The Health, Earnings Capacity, and Poverty of Single-mother Families
Approximately 1.4 million single mothers have substantial health problems. Even if they were to work full time, they would be unlikely to earn enough to adequately provide for themselves and their children. Many of these women are not likely to find employment that offers health insurance coverage for themselves or their children. Employment is thus not an option that would provide sufficient resources—in terms of income or insurance—for them to live at or above the poverty line. Those single mothers who have a disabled child are at additional disadvantage. These children may require increased time from an adult and are likely to have considerable medical care needs and expenditures. For these families, employment of the mother may not provide adequate resources in terms of either time available to meet the disabled child's special needs, income, or adequate health insurance.
We explore these issues, first examining the health status of single mothers compared to other women. We next estimate their earnings capacity--the amount they would earn were they to join the work force on a full-time basis, taking into account their health status and that of their children. We then investigate the percentage of single mothers and their children who would be poor if they had to rely on the earnings capacity of the women (working 40 hours per week, adjusting for health). Finally, we explore the policy implications of our findings, which seem particularly timely in the face of the new work requirements of the 1988 Family Support Act. The act requires most single mothers currently receiving or applying for Aid to Families with DependentChildren (AFDC) to enroll in training or register to work.