Report: Helping Low-Income Working Mothers is Good Public Policy

Nationwide, there are now 4.1 million low-income families headed by single working mothers, according to the new report, “Low-Income Working Mothers and State Policy: Investing for a Better Economic Future.”  Two-thirds of the working poor families in the District – 61% — are headed by single women, a proportion well above the national average of 39%, and far higher than our neighbors to the north and south (Maryland: 46%; Virginia: 44%).

The report was released by the Working Poor Families Project and utilizes the latest data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. As of 2012, there were 11,343 low-income working families in the district, with 6,923 headed by working mothers.

“If you care about children in the District, and you care about the District’s economy as a whole, you’ve got to pay attention to what’s happening to single working mothers,” said Walter Smith, Executive Director of DC Appleseed Center for Law and Justice. “These are not the long-term unemployed; they are working full-time and they still struggle to support themselves and their children. And most of the women are struggling because they lack the education and skills to get into good jobs. There’s plenty we can do about that.”

Infographic 021014Many of the factors keeping working mothers in poverty can be addressed at the District level, the report found. Local and state governments have significant authority and opportunity to help low-income working mothers gain the education and skills they need to provide for their children, as well as provide important supports that can assist them as they strive to become economically secure.  And the economic security of working families benefits everyone.

“As low-skilled adults move into higher skilled, better paying jobs, everyone is better off – their children, their landlords, small local businesses, and the District’s bottom line.  We all benefit,” said Smith.

The report found that 64% of women heading low-income working families in Washington, D.C. have no postsecondary education. According to the report, improving access to and success within postsecondary education by, for example, providing need-based financial aid to part-time students along with affordable high-quality child care is among the most meaningful reform that can help low-income families. DC Appleseed has helped the District make gains in these important areas.

“For us, making sure we have a strong, independent community college where working mothers can go and succeed is one of our major goals,” said Smith. “But all of the pieces need to be in place. We’re also working to raise wages in jobs like home health care, which is the top occupation nationally of single working mothers.

The report defines “low-income working families” as earning no more than twice the federal poverty income threshold; in 2012, the low-income threshold for a family of four with two children was $46,566.

“Too many female-headed working families have no pathway out of poverty,” said Deborah Povich, co-manager of the Working Poor Families Project and one of three authors of the report. “Public policy can and must play a critical role in increasing opportunities so families can achieve economic security. Addressing the needs of low-income working mothers will benefit their children and future generations.”

“Low-Income Working Mothers and State Policy: Investing for a Better Economic Future,” can be found on the WPFP website at

Leave a Reply