"Unmarried moms are rarer in America than France, Sweden, New Zealand, the UK, or the Netherlands" screams yesterday's headline by Matthew Yglesias on vox.com.
"And honestly, it's no big deal," sighs an exasperated Swiss friend of mine, weary of conservative American Facebook memes. Unmarried mothers apparently do just fine in Switzerland (though admittedly the Swiss rate of 20.2 percent of births to unmarried women is considerably lower than the American rate of 40.7 percent).
Actually, though, it is a big deal in the United States, for several reasons.
A recent Pew poll revealed a significant shift in American families. Four in 10 of this country’s households now rely primarily on the income of women.
This is both good news and bad. For many women, new opportunities are allowing them to be the primary breadwinners in their families. In some careers, women are chipping away at the very real glass ceiling so many have and continue to face. Our efforts towards equality have made some strides. Some strides.
At the same time, a significant majority of households who rely primarily on women’s incomes are single-mother households living in poverty or near-poverty. Structural barriers lead almost inexorably to more complicated and difficult lives for these families. From health care and food costs to child-care and educational expenses, they face greater challenges because of structural obstacles we so often unwittingly endorse and from which we even benefit.
Some things never change.
There is a beautiful story that some Christians have learned to tell about motherhood. This story is one of strength, faith, sacrifice, loss, and unconditional love.
Our Biblical mothers, from Eve to Mary and everyone in between (Sarah, Leah, Rachel, Jochebed (the mother of Moses), Bathsheba, Hannah, and Elizabeth to name a few) provide examples of women who defied societal constraints to protect their children; who gave them up so that their children might prosper; who supported, loved and nurtured their sons absolutely, without the expectation that that same love would be returned to them.
In Mary’s story we are called to appreciate the mother who shepherded truth and salvation into the world, whose faith made our faith possible today. The Christian story of motherhood is one I am proud to tell and one I hope to live into one day.
On Mother’s Day, we have the opportunity to reflect on the gifts of motherhood, to lift up the mother’s among us and recognize their strengths, sacrifices, and wisdom--what a beautiful idea. But the problem, in our society, is that one day of cards and flowers just doesn’t cut it. For most of the other 364 days of the year, the lives of women and mothers are undervalued.
Between 1964 and 1973, under both Democratic and Republican administrations, the U.S. poverty rate fell by nearly half (43 percent) as a strong economy and effective public policy initiatives expanded the middle class.
Similarly, between 1993 and 2000, shared economic growth combined with policy interventions such as an enhanced earned income tax credit and minimum wage increase worked together to cut child poverty from 23 percent to 16 percent.
We can't do this alone.