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Extension Education Highlight: How Utah can support single mothers

A mother holding her baby
Kristina Paukshtite
A mother holding her baby

Sariah Israelsen: Thanks for joining me again for this week's Extension Educational Highlight. I'm Sariah Israelsen, and joining me today is Emily Darowski, associate director for the Utah Women and Leadership Project. Welcome, Emily.

Emily Darowski: Thank you for having me.

Sariah Israelsen: Today I am excited to talk about this topic. I wanted to talk about the support that Utah communities are pushing to give single mothers.

Emily, just while I was reading one of the reports done by Pew Research, it said that the percentage of kids living in a single-parent home here in Utah is quite a bit higher than the percentage globally. That was just in the article that was posted on the Extension website. Is there any reason for that?

Emily Darowski: Yeah, that's a good question. Overall, we're talking about a snapshot that the Utah Women and Leadership Project has put out about single mothers. And we do reference this Pew report where it says 23% of U.S. children live with one parent, compared to 7% globally.

Of course, that's going to have to do with the level of divorce rates, cultures of different countries and so forth. So I think there's a lot of contributing factors.

Sariah Israelsen: So the report released by the Utah Women Leadership Program also helped identify and help understand the needs of single mothers and what they need in these communities. Can we just go over some of those needs that they have?

Emily Darowski: Yeah, let's start with financial needs. Many homes can function on a single income, but that is becoming more challenging.

And if you're a single parent, then you're often relying on what income you can generate yourself, and/or if you're a divorce, drawing from money that your ex-spouse can contribute, because of your divorce agreement.

But it can be very hard to make ends meet and care for your children in the way that you want to. So for example, one of the statistics that we located shows that single mothers are making in Utah — specifically with children under 18 at home — that their median income is about $37,000.

And this was $37,000-38,000 in 2020, and that has not changed much in the last decade. In 2010, that median income was around $33,000.

If you're the only parent caring for children, it can be difficult to manage care of the children and keep a full time job. So that stability and employment can become a concern.

Another thing that we mentioned is education. Education is critical for anyone to be able to increase their earning potential. But again, it can be really challenging to go to school when you're a single parent.

And the data shows that when single parents that are women are more educated then they're less likely to live in poverty. So we know that education helps. But being able to achieve that when there are so many responsibilities they're juggling can be difficult.

Sariah Israelsen: So the report also made some recommendations on how communities can better support them. Can we dive into those?

Emily Darowski: Yeah, let's do that. So one thing we talk about is childcare. We need accessible and more affordable childcare in Utah.

This can come about through policy changes, changing the caps for childcare expenses for single-mother families. There's also the potential for employers to offer childcare reimbursement programs.

So that's one area we talked about. We also do go back to education. And we know that universities are offering more online options and asynchronous options.

And we just wanted to call out that universities can think more carefully about how these adaptations or flexibility can impact the success of single mothers, and whether or not they have even the right kind of resources or support systems set up for single mothers to be successful in going back to college.

We also mentioned mental health and well-being. It's incredibly important that single women who have children at home can access affordable mental health care. Sometimes there are stigmas associated with being a single parent, and we want to eliminate those and just find greater support for single moms.

Sariah Israelsen: Really, really good stuff. Thank you so much, Emily, for joining me today. You're welcome. That was Emily Darowski, associate director for the Utah Women and Leadership Project.

You can find more information on this subjecthere.