Most US single mothers work, live in the suburbs and are white, according to a report released Wednesday, shattering the stereotype of single mothers as inner city-dwelling leeches who have babies to claim state benefits.
Beginning in the 1960s, US single mothers were depicted as largely black, urban women who had babies to get government handouts, said the report by the Eleanor Foundation, a group that helps working women to achieve and hold onto economic independence.
Past governments in the United States have tried to dissuade single motherhood by radically cutting "already very limited social supports" that were available to women, the report, which was compiled by Malcolm Bush of the University of Chicago and Gary Orfield of the UCLA Civil Rights Project, said.
But the caricature of the single mother is false, and US government policies toward single mothers have not only failed to decrease the number of households led by women only, but left many women in the United States and the children they are raising in great difficulty.
Large numbers of single mothers don't earn enough to provide the basic essentials of life, the report said.
"The financial stress these mothers face is demonstrated by the percent of their income they spend on housing costs. In 2007, 85 percent of them spent 30 percent or more of their income on housing costs, a condition that the US Department of Housing classifies as 'housing burdened'," the report said.
More than half paid 50 percent or more of their income to put a roof over their and their children's heads, making them "housing distressed" under the Department of Housing's criteria.
And yet, homes built in new communities are constructed for a happily married couple with two incomes -- even though around 40 percent of US kids are born out of wedlock and more than two in five marriages end in divorce.
"A basic principle of housing and urban planning should be to provide accommodation for the kinds of families we actually have," the report said.
Under President Barack Obama, who, the report points out, was raised by a single, working mother, and a progressive legislature, the United States should bring its policies towards single mothers into line with other Western democracies.
Women should be provided with benefits such as longer paid maternity leave, quality preschool amd health care for all, and accessible education and training opportunities to improve their lot, or the cycle of single mothers struggling in the face of extreme difficulty will continue, the report says.
"If Americans understood that single mothers are working very hard in this country with less help than they would receive in virtually all other advanced societies in the world, and that the future of our society depends on the success of their children, we might be able move toward much less punitive and more productive policies to help get them onto pathways to economic and career success," the report said.