In a groundbreaking report on single-parent families, UCLA Luskin doctoral student Laurie Maldonado co-authored a comprehensive and astounding study comparing how the United States ranks worldwide versus over a dozen other high-income countries.
Maldonado, who earned her Master of Social Welfare at UCLA in 2002 and is close to completing her Social Welfare Ph.D., collaborated with Legal Momentum’s Tim Casey to release the report which shows that single-parent families living in the U.S. have the highest poverty rate when compared to other high-income countries from around the globe.
The report, titled “Worst Off: Single-Parent Families in the United States,” was released to national acclaim among those striving for policy changes for single-parent families in the U.S. “Worst Off” compares 16 high-income countries around the world to the United States in terms of employment, wage rates, healthcare coverage and government support for things like entitlements to paid parental leave.
“Fighting poverty has always been really important to me,” said Maldonado, who lives in New York and is completing her Ph.D. at the satellite institute, the Luxembourg Income Study Center at the Graduate Center City University of New York. “There’s so much blame on single mothers and it shouldn’t be that way. People in the U.S. don’t understand that, they don’t understand the whole story. Things could be different here. That’s what I wanted to do.”
Maldonado has been working on this type of data for her dissertation over the past six years and has been trying to steer people’s thoughts away from the stigma of a single mother “demonized in the media,” as she said. The idea of an unmotivated person living off of the government has been illustrated as the stereotype of a single parent and, according to “Worst Off,” that is hardly always the case.
“U.S. single parents have both above average employment rates and above average poverty rates,” the report states, putting the range of single-parents who are employed between 73 and 84 percent. “High rates of low-wage employment combined with inadequate income support explain the paradox of high poverty despite high employment.”
Single-parent families in the United States, according to this comprehensive study, “have the highest poverty rate. They have the highest rate of no health care coverage. They face the stingiest support system. They lack the paid-time-off-from-work entitlements that in comparison countries make it easier for single parents to balance caregiving and jobholding. They must wait longer than single parents in comparison countries for early childhood education to begin. They have a low rate of child support receipt.”
Furthermore, Maldonado’s work shows that the majority of single parents are either widowed, divorced or separated, continuing to fight the portrayal that their children are born out of wedlock.
Some of the more eyebrow-raising statistics show that the children in single-parent families where only parental incomes are used have a poverty rate of nearly 63 percent in the United States compared to the 61 percent average for children in single-parent households in the other countries studied. Yet, when government assistance is introduced, the US rate declines to 51 percent of those living in poverty compared to an average of 27 percent in the other 16 countries.
“Seeing the cumulative impact side-by-side in this way, that was the major thing,” said Maldonado, who teaches social welfare policy at the Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College. “The other thing, too, was in the U.S. you have single parents and they have the highest employment rates of all these other countries, but at the same time they have the highest poverty rates. This idea of single parents working really hard, long hours and in low wage jobs is a really big thing and a really loud message.”
The report also found that among the high-income countries, the United States was the only country that did not have paid leave for single parents, compared to a country like Sweden, which offers four to six weeks annually.
“When we found out later on that there were only four other countries in the world with unpaid leave, that was pretty huge,” Maldonado said. “This matters to single parents. There’s only one income and they can’t balance work and leave for the child and it impacts them more. It impacts all families. It really speaks to the U.S. and how it’s lacking on many levels.”
Maldonado first became interested in these topics while she was a student at UCLA Luskin and working as a social welfare practitioner before beginning her doctorate education.
“All I was working with was single parents and I was realizing ‘Oh my gosh, this is insane,’” said Maldonado, who held jobs at non-profit organizations in Harlem and the Bronx. “They have to work long hours to get aid and it’s such a hard life to balance.”
With her hands-on experience and her extensive research contributing to the success and acclaim of the report, Maldonado is encouraged that it could lead to changes in the United States.
“We should really be outraged that so many families are living in poverty and when we have the data and it’s very clear, it doesn’t matter what [someone’s] political affiliation is,” she said. “I think it’s a matter of getting the word out and it’s a matter of advocacy. We need to look at the systems. I think we really can change the political world on this issue.”
To see the full "Worst Off" report, please click here.