52 million mothers in the United States live with their children. Of those, over 4.5 million are in poverty.
That poverty rate of 9.0 percent is a bit lower than the overall poverty rate of 9.3 percent,1 largely thanks to safety net programs that target families with children. Yet, many of those programs fail to reach low-income mothers due to qualification rules and complex bureaucracies. For example, 70 percent of single moms do not receive the full Child Tax Credit.
A simpler alternative, which other countries adopt and which we’ve written about in several other reports, is a universal child allowance: a flat amount given each month to parents for each of their children.
While child allowances chiefly reduce child poverty, they also lift mothers out of poverty. For example, a $200 per month child allowance would lift one million mothers out of poverty, at an annual cost of $173 billion.2
Child allowances would cut maternal poverty at similar relative rates across states. For example, a $200 monthly child allowance would cut it by about 15 percent in both California and Maryland. In California, the policy would cost $21 billion per year and lift 114,000 mothers out of poverty, while in Maryland, it would cost $3.1 billion per year and lift 16,000 mothers out of poverty.
Maternal poverty is associated with depression and worsened child development. Mothers spend about 1.7 hours per day caring for children. And of course, mothers suffer from the consequences of poverty like any other person does. Child allowances can improve child outcomes, compensate parents for raising the next generation, and improve the well-being of moms everywhere.
This analysis uses the 2020 Current Population Survey March Supplement, and the Supplemental Poverty Measure. The official SPM poverty rate was 9.1 percent in 2020, but the public use microdata that powers our analysis produces slightly different results. ↩
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