Since the economy first spiraled into crisis in 2008, we've seen no shortage of news items about the disparate individuals and institutions who have fallen on hard times: the banks, the businesses, the young and the old.
Unfortunately, I've not seen many stories about the economic plight of one group whose success is absolutely vital to our nation's future: single mothers.
This is disappointing, because the unemployment rate for single mothers is actually quite shocking. Despite the fact that they're typically the sole breadwinners for their families, single mothers are twice as likely as married women to be unemployed. Not surprisingly, the recession has made things worse. The National Women's Law Center recently analyzed data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and found that the average annual unemployment rate for single mothers during 2010 was 12.3 percent -- the highest rate ever recorded for this group.
As I listened to President Obama deliver his State of the Union address, laying out what America needs to do to "win the future," I thought to myself that there's no way this country can win the future unless its single mothers can find and keep steady employment. A full 26 percent of American children are now raised in families headed by single mothers. Life for these children can be immensely challenging when their mothers are unable to find work.
If single mothers do not receive the tools that they need to provide financially for their families, we certainly cannot expect their children to grow up and meet the demands of a globalized economy. The President and Congress have vowed to dedicate their energies this year to creating jobs for Americans. Forefront on their agendas -- and on all of our minds -- should be the unemployment crisis among single mothers.
Of course, many single mothers are already succeeding despite the odds. One inspiring example I've heard is that of a women named Brenda, who lives in Detroit, MI, and received assistance through Goodwill Industries of Greater Detroit. In November, Brenda -- who has a history of drug abuse and involvement with the criminal justice system -- entered Goodwill's Beyond Jobs program. Funded by a $2.5 million grant from the Walmart Foundation, the program helps single mothers find employment and provides them with an array of services to ensure stable futures for their families. With few real workplace skills, Brenda was nervous about seeking employment on her own. Beyond Jobs team members helped her devise a long-term plan that would address the challenges she faced in finding employment, identify key changes she wanted to make in her life and prepare her for the workplace. They also helped her find a job at Green Works Recycling, where she is now employed.
Without the help of a program like this, Brenda would have been very unlikely to find a full time position in today's competitive workplace. But even more important is that the program is providing her with continued career planning and services designed to help strengthen her family, so that she can use her job as a platform to build long-term financial stability for herself and her family.
Beyond Jobs is not just about giving one-time assistance to each participant -- it's about giving each woman all of the tools she will need to succeed on her own.
Brenda is just one of many, many examples. A wide range of organizations across the country are working with single mothers -- particularly those who face financial hardships, lack of education or other challenges to finding employment -- helping them gain the tools they need to not only earn a job, but to keep that job and build a permanent path out of poverty.
It may seem easy to overlook any unemployed single mother's situation as an individual case that is "not your problem." However, when you look at the overarching issue of unemployment among single mothers throughout the country, it's clear that this is one of the most pressing economic issues facing our country. If single mothers succeed, families succeed -- and when families succeed, communities thrive. All of us, including government, nonprofit and community leaders, must continue to provide opportunities that will help single mothers and their families win the future.