As a group, single mothers are disadvantaged in the labor market along several dimensions. In our study, they had lower levels of educational attainment, a higher likelihood of reporting a health or disability problem, a higher incidence of poverty, and were less likely to be covered by health insurance than all women. These discrepancies were even more pronounced between low-income single mothers and the broader population of women. In addition, single mothers had fewer years of past employment experience, lower earnings when working, and much higher past job volatility than all women. In particular, low-income single mothers experienced high job turnover and substantial levels of joblessness throughout the historical period for this study.
Despite these difficulties, the position of single mothers as a group improved markedly. Low-income and all single mothers experienced early employment gains during the five-year outcome period, with past work experience in as few as one or two years and frequent job changes both helping those without jobs to secure employment. Single mothers experienced substantial earnings gains in subsequent years as well. In particular, higher educational attainment, longer work histories, and frequent job changes were important correlates of this earnings progression for low-income and all single mothers over time.
Still, over the course of the five-year outcome period, single mothers were not able to close the earnings gap between themselves and all women, and a substantial proportion of low-income and all single mothers remained out of the labor market or at the bottom of the overall earnings distribution. These single mothers are likely continuing to face labor market difficulties given the current economic downturn.