Analysis | Evan Horowitz

Are we doing enough to help out our mothers?

One Mother’s Day a year is probably not enough to thank our moms for all they’ve done for us. Being a mom is hard work, and it might be better if we devoted as much time to thanking them as they devoted to supporting us. But Mother’s Day at least gives us an occasion to express our appreciation, in whatever way we can.

Mother’s Day can also be an occasion to think about other moms. Not just your mom but the many women raising children around the state and across the country. They, too, work hard for their kids, and these days most of them have jobs outside the home as well. But for all that hard work, a lot of moms are still struggling to keep their families afloat.

Working Mother’s Day

There is nothing new about mothers working outside of the home. When the founder of Mother’s Day, Anna Jarvis, first proposed the national holiday, she was thinking of the remarkable work done by her own mother, who had battled for public health and built new ties of friendship between Americans divided by the Civil War.


What is new is that more mothers are getting paid for their work. Back in 1967, a bare majority of moms had paying jobs. Today, 7 out of every 10 mothers in the United States are “working” moms, meaning they earn money for work they do outside the home.

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Of course, that still means 3 out of every 10 moms are at home full time with their kids. Many of these “stay-at-home” moms are home by choice. Some, however, are at home because they can’t find good work or because they’re trying to complete their education. The fact that they get no wages and no salary for the hard work they do as moms means that 1 of every 3 stay-at-home mothers actually live in poverty.

Remind me, what’s the cutoff for poverty?

It varies by family, but if you’re a stay-at-home mom with two kids and your husband earns $25,000, you’re above the poverty line. The cutoff is $23,624. That’s how little these mothers have to support themselves and raise their kids.

Single Mother’s Day

If this Mother’s Day does inspire you to think about moms in poverty, the other group to remember is single moms. Raising kids and making ends meet is that much harder for single parents, and these difficulties show up all too clearly in the statistics.

Single moms make up just a quarter of all mothers in the United States, but they account for nearly 50 percent of moms in poverty. This is not only a problem for them, it is a problem for their kids, since children who grow up in poverty have more health problems, perform worse in school, and are more likely to be poor themselves as adults.


The United States has a fairly large number of single mothers, but it’s hardly alone in that. In the UK, the percentage is actually higher, while Sweden, Norway, and Canada all have a slightly smaller but still substantial share of single moms.

In each of these countries, the poverty rate for single moms is lower than in the United States, which suggests that single-moms and poverty don’t have to go together. There are other, more effective ways to support them.

Mothers and Poverty

Mother’s day or Mothers’ day

First and foremost, Mothers’ Day is a day for you to celebrate your mom, and to thank her for all the ways she has helped you over the years. If you’re looking for an interesting Mothers’ Day discussion though, you might bring up these other mothers who are working hard to raise their kids while struggling to pay for food and rent and child care.

There’s a lot more we could be doing for them. More affordable pre-school programs would help moms balance work and family, paid maternity leave would let them be there in those crucial first months, guaranteed sick days would ensure that they can take care of their sick kids without losing their jobs. This Mother’s Day is an occasion to think about approaches like these and to ask if we are doing enough to support all our mothers.

Note: Except where otherwise noted, the data for this piece comes from the Pew Research Center.

More by Evan Horowitz:

-- How do we sustain growth with an aging population?

-- Yesterday’s recession will haunt us tomorrow

-- Who Pays More in Taxes?


Shirley Leung: Mothers being wooed to restart careers


Ideas | The Word: What ‘mom’ really means in America

This Mother’s Day, break with tradition

Evan Horowitz digs through data to find information that illuminates the policy issues facing Massachusetts and the United States. He can be reached at evan.horowitz@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeHorowitz