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Raising kids with little support, underemployed or out of work. Single moms hit hard by COVID-19
Montgomery Advertiser - 9/15/2020
Jimmysa Thomas was in panic mode.
COVID-19 robbed a month of the day care worker’s wages in March. Behind on rent, the single mother of five was on the verge of losing the two-bedroom house she shared with three toddlers and two children younger than 10.
By July, it became clear it was impossible to stay.
“I couldn't pay all my bills. I didn’t know how I was going to make ends meet. At that point, I knew I had to look for something else or me and my kids would be homeless,” she said.
Like more than half of all single parents, Thomas receives little to no child support. As far as finances go, she was on her own.
Searching for a new place to live amid a health crisis had its obvious challenges. For starters, most rental offices were closed. Four weeks later, she moved her children to a cheaper townhouse with an extra bedroom. Then virtual instruction began. Thomas had to figure out how to juggle work, school and child care. At every turn, a new obstacle arose.
“I have my nervous breakdowns. My anxiety is probably three times worse because I try to keep it together and do so much at one time,” she said. “I’m all that they have to depend on.”
Almost a quarter of U.S. children are raised by single parents. Thomas is one of 15 million American women and 4.5 million Black women who are sole providers and caretakers for their families.
Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, many have seen their responsibilities increase and their earnings decline. They are among the hardest hit by its economic fallout.
As fall approaches and uncertainty about the future grows, single mothers are grappling with poverty, job losses, hunger, illness, underemployment and unstable housing.
Single mothers of color face the most desperate circumstances. Nearly 2 in 5 families headed by Black and Hispanic women live in poverty compared with 28% of white women. Native American women face the highest rates at 43%.
According to census data, more than a quarter of Alabama households are headed by single mothers. Half are struggling to survive.
Before the pandemic, Thomas could get her children off to school and day care before 8 a.m., giving her enough time to relieve a coworker on the opening shift. Now, her two school-aged children are required to log in to their online classrooms at the same time she clocks in. Her 4-year-old can’t complete the day’s lessons without her.
After weeks of frustration and late starts, Thomas decided to transfer all five children to the day care where she works. She pays half of the tuition costs for her two oldest children while local nonprofit Family Guidance Center covers the remainder of their fees. It’s been a major help, but challenges remain.
“Not only do I have to help 13 virtual students, I also have to help my own two kids,” said Thomas, who coaches cheerleading for her son’s peewee football team during the week. After school and practice, which resumed in June, she barely has time to cook most nights.
There are days when Marquetta Johnson feels so burnt out she wishes she could climb back into bed before noon. The demands of virtual learning forced Johnson, a self-employed Montgomery real estate agent, to dramatically decrease her working hours. She has seven children, though only four currently live with her. Three are in school, and her youngest are in kindergarten and second grade.
Between the hours of 8 a.m. and 12 p.m., one of the children uses Johnson’s work computer to complete their lessons. She uses her cell phone as needed.
But, “how much can you really do from a phone?” she asks. “It limits you.” Now, work starts when school stops. Johnson’s hours have dropped from eight a day to just three.
Most days it’s a job just to keep her youngest on task.
“Trying to have them sit in front of a computer for so long, it frustrates them as well. Especially my kindergartner, his attention span is short,” Johnson said.
Parents fear their children may fall behind if they can’t adapt. Some have created informal “learning pods,” pooling their money between a handful of mothers to pay for additional tutoring if they can afford it.
More: Six months into pandemic, educational inequalities likely to be wider for some students
Taujuanna Ware is the founder of Single Mom Life Network, a web series and forum where women trade advice on everything from managing finances to staying sane. Ware hails from Tallassee but is based in Atlanta where she runs a marketing company as well. Before the pandemic, things were going great for her business, now she says she’s scraping, too.
As a single mother she has also struggled with balancing self-employment and Zoom schooling for her 14-year-old son.
“I'm not smarter than a fifth-grader,” Ware said referencing the television game show, “I know he's going to need a tutor on a couple things, so now I'll have to find that extra income to pay for it.”
The CARES Act doled out $1,200 in cash grants to adults earning less than $99,000 a year with $500 for each child under 17 years old. But critics say the one-time payments were not enough to keep out-of-work families afloat, many who were already living paycheck-to-paycheck.
Since the $600 bonus added to unemployment payments through the act expired on July 25, Stephanie Tiller expects things will get worse. Tiller, who raised a son on her own after giving birth as a teen, is a Chattanooga-based host on Ware’s Single Mom Life series. She wonders how mothers receiving payments as small as $100 to $300 a week can survive.
“That’s the normal cost of child care. It leaves little funds for bills or food,” Tiller said. “Now you have to ask people for help. A lot of single parents are not used to that.”
Social isolation, financial stress and virtual schooling have left many parents at their wits end.
“The mental side of it has torn these women apart. That anxiety will send you into depression. You ask some of these parents, it would probably hurt your soul to know they feel for real,” she said.
At the end of August, Montgomery Public Schools announced its plans to reopen facilities in October. Parents will choose whether their child returns to school or continues with online instruction. Some single mothers remain fearful.
More: MPS prepares to open schools to students in October, asks families to complete survey
Thomas, the day care employee, said she felt her son learned best face-to-face and would send him back next month.
Despite the difficulties, she has managed to weather the storm.
“I have a roof over [my children's] heads. I don’t have as many bills as I had in the other house. I feel like I’ve come a long way,” said Thomas.
Contact Montgomery Advertiser reporter Safiya Charles at (334) 240-0121 or SCharles@gannett.com
This article originally appeared on Montgomery Advertiser: Raising kids with little support, underemployed or out of work. Single moms hit hard by COVID-19
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