Brenda Frierson of Chicago contributes to today’s high unemployment rates – 9.7 percent nationally, 10.9 percent in Chicago, 11.4 percent in Illinois – but she faces more than a statistical obstacle in her job search: she is a single mother.
The 52-year-old Frierson has an atypical advantage of a bachelor’s degree, and a staffing agency has placed her successfully in a series of temporary jobs over the past couple of years. Nevertheless, she’s now back on the market, this time hoping to find the security of a full-time opportunity with benefits.
“A lot of women are heads of their own households,” Frierson said. “It’s scary. You feel much more sense of urgency because you don’t have a spouse to depend on.”
Frierson is concerned not only about her rising property taxes and mortgage, which will soon go up from $1200 to $1500 per month, but her ability to help her 18-year-old daughter finish up at Harold Washington College.
Despite economist opinion that men are suffering the most from unemployment, the dislocation and burden are greater for women like Frierson who maintain families under the weight of unemployment and have no second income from a spouse to turn to.
In March, the unemployment rate for women who maintain families was 11.3, almost double the 5.9 rate among women with a spouse present, according to a report on selected unemployment characteristics by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Both figures are without seasonal adjustment.
Economists at the bureau said the discrepancy may exist due to a difference in age or education levels, among single mothers and married women, but they do not have data that controls for these characteristics.
“This is not a story of childcare or family institution,” said Teresa Ghilarducci, director of the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis at The New School in New York City. Trends show that “single women with children have lesser education.”
Ghilarducci believes that jobs for people with only high school diplomas have gotten much more unstable, causing greater unemployment problems for those with less education.
So what does that say about a single mother like 45-year-old Chicagoan Yvette Fly? Fly, who has a degree in computer science and previously worked as a software engineer, has been looking for a job for a year.
She believes that she has done better in her job search by “dumbing-down” her resume, making a resume that is geared toward even an hourly-wage job, in which she does not look overqualified.
Fly said that life is “getting a little scary,” without any child support for her 10-year-old son, having to watch her bills go unpaid. Fly said she has exhausted all of her unemployment benefits, has sold off everything possible, and can barely afford the most essential items for her family.
The single mom acknowledged that billing companies are calling her wondering why she cannot pay after 20 years of reliable bill payments. Fly can afford only the bare minimum of her monthly obligations of $1300; she concentrates on rent first and her son’s asthma medical expenses and has to let the other bills go. “I am not a dead-beat. I’m not trying to avoid payment,” Fly said.
If she were to do it all over, Fly would not listen to the forecast that the job market will turn around. “I would not rely on that,” she said.
With or without college degrees, single mothers across the nation are feeling unemployment’s effects disproportionately, and as their funds are dwindling, so is hope of finding jobs.
Ghilarducci said these families are also feeling the pain of diminishing sources of basic support, such as welfare. She added, “Female-headed households have much more variability in jobs and in income,” and the resources available for struggling families are extremely insecure.
Single parents tend to have high unemployment rates because if they were in “different family situations, they wouldn’t be looking for a job,” Ghilarducci said.
Another unemployed Chicagoan, Fatimah Ellis, 34, is maintaining a family that includes her disabled husband along with five young children. Ellis does not have a college degree but has had several jobs in housekeeping and office assistance. And she said she understands how “single women are suffering. They can’t do what they need to do to provide for their family.”
Ellis noted that public aid for her family is not enough – they have already spent their most recent check. Her landlord even lowered the family’s apartment rent from $750 to $500 per month to help them out in their time of need.
She said that between the YMCA where she volunteers and receives a stipend, public aid, and disability assistance recently applied for, her family foresees an income of around $630 each month, not enough to cover the bills and food for everyone.
Although unemployed single mothers don’t get the monthly headlines, other women sense their plight. Chicago native Bonita Kindle, 56, who’s married, believes that although everyone is feeling insecure with jobs, real estate and the stock market, she can’t imagine what it must feel like to be an unemployed single mother. Kindle said these women stand as an example of “everything, that the people that need the most help don’t get it.”
That sentiment could apply as well to other unemployed single women who have completed their child-rearing duties. Jeanette Moore, 55, said she tries to not become discouraged, despite being unemployed for nearly a year. She has a rich background in customer service at a mortgage company, a hospital and Northern Trust Bank. Moore lamented that her unemployment benefits have run out and that she faces around $1500 in monthly obligations.
Moore has four grown children – her youngest is 32 – but feels the same despair as an unemployed single mom. “It’s just me, trying to make ends meet.” But she continues to live by the motto that at work, “you leave your personal problems at the door.”
Moore worked at stable jobs for more than 20 years and said now she relies on faith to encourage her to keep searching for a job and motivating others, even if “your own bills are over your head.”