Merlene Davis: Low-income women, especially mothers, need more help, study states

Gloria James with her son, NBA star LeBron James. Gloria James and her son moved frequently when he was a boy.
Gloria James with her son, NBA star LeBron James. Gloria James and her son moved frequently when he was a boy.

Friday, when several surrounding school systems closed because of the wintry weather that was steadily blowing our way, one of my coworkers who had been out delivering the newspaper stopped by to tell me how slippery roads were getting.

"Maybe Fayette County should have been on a two-hour delay," he said.

My heart fluttered.

Even though I don't have children in public school anymore and don't have to be concerned about school closings, I felt the fear so many parents, especially single parents, feel when they have to come up with an alternate way of getting their children to school.

When I was a single mother, changes in school starting or closing times meant I had to figure out a way to please not only all the eyes that were watching for any potential signs of parental neglect, but also the eyes of a boss who wanted me at work on time.

I was the only bread-winner and the only parent. I couldn't afford to mess up either of those responsibilities.

Maria Shriver explores that stress as well as inequities in pay and family responsibility that single mothers experience every day.

The Shriver Report: A Woman's Nation Pushes Back from the Brink is the third edition of a series of investigative reports that have been published since 2009. It is an initiative of A Woman's Nation, a nonprofit organization founded by Shriver to raise awareness of the fundamental challenges facing modern women.

What the report found is that instead of feeling empowered, most low-income working women feel tired and overwhelmed.

"The new iconic image of the economically insecure American is a working mother dashing around getting ready in the morning, brushing her kid's hair with one hand and doling out medication to her own aging mother with the other," Shriver wrote. "Many of these women feel that they are just a single incident — one broken bone, one broken-down car, one missed paycheck — away from the brink. And they're not crazy to feel that way."

According to the 400 page report:

■ Women make up nearly two-thirds of minimum-wage workers in the country.

■ More than 70 percent of low-wage workers get no paid sick days at all.

■ 40 percent of all households with children under the age of 18 include mothers who are either the sole or primary source of income.

■ The median earnings of full-time female workers are still just 77 cents for every dollar earned by males. For black women that number is 64 cents and for Hispanic women, it is only 55 cents.

■ One in three women, or 42 million, either live in poverty or are living on the brink of it. The report defined "brink" as making $47,000 a year for a family of four. One misstep and the house, the car, the job can all come tumbling down.

Plus, Shriver said, "This is the first post-recession recovery since 1970 in which women have continued to lose jobs while men have gained more than 1.1 million jobs."

There is nothing stress-relieving about that.

To make sure the report garnered as much attention as possible, Shriver included essays and personal anecdotes from some prominent folks like Hillary Clinton, Jada Pinkett Smith, Eva Longoria, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, and LeBron James.

James' piece is about his mother, Gloria James, who gave birth to him when she was 16 years old. They lived with her mother until she died when James was 3.

James said his mother worked hard, but with little skills and the necessary education she lost the house, and the young family moved frequently, "a dozen times in three years," he wrote.

Finally, when he was 9, his mother sent him to live with his Pee-Wee football coach for a year, just to give her son the stability she had known growing up.

A year later, she received subsidized housing and he moved back with her.

"She later said to me, 'It was hard, but I knew it was not about me,'" James wrote. "It was about you. I had to put you first.'"

The definition of a family is changing and with that so should the ways our government tries to support them.

The minimum wage should be raised and single mothers should be given access to a better education. Period.

The Shriver Report: A Woman's Nation Pushes Back from the Brink also includes an e-book, an HBO documentary, a comprehensive poll, and an education curriculum aimed at teaching young women life skills such as financial literacy, networking, and the importance of a college education.

The HBO film is Paycheck to Paycheck: The Life and Times of Katrina Gilbert. It was produced by Emmy Award-winning filmmakers Shari Cookson and Nick Doob and airs on March 17.

To learn more about the report, visit