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September 11 2019

Good News! Poverty Falls as More Women Work

by Patrice Lee Onwuka

Work lifts people out of poverty. Employment boosts economic mobility.

This is why we advocate for policies that improve the economy and increase jobs instead of growing public assistance programs. 

Welfare just keeps people in poverty and dependent on a check from the government.  

New Census data confirms this. An uptick in employment among women is reducing poverty rates among our most vulnerable Americans: single mothers and children.

There are 1.4 million fewer Americans in poverty. The official poverty rate fell half a percentage point from 12.3 to 11.8 percent in 2018. 

Female-headed families (i.e. single moms) are disproportionately in poverty so this is good news for these households.

Check out these trends and statistics in work and poverty changes from 2017 to 2018.

Single-mom households are increasingly climbing out of poverty. 

  • The poverty rate for single-mother families fell 1.7 percentage points to 26.8 percent, the lowest rate for this group on record.

  • There are 46.7 million single-mom families, which represents 17.8 percent of the population, but they experienced most of the decrease in poverty among families (83.9 percent or 1.0 million of the 1.2 million decreases). 

  • Single-mom families were the only family type to experience a statistically significant decrease in poverty between 2017 and 2018.

Single moms are working more and earning more

  • In 2018, the real median income for households headed by single mothers increased 5.8 percent and real median earnings increased by 7.6 percent.

  • Single moms who worked full-time, year-round increased 1.9 percentage points to 62.4 percent. 

  • Black and Hispanic single moms are working even more: rising 4.2 percentage points and 3.6 percentage points, respectively.

Single moms are moving into the middle class.

  • Single-mom households with incomes under $25,000 fell 2.1 percentage points, but those households with incomes over $75,000 increased by 1.9 percentage points.

Hundred of thousands of Americans kids left poverty.

  • 649,000 fewer children are in poverty.

  • Children in single-mom households saw their poverty rate decreased by 2.5 percentage points.

  • There are 17 million children in single-mom households and they made up the bulk of the reductions in poverty (62.8 percent) of this group. 

Poverty rates for black and Hispanic single-mom households are falling most.

  • Poverty rates for black single-mom households decreased 2.7 percentage points to 31.7 percent. 

  • Poverty rates for Hispanic single-mom households decreased 4 percentage points to  31.1 percent. 

  • Poverty for kids under 18 in Hispanic households headed by single mothers decreased by 7.1 percentage points.

Work helps people leave poverty, gain independence, move up the economic ladder, and take care of themselves and their families.

Policymakers and even those running to lead our nation need to talk about policies that get women, especially single mothers, to work. That should include reforming welfare programs to prioritize work.

Instead, we hear from the Democratic campaign trail about giving everyone a $1,000 check each month (universal basic income) with no work requirements. That’s irresponsible, not innovative.

Work is critical to reducing poverty. 1996 welfare reform prioritized getting moms to work.

Now, the Trump Administration and a number of states are implementing regulatory changes to welfare programs from cash benefits to food stamps to healthcare that condition continued access to benefits on work. We need more of this.

With unemployment rates historically low and 7 million unfilled positions, we should be finding ways to get more Americans into the labor force.

As more American families leave poverty, they gain resources to spend and they better their quality of life. 





Independent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
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