07/07/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

What Single Moms Really Need This Mother's Day

Ten million American women are raising children on their own. On this Mother's Day, we should thank these hard-working moms and look to what we as a society could be doing to improve their lives, and the lives of their children.

Today more than one in five American children (23 percent) lives in a family headed only by a mother. These 17 million children make up the next generation of Americans and they are their mothers are facing a steep uphill climb with little support from our nation's policymakers. One of the hard facts of life for single mothers today is that they must take care of their family on one, often very low income. Right now an unmarried woman -- a woman who is divorced, separated, widowed or single -- only makes 56 cents for every dollar made by a married man. The family income of nearly three in ten children living with a single mother is less than $15,000 a year.

Not surprisingly, then, the highest rate of poverty in the U.S. is in households headed by a single mother. Of all women living in poverty -- 75 percent are unmarried women. And this is despite the fact that more than half of single mothers in poverty are in the labor force -- either working or looking for work.

Further, in 2008, more than a third of single mother households and half of low-income single mother-households did not have enough money or other resources for food for their families. Indeed, more than four in ten "food-insecure" households with children under 18 are headed by a single mother.

These numbers are eye-popping and represent one of the biggest demographic shifts in the last 50 years. But our nation's policymakers have been slow to recognize or embrace this new family norm. Our policies are still being shaped by a definition of the family that does not reflect today's reality. Fact is the number of unmarried women and women-headed households is on the rise -- and the children they are raising are doing without basics: food, heath care, and housing.

We can do more to support the single moms raising our next generation, starting with providing the supports necessary for mothers who must combine working and caregiving. There is legislation before Congress now that would increase access to safe and affordable child care and to grants and tax credits that will help single mothers pay for higher education. There are also bills that have been crafted that would increase the economic security of these single mothers by raising the minimum wage and providing job training to help workers prepare for better jobs and careers. Congress also has the opportunity to pass legislation that would guarantee paid sick days for workers so that no mother--or anyone--gets fired for doing the responsible thing and caring for a sick child.

And, Congress has the power to give these women the best Mother's Day gift of all, and that would be to put an end to gender discrimination in wages and pass the Paycheck Fairness Act so these hardworking single mothers can bring home enough money to care for their families themselves.