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Study suggests single moms in Utah face taller hurdles than elsewhere

By Genelle Pugmire - Daily Herald | Aug 8, 2023

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Single working mothers in Utah have three things they must contend with on a greater scope than women living in other parts of the country, according to a new research snapshot released by the Utah Women & Leadership Project. They include a wage gap, child care affordability and cost of living.

“Supporting children’s primary caregivers, including single mothers, helps ensure the successful future of our state and nation. Although many challenges are associated with being a single mother in Utah, there are many resources in place to help these individuals; however, the data still shows a need for adjustments and additional programs, services, and policies,” concludes the report, authored by Kristy Hodson, an instructor in the College of Health Professions at Western Governors University and UWLP research fellow, and Emily Darowski, UWLP associate director.

Utah data indicates there were 70,647 single-parent families with children in 2021; of them, 69.2% were headed by single mothers.

“Given that most single-parent households in the US and Utah are headed by women, understanding the unique needs of single mothers nationally and within Utah is an essential step in tailoring programs to help women thrive,” the paper states.

According to the UWLP paper, 48,878 Utah women were single mothers in 2021, representing 12.7% of all Utah families with children under 18. American Community Survey data from 2017-2021, analyzed in a Utah health indicator report to identify the percentage of households by county that were headed by single mothers, found like the three Utah counties with the highest percentage of single mother households were Grand (7.2%), Weber (6.0%) and San Juan (6.1%). The three counties with the lowest percentage were Piute (0.0%), Daggett (1.0%) and Beaver (1.8%).

“Single mothers may disproportionately experience challenges such as economic disadvantages, mental health concerns, work instability, decreased time to devote to their children and their own wellbeing, education barriers, and possible poorer outcomes for their children,” the snapshot paper states. “Because of the heavy burdens single mothers carry trying to balance work, life, and family, many are discouraged, overwhelmed, and exhausted. These challenges, especially if faced without appropriate communal support, can keep single mothers in a place of everyday survival instead of reaching a place where they can grow, excel, and thrive.”

The three notable areas where the UWLP indicated improvement is needed in Utah include the following:

Wage gap

Per the snapshot, a report by the Utah Department of Workforce Services found that Utah men consistently earn more than Utah women. Additionally, adult women nationwide who work full time year-round earn approximately 81.0% of males in similar roles. Utah women reportedly earn 72.0% compared to men.

The UWLP attributes part of the discrepancy to educational and occupational choice, which it says are shaped by societal norms and expectations. Women, the snapshot reports, are more likely to pursue degrees and occupations that yield lower salaries.

“Another reason may be that women tend to spend less time in the workforce than men, often because of caregiving responsibilities, resulting in less work experience,” the snapshot states. “Utah women are more likely to work part time (30.0%) than US women (21.0%) and Utah men (16.0%). Still, other factors such as unconscious bias and direct discrimination impact the wage gap.”

Cost of child care

Utah has more families with three or more children than the U.S. average, according to the UWLP report.

“Because women tend to take on more childcare responsibilities, caring for larger families and balancing work obligations is hard, particularly when Utah faces shortages of high-quality, affordable childcare,” the paper said. “Childcare in Utah is more expensive than college. Infant care for one child would take 14.0% of a median family’s income in Utah, and it gets more expensive with every additional child.”

Cost of living

Providing for a family in Utah has become increasingly challenging, according to the UWLP, with Americans in the Mountain region, including Utah, experiencing the highest inflation rates as of January 2022.

Home prices have also risen more quickly in Utah than in other states over the past few years. Cost-of-living increases are especially challenging for those living at or near poverty levels and can take a toll on single mothers, according to the paper.

Citing reporting by the Deseret News, the UWLP says the median income among Utah single mothers with kids under 18 has changed modestly over the last 10 years, from $33,100 in 2010 to $37,900 in 2020, despite continued rises to the cost of living.

Per the research snapshot, a quarter of Utah households with a single mother are living below the poverty level, though that percentage increases with higher numbers of children. Among single mother households with five or more children, 48.8% are said to live below the poverty level.

The paper lists many programs in place to help single mothers in Utah, including the Family Employment Program, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Utah Assisted Child Care Program, Utah Medicaid, Utah Children’s Health Insurance Program, Utah (Section 8) Voucher Program and the Utah Home Energy Assistance Target Program, among others.

However, it hedges, eligibility criteria, availability and application cycles can make it difficult for single mothers to utilize these resources.


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