Chart of the Day: Blame US policies, not single mothers, for child poverty

Single mothers in the US are disproportionately likely to be poor — a fact that some like to point to explain why we have such god awful rates of child poverty. The US ranks 34 out of 35 developed countries in terms of number of children living in poverty, which should be a national scandal but isn’t. Conservatives — who like to wring their hands about the plight of single mothers without actually asking them what they need (like, maybe health insurance?) — think marriage is the magic bullet. The federal government has spent nearly one billion dollars since 2001 on marriage promotion — a colossal waste of money. Just recently, a Heritage Foundation panel said that if women would just get married, income inequality could be solved.

But Matt Bruenig at Demos recently looked at whether family composition can really account for the US’s high child poverty rates — and it really can’t. The poverty rates for children who live with single mothers in nations like Norway, Finland, and Sweden are similar to the US’s — until you add in all the taxes and safety net programs that those countries have and we do not. Then they drop dramatically.

poverty rates for children in single mother families by countryAnd it’s not like it’s just single mothers driving up the child poverty rate in the US either. We have much, much higher child poverty rates across all family types — in absolute numbers, there are actually more poor children in married families in the US than any other family category.

child poverty rates across  family types

The clear takeaway, according to Bruenig? High child poverty rates are “a policy choice” that we’ve decided on in the US. “We plunge more than 1 in 5 of our nation’s children into poverty because we choose to. It would be easy to dramatically cut that figure, but we’d rather not.”

(h/t ThinkProgress)

Maya DusenberyMaya would really like conservatives who claim to believe in“family values” to start acting like it.

St. Paul, MN

Maya Dusenbery is executive director in charge of editorial at Feministing. She is the author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick (HarperOne, March 2018). She has been a fellow at Mother Jones magazine and a columnist at Pacific Standard magazine. Her work has appeared in publications like,, Bitch Magazine, as well as the anthology The Feminist Utopia Project. Before become a full-time journalist, she worked at the National Institute for Reproductive Health. A Minnesota native, she received her B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. After living in Brooklyn, Oakland, and Atlanta, she is currently based in the Twin Cities.

Maya Dusenbery is an executive director of Feministing and author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm on sexism in medicine.

Read more about Maya

Join the Conversation