09/21/2010 11:46 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Great Recession Over? Maybe Not for Unmarried Women

This week is National Unmarried and Single Americans Week, and while it is important to celebrate the contributions unmarried women make, we also need to recognize the struggles they face. The National Board of Economic Research may have declared the Great Recession over, but we are far from done feeling its effects.

According to The Other Half: Women, Economic Well-Being and the Great Recession, the latest report from Women's Voices, Women Vote (WVWV) and the Center for American Progress (CAP), half of all American women are unmarried and the economy has them on the ropes.

Unmarried women -- single, divorced, widowed or separated -- make up one of the fastest growing demographics in the country. They account for 25 percent of all adults and as single mothers, they are raising a quarter of all American children under 18. The Great Recession, which began in 2007, has deeply and negatively affected unmarried women - who even before the economic downturn were more likely to have less and earn less than unmarried men, married women or married men.

Before the recession, unmarried women earned 56 cents for each dollar earned by married men. They earned 12 percent less than married women. 60 percent of all women without health insurance were unmarried. And unmarried women were five times as likely to live in poverty as married men and four times as likely as married women to live in poverty.

Today, unmarried women represent more than a fifth (22.1%) of the nation's workers age 18 and over. These women support households: two out of three unmarried women are the sole or one of multiple breadwinners in their households. Among 19 percent of unmarried women who are single moms -- more than four out of five of them (82 percent) are either the sole or one of multiple earners supporting their households.

The recession hit unmarried workers disproportionately. Unmarried workers had nearly twice the unemployment rate of married workers in 2009. Unmarried men have the highest unemployment rate -- followed by unmarried women. Among all unemployed women, 61 percent are unmarried. Their 12 percent unemployment rate is double the rate for married women. In April, more than four in ten unmarried women (age 16 and over) who were unemployed had been looking for a job for at least six months. As unemployment rose during the recession for unmarried women, employment has fallen. While 56.9 percent of all unmarried women were employed on average in 2007, that figure had fallen to 53.5 percent by April 2010.

Improving the economic security of women will help our national economy overall. That's why policymakers should focus on policies that will increase unmarried women's wages and spending potential, reduce their debt and increase their wealth, and improve the lives and futures of the children they are raising. Efforts to lay the foundation for long-term economic growth must allow all Americans -- including unmarried women -- to participate in and benefit from our economy and its recovery.

A particularly fitting observance of Unmarried and Single Americans week would be the passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act by the Senate. The Act would provide critical strengthening of the Equal Pay Act by, among other things, prohibiting employers from punishing employees who share their salary information, requiring employers to prove that differences in wages are job-related rather than gender-based, and creating better remedies for victims of gender discrimination.

This critical legislation passed the House 256-163 in January of 2009, but has not yet cleared the Senate hurdle. Majority Leader Harry Reid reintroduced Paycheck Fairness last week, but the number of days remaining on the legislative calendar this year is dwindling. Millions of American women, especially unmarried American women, would benefit from the Paycheck Fairness Act and the Senate should move to pass it this week.

To learn more about The Other Half: Women, Economic Well-Being and the Great Recession, please click here.