A 21st Century Journalism Project

Making Ends Meet

In People on May 1, 2012 at 1:24 pm

By: Josh Petruska

For Sheila Roberts, a working single mother, life has not always been easy.  Roberts knows firsthand the hardships it takes to raise a child while working a 40-hour a week job.  Roberts is one of millions of single mothers who has had to deal with or is dealing with the adversities of working to provide for herself and her daughter on very little income.

According to National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agency (NACCRRA), there are over a quarter million single mothers in Pennsylvania.  According to The United States Department of Agriculture there are  close to 14 million in the entire United States.  Approximately 84 percent of single parents are woman, which accounts for nearly 10 million single mothers.  Working a full-time job while raising a child is stressful especially when there is no one to lean on for support.  Often time’s single parents, mothers especially are left with low-paying, high stress jobs.

The cost of raising a child has skyrocketed in the past decade. Image provided by CNN Money

Childcare, food, healthcare, clothes, and all of the other miscellaneous and unexpected costs it takes to raise a child puts many single parents at a considerable economic disadvantage.  Every year the USDA conducts a study on the costs of raising a child until they’re considered a legal adult.  The study found providing for a child until they are 18 can cost up to $250,000.

Mark Lino of the USDA explains every major expense associated with raising a child has risen in the past decade and continues to be on the climb.  Food prices in particular have increased in the past decade exponentially.  In fact the same USDA report showed providing food for a child through the first 18 years of their life can run upwards of $30,000.  Single working mothers are left with very little alternative options.  A considerable increase in costs for education, childcare, and healthcare have also been noticed in the past decade according to the report.

Image provided by Google Images

Sheila Roberts relied on nutritional assistance programs to help her provide a healthy lifestyle for her daughter, Jessica.  In the first years of her daughters life Roberts relied on Women Infants & Children (WIC), a program where Federal grants are provided to States for food, health care, and education for low-income women and their infant children.  With the help of assistance programs Roberts was able to afford the essentials such as milk, eggs, and formula for her daughter.  Even with the help of WIC Roberts was still struggling to find a way to provide the bare essentials for her daughter. Roberts acknowledges if it were not for WIC, she would have been hard pressed to find a way to afford the absolute necessities for her daughter.

Today Sheila Roberts is a manager at Cracker Barrel making a comfortable living with full benefits, but 27 years ago she was limited in the type of job she could pursue.  So she took a job working at McDonald’s.  When Roberts first started she only made $6.00 an hour, which barely covered any of her expenses.  At the time she could only afford to eat once a day and that was the meal allotted to her from McDonald’s.  The lack of benefits available to Roberts and her daughter before she moved into a management position at McDonald’s also put a strain on her daily life.  Healthcare, sick days, and paid leave were not an option for Roberts.

The service industry employs the highest number of working single mothers.  These types of jobs are usually associated with low wages and little or no on-the-job-benefits.  Sometimes single mothers are hard pressed to find a job at all.  According to a report completed by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, unemployment rates for single mothers in Pennsylvania has gone up in recent years.  Employment for single working mothers is 70 percent according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  Single mothers have an unemployment rate nearly three times that of women who are married.   The recent economic slump is having a lot to do with the recent surge in unemployment for women with children.

Image provided Futurity.

Finding an affordable childcare option is one of the toughest choices a single mother must make.  Putting her daughter in childcare was by far Robert’s most costly expense.  Robert was barely making $8000 a year when she first began at McDonald’s and was paying close to $3000 for childcare.  In 2011 nearly 11 million children were in some type of full or part time childcare.  The Center for Child Care Workforce determined it costs on average $4,000-$6,000 to put a child through day care for a year.

The report conducted by the USDA shows babies born in 2011 will cost parents nearly $40,000 over the time they spend in childcare.  Around 32% of single mothers weekly pay goes to paying for childcare.  The high costs of childcare can sometimes hinder a single mother’s attempt at finding work to pay for other things such as bills and food because the means to pay for daycare are too much to bear.  According to the NACCRRA Pennsylvania is one of the least affordable states for childcare.  Annual costs for childcare in Pennsylvania cost upwards of $11,000.

Poverty, lack of affordable healthcare, and unemployment put many women-headed households at a disadvantage than a male-headed household according to the Women’s Institute for Policy Research.

For single mothers raising a child priorities are often shifted and sacrifices must be made.  Roberts was forced to give up a lot of her own personal dreams and aspirations in order to provide a sustainable life for her and her daughter.  Roberts acknowledges she couldn’t have raised her daughter without the help of others.  “I always had an awesome support system to help me get by when I was struggling,” Roberts stated.

Robert’s situation is not unlike many others who have walked the same path in order to provide a comfortable life for themselves and their family.  Single working mothers struggle everyday to provide a sustainable lifestyle for them and their offspring as difficult as it may be.  They have no time to look back or complain.  Their only option is to find a way to make it work.


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