Recession and State Budget Cuts Dealt a Double Blow to Many Single Parents

Women raising children without the help of a spouse lost significant ground during the recession, and now state budget cuts to critical work supports, including welfare-to-work services and child care, could make it even harder for these parents to support their families and get back into the workforce.

The recent downturn resulted in a huge setback for single mothers. The share of California’s unmarried mothers who were working fell by more than 10 percentage points between 2007 and 2010 – nearly twice the drop in employment for married fathers and more than four times the decline for married mothers. This means that in just three years, the recession erased more than half of the gains that single moms made between 1992 and 2002, when a strong job market, together with state and federal welfare reform, helped boost the share of these women who were working by a substantial 20 percentage points. In fact, the downturn reversed the entire rise in single mothers’ employment that occurred after welfare reform. Even single mothers who remained employed during the recession were hit hard: They saw the largest decline in their weekly hours of work in at least two decades, cutting deeply into their paychecks.

Budget cuts signed into law last month dealt an additional blow to women supporting children on their own. For example, the Legislature made deep cuts to CalWORKs – the state’s welfare-to-work program, which provides modest cash assistance and job-related services to low-income families with children. For the third year in a row, the Legislature cut funding for welfare-to-work services which help families transition off aid. As a result, fewer low-income parents will be able to access job search services and training programs at a time when they need them most. In addition, the Legislature made deep cuts to California’s child care programs, which will make it harder for single mothers, in particular, to get back into the workforce and stay there. Parents who don’t have a partner need reliable and affordable child care in order to find and retain work – especially if they’ve gone several months without a paycheck and lack the resources to pay for care on their own. But recent cuts mean fewer parents will have access to the state’s child care programs, and those who do will have to pay higher fees, which could make it harder to afford care.

With the state’s jobless rate still hovering near the record-high rate set only months ago, cuts to work supports designed to help parents get back to work couldn’t come at a worse time.

—Alissa Anderson