Legal Momentum responds to New York Times article on single mothers

The New York Times vs. Single Mothers

by Legal Momentum

For more than 40 years, Legal Momentum has conducted in-depth research and policy advocacy on behalf of women in poverty. Legal Momentum strongly objects to the support expressed by the New York Times for the sexist and misogynistic notion that single mothers cannot and do not raise well-behaved children. This is the patent falsehood expressed in their article, “Obama vs. Poverty” which will be the cover story in the upcoming August 19, 2012 print edition of the Times Sunday Magazine. The article is now available online at

The male author of the article quotes a male interview subject as stating, “If you don’t have a father figure in your life, you don’t have discipline and structure, and without structure, you don’t have anything. You have chaos.”

The article then states, “This analysis has support from many of the academics who study [poverty],” yet the author never mentions any contrary points of view – even though many experts disagree strongly.

Half of all U.S. children spend at least some part of their childhood in a single mother family, just as President Obama did. Most of these children are well behaved, do well in school, and grow up to be productive workers, good parents, and upstanding neighbors.

It is true, as the article says, that some children in single mother families, like some children in single father families, and some in coupled parent families, will be permanently scarred by the deep poverty that far too many U.S. children experience.

However, the problem is not single motherhood – it is the flawed social policies that allow child poverty to persist in the U.S. at much higher rates than in other high-income countries. In the U.S., poverty rates among children in single parent families, as well as poverty rates among children in coupled parent families, are much higher than the rates of child poverty in other high-income countries.

Legal Momentum’s Facts About Single Motherhood in the United States –
A Snapshot 2012

Prevalence: Single motherhood is very common. Around half of today’s mothers will spend at least some time as the sole custodial parent. At any one time, almost one quarter of mothers are single mothers.

Income: Half of single mother families have an annual income of less than $25,000. Median income for single mother families is only one-third the median for married couple families. Only one third of single mothers receive any child support, and the average amount these mothers receive is only about $300 a month.

Poverty: Two fifths of single mother families are poor, triple the poverty rate for the rest of the population. The majority of poor children are in single mother families. Child poverty is linked to school dropout; to negative adult outcomes including joblessness and ill health; and to reduced economic output estimated to be about 4% of Gross Domestic Product.

Hardship: Two fifths of single mother families are “food insecure,” one seventh use food pantries, one fifth have no health insurance, one third spend more than half their income on housing. Three quarters of homeless families are single mother families.

Welfare & Food Stamp Receipt: Although two fifths of all single mothers are poor, only one tenth of all single mothers receive cash welfare assistance. Two fifths of single mothers receive Food Stamps.

Compared to Single Mothers in Peer Countries: The single mother poverty rate in the U.S. is far above the average among high-income countries, even though the single mother employment rate in the U.S. is also above the average. Less generous income support programs in the U.S. help explain the exceptionally high poverty rate for single mother families in the U.S.

Characteristics: About 45% of single mothers have never married, about 55% are divorced, separated, or widowed. Half have one child, 30% have two. About two fifths are White, one-third Black, one-quarter Hispanic. One quarter have a college degree, one sixth have not completed high school.

Employment: At any one time, about two thirds of single mothers are also working outside the home, a slightly greater share than the share of married mothers who are also working outside the home. However, only two fifths of single mothers are employed full-time the entire year, and a quarter are jobless the entire year.

For more information, go to Single Mothers on the Legal Momentum website, or contact Timothy Casey,