Work Histories and Employment Outcomes of Single Mothers. Employment and Earnings Outcomes for Single Mothers

01/31/2012

As discussed above, single mothers, especially low-income single mothers, often have lower levels of attachment to the labor market and lower earnings from the jobs they are able to secure relative to other women.  But, do they experience improvements over time?  What are the employment and earnings experiences of single mothers over a five-year period?

Employment.  Single mothers experienced some gains in employment over time, but this progress slowed in the final years of the outcome period. As shown in Exhibit 2, the proportion of single mothers employed in a given year increased for the first several years of the outcome period from 77% in the base year to 79% three years later.  The proportion employed then declined in the last two years of the outcome period to 74% when the economy was slowing in the early 2000s.  For low-income single mothers, the proportion employed at the end of the period (64%) was still higher than the proportion employed during the base year (61%).  But, for all single mothers together, any early improvements in employment were erased by the end of the five-year outcome period; decreases in employment during the later years of the outcome period brought the proportion of all single mothers employed to a level below their initial employment rate in the base year (74% compared to 77%).

Exhibit 2
Employment Outcomes

Exhibit 2 - Employment Outcomes. See Research Brief Long Descriptions for explanation of chart.

Exhibit 2-Line chart of percentage of low-income single mothers, all single mothers and all women employed over five years. Employment levels for low-income single mothers rose during the first two years and then dropped somewhat during the last two years of the study outcome period. Employment was higher but the trend was fairly stable for all single mothers and all women over the five year period.

Source:  Income and family characteristics are based on the 1997 and 1998 Annual
Social and Economic Supplement of the Current Population Survey.  Employment
outcomes are based on the Social Security Administration's Detailed Earnings Records.

While single mothers’ employment gains eroded by the end of the study period, working single mothers experienced increased employment stability over the subsequent five years after we drew our sample.  When single mothers were working, their employment volatility decreased as measured by a decline in the average number of jobs they held in each year over the course of the outcome period.  As shown in Exhibit 3, working single mothers had an average of 1.84 jobs during the base year of our study, which decreased to an average of 1.55 jobs five years later.  For employed single mothers with low incomes, the average number of jobs in a year decreased from 2.01 to 1.65 over the same time period.

Exhibit 3
Employment Volatility Among Workers

Exhibit 3 - Employment Volatility Among Workers. See Research Brief Long Descriptions for explanation of chart.

Exhibit 3-Line chart of number of jobs held among employed low-income single mothers, all single mothers and all women over five years. Low-income single mother workers were most likely and all working women were less likely to hold multiple jobs in a given year. The number of jobs held in a year decreased among all groups over the five year study outcome period.

Source:  Income and family characteristics are based on the 1997 and 1998 Annual
Social and Economic Supplement of the Current Population Survey.  Employment
outcomes are based on the Social Security Administration's Detailed Earnings Records.

Earnings.  Single mothers experienced earnings growth over the course of the five-year outcome period.  Indeed, all groups of women in our study experienced increases in earnings on average; but single mothers, and low-income single mothers in particular, experienced even greater percentage increases in their average earnings over time.  Exhibit 4 shows that earnings[6] among employed single mothers increased in the five years following the base year from $17,592 to $21,384, a growth rate of 22% compared to a growth rate of 14% among all women.  Among low-income working single mothers, earnings increased from $9,673 to $13,794 (a growth rate of 43%).[7]

Still, even with earnings increases, single mothers were not able to close the earnings gap between themselves and the more broadly defined group of all women in our study, and low-income single mothers lagged even further behind.  As shown in Exhibit 4, single mothers, especially those at low-incomes, started at a much lower earnings level initially than all working women and earned consistently less than all women in each year of the outcome period.

Exhibit 4
Earnings Outcomes Among Workers

Exhibit 4 - Earnings Outcomes Among Workers. See Research Brief Long Descriptions for explanation of chart.

Exhibit 4-Line chart of annual average earnings among employed low-income single mothers, all single mothers and all women over five years. Low-income single mother workers had lower average earnings and all working women had higher average earnings in a given year. Average earnings levels increased among all groups over the five year study outcome period.

Source:  Income and family characteristics are based on the 1997 and 1998 Annual
Social and Economic Supplement of the Current Population Survey.  Employment
outcomes are based on the Social Security Administration's Detailed Earnings Records.

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