Single Mothers Hit Hard by Job Losses

By: - May 26, 2020 12:00 am

A mother helps her children with online schoolwork in Beaverton, Oregon. Home schooling has added to financial and child care pressures for single moms. Craig Mitchelldyer/The Associated Press

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Editor’s note: This story was updated 5/27 to correct the share of newly unemployed personal care aides.

Christine Strong couldn’t take it anymore.

Four weeks of fruitless struggle with a state unemployment website. Bills piling up. Two small children who needed mothering and teaching, all in the confines of a one-bedroom apartment in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Strong’s bed broke. Her son’s bicycle broke, depriving him of his only recreation. Her aging mother, also living with Strong, kept getting confused and trying to walk off by herself without a mask.

“I had a lot of fear,” Strong said. The 46-year-old lost her job as a customer service representative and cleaner for a train service for cruise ship passengers. “Nothing is right,” she said. “Nothing is what it should be. You can’t plan. You don’t know what’s going to happen next.”

In a pandemic, single mothers must shoulder all the responsibilities at home — educating schoolchildren, caring for aging parents, cooking, cleaning and household management.

Now single moms have been hit particularly hard by the unemployment crisis, losing jobs at a far higher rate than other families with children, according to a Stateline analysis of census microdata provided by the University of Minnesota.

In April, the number of single mothers with jobs was 22% lower than it was a year ago, compared with a 9% employment decline for other families with children, according to the analysis.

The hit was even harder for low-wage single moms: Eighty-three percent working as waitresses lost their jobs by mid-April, along with 72% of those working as cleaners, 58% of cooks, a third of personal care aides and 14% of customer service representatives, according to the analysis.

Before the pandemic hit, women held 58% of service jobs. By mid-April, with travel halted and restaurants shuttered, nearly 5.7 million women had lost those jobs, compared with 3.2 million men.

Among all women, 17% have lost their jobs since the pandemic began, compared with 13% of men, according to the analysis.

That’s the opposite of what happened in the Great Recession, when male-dominated industries like manufacturing and construction took the biggest hits. Back then, between 2007 and 2009, 6 million men lost jobs, compared with 2.7 million women.

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Tim Henderson
Tim Henderson

Tim Henderson covers demographics for Stateline. He has been a reporter at the Miami Herald, the Cincinnati Enquirer and the Journal News.