Opinion Columns & Blogs

Mary Sanchez: Good-paying job more effective than a lecture

More and more mothers, whether or not they wear a wedding ring, are becoming their family’s breadwinner.

An analysis of 2011 U.S. Census data found that 40 percent of households rely on Mom as the primary or sole breadwinner. That’s a massive increase from 1960, when the figure was a mere 11 percent.

This trend won’t shock a lot of Americans. They already see it within their own homes or those of their neighbors. Plenty of mommies are better educated and better compensated than their husbands, and a growing number of daddies gladly accept that it is their duty, too, to change diapers and do carpool duty.

But here is the more sobering tale within the data: Nearly two-thirds of these “sole or primary” breadwinning women fit that description because they are the only one working in their household. These are primarily the single mothers. And they tend to be far less educated, and to be black or Hispanic. Their median household income was $23,000.

Compare that with the families studied where it was a married woman who earned more than her mate. Those homes had a median income of $80,000, well above the national median for all households of $57,100.

The most relevant message behind the study is not so much about marriage as about the growing economic divide in this country. If we understand that, we might just agree on policies that can address the problem.

Yet it is virtually impossible to bring up the topic of single mothers, whether in Congress or at the dinner table, without inviting a howling lecture. Many have a convenient scapegoat to blame, and their certitude of their own uprightness permits them to do absolutely nothing to change the status quo. Except to call for more discipline imposed on the already unfortunate.

It’s not the fact that these women are unmarried with children that drives their household poverty. It’s their lack of education and too few jobs, including for the equally undereducated men who are most likely to marry them.

Low-income families are more likely to divorce. Arguments and stress about money, after all, are often a contributing factor in divorce.

People who are better educated and who have firm employment opportunities are more likely to marry and stay married.

A study published last year in the Journal of Marriage and Family found that low-income people value marriage as an institution and share thoughts about romance similar to people in higher-income brackets.

Researchers at UCLA found that “low-income respondents were more likely than affluent couples to report that their romantic relationships were negatively affected by economic and social issues such as money problems, drinking and drug use.” The low-income respondents actually held more negative views about divorce than did their wealthier counterparts.

So let’s not pontificate about marriage or make false assumptions about mothers raising kids who aren’t living with a spouse.

Ordinary people in this country need to be able to find stable, legal employment that pays wages that make it possible to raise a family in a safe, nurturing environment. We have the ability to make that happen through education and training programs, minimum-wage legislation, trade policy, fiscal policy and other means. Have you noticed, though, that our political class isn’t even trying?