Report examines effect of recession on single mothers

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Single mothers have been disproportionally hurt by the recession, with their unemployment rate now at its highest point in 25 years, according to a recent study.

The report, released Thursday by the Institute for Women's Policy Research and the Women and Girls Foundation of Southwest Pennsylvania, examines the recession's effect on female heads of households.

Nationally, 13 percent of single mothers are unemployed, the report said. In Pennsylvania, that figure rose from 5 percent in 2007 to 11.1 percent in 2009.

"Many families are suffering economic hardship, but families maintained by women face higher rates of poverty and higher rates of unemployment," said Ariane Hegewisch, a study director at the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Women's Policy Research.

Poverty rates for households headed by single mothers have also risen during the recession, from 35.4 percent in the Pittsburgh metropolitan area in 2007 to 43.5 percent in 2008.

That figure compares to 14.4 percent of households headed by single fathers and 4.5 percent of married-couple households.

Of the families in the Pittsburgh region living in poverty, 74.4 percent are headed by single mothers.

The study was commissioned based on anecdotal reports that employees of the Pittsburgh-based Women and Girls Foundation were hearing from social service providers, said the group's executive director, Heather Arnet.

"Our fears as to the devastating impact the recession has had on women and families are confirmed in this report," she said. "We need to, and can, adjust policy to better serve single mothers and their families."

The report makes several policy recommendations at the state level, including promoting family-friendly workplace policies, increasing subsidies for child care and early childhood education and enforcing equal-pay laws.

Anya Sostek: or 412-263-1308.


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