumber married women as a share of the voting-age electorate. Although getting these women to the polls is a challenge, unmarried women potentially have an even bigger role in determining the future direction of our country than in 2012, when they made up over one-fifth of the electorate.
Unmarried women are the largest segment of the New American Majority – a set of voters who tend to participate less frequently in elections but who tend to support populist economic and social issues as well as a robust role for government in ensuring fairness, opportunity and safety.
Unmarried moms play an increasingly central role in securing the future of our economy and our elections. With that role comes tremendous opportunity to advance policies that don’t just help them and their families, but make our country better for everyone. That’s something we should all celebrate.
Jolonda Ware is a Working America NC Member and Single Mom. She lives in Greensboro.