March is National Women’s History Month and a good time to consider how women—and, more specifically, moms—are faring in today’s economy.
First, the good news: we are seeing an upward trend nationally in the number of newly hired employees for the last 7 months. The economy is moving in the right direction.
But the sobering news is that women have experienced substantial job loss and declining earnings. While men took the biggest employment hits during the recession, women’s employment has lagged behind during the recovery. The majority of women’s job losses have been in public sector employment. Overall, the poverty rate for custodial families has increased significantly in recent years. (Falling Behind, the Women’s Foundation of California, January 2012)
The economic climate plays a role in how states set child support guidelines. When states review their child support guidelines (every 4 years), they look at studies of child-rearing expenditures that vary by age and economic method. One is the USDA’s Expenditures on Children by Families: 2010 Annual Report.
The report shows that a middle-income family with a child born in 2010 can expect to spend about $226,920 for food, shelter and other necessities to raise that child over the next 17 years. That projection represents a 2 percent increase over 2009. The study also notes that family income affects child-rearing costs, as do costs of education beyond high school and geographic variation.
More custodial moms are saying they have lost their jobs or are working two and three jobs just to cover basic expenses. Many jobs are part-time, minimum-wage, and do not offer health insurance. When noncustodial parents can’t find work either, and stop paying reliable child support, family budgets face a perfect storm.
I understand that, up close and personal. For many years, I was that single mom raising two wonderful children by myself and working three part-time jobs. And many of you have been in the same boat, worried about how you will pay the rent, the electric bill, gas for the car, the children’s new shoes, the credit card bills—how you will stay afloat until child support payments start coming in.
Our mission is clear—to obtain reliable support for children. We have many powerful enforcement tools to collect child support when noncustodial parents have income, including wage withholding, bank account seizures, and driver’s license and passport suspensions. And for 70 percent of the cases in our caseload with support orders in place, these standard enforcement tools result in more than $24 billion in support income for families.
But our challenge is what to do when standard enforcement does not work. There is no question that our child support program is a balancing act, and that sometimes there simply is not enough money to go around. Family-centered child support services means, quite simply, going about our job of obtaining child support in a way that addresses the specific circumstances of the family in front of us. When the family needs the money, but the noncustodial parent is unemployed, we have to try something else, or the family will go without help. We need to work with both parents if we are to effectively serve real families in a time of economic need. “Sorry, we can’t help you” doesn’t put food on the table.
A child support professional recently emailed: “I have been working in child support for over a decade. It is good that there is more assistance for fathers than there used to be, but why is there no assistance for mothers? It seems we assume the only thing mothers need is child support; that only fathers need assistance on parenting. … There should be initiatives for both mother and father.”
Although there is no question that child support programs are struggling with budget cutbacks, there are many low-cost things we can do to do a better job connecting both parents to a range of needed community resources to help them keep their families afloat.
Are there brochures in the waiting room that tell moms and dads where to apply for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) when they are broke? Do our websites direct parents to local VITA centers (see the EITC reminder in the March Child Support Report) that help working parents file for Earned Income Tax Credits? Do we refer unemployed mothers and fathers to the workforce one-stop in the community? Do we ask about the health care coverage of the parents, as well as the children?
I’d like to hear more from the child support community. How do you assist moms to get help beyond traditional child support enforcement? And what about the grandparents in your caseload who are raising grandchildren?
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