Whether married or single, the majority of black mothers in Washington, D.C., are the main providers for their households, according to a study conducted by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research released Sept. 8.
Eighty-seven percent of black mothers bear the financial burdens of their families, compared to 47 percent of white mothers. The criteria for those considered “breadwinners” are mothers with children under 18 who are either single or making at least 40 percent of their household’s income.
This trend is replicated across the country, with an average of four out of every five black mothers bearing the financial burden of their households, according to the report. Additionally, black mothers are listed as the least likely population to have access to employer-paid leave.
“The lack of work-family supports in the United States, such as paid sick days and paid family leave, coupled with the high cost of child care, places an additional burden on low-income women and women of color, who are the least likely to have employer-provided paid leave,” the report reads.
Director of the Project on Deep Poverty and Senior Fellow at the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality Senior Fellow Indivar Dutta-Gupta attested to the financially precarious situation single mothers can encounter.
“You’ve got a large share of single mothers whose earnings are essential to the household, so for them to significantly pull back on work, unless there were some benefits or tax credits to offset the loss of earnings, would be quite harmful in many cases to their families,” Dutta-Gupta said.
Dutta-Gupta stressed the wide range of inequalities and economic and social disparities often confronting the black community.
According to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, black men are incarcerated at a rate six times higher than their white counterparts. Dutta-Gupta said the criminal justice system disproportionately impacts black men, leaving more single mothers to bear their family’s financial burden.
“There are major consequences across communities of color in the West due to the criminal justice system,” Dutta-Gupta said.
Georgetown University Law Center Carmack Waterhouse Professor of Law and Public Policy Peter Edelman further underscored the intersection of race, mass incarceration and low incomes.
“If you think about adding together low-wage jobs and then single moms, where there’s only one possible wage earner in the household, and then add in the question of race, you get people who are struggling with very low income,” Edelman said. “As a country, we’ve taken a huge chunk of the African-American male population, put them in jail and destroyed their lives.”
D.C. Schools Project coordinator Princess Adentan (COL ’18), who works tutoring children in vulnerable communities, said the trend is troubling for children’s educational prospects.
“Black males are being incarcerated at higher rates than men of other races, and so it’s almost not surprising that black women are the primary breadwinners for their families,” Adentan said. “I think this is definitely a problem in the sense that single-parent households usually have lower education outcomes.”
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