Eleanor Foundation Unveils Troubling Statistics on Single Working Women’s Challenges

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Women-led households increasing, especially in the suburbs


Lower-income single mothers better educated, working harder—but falling farther behind


Chicago, IL – Chicago regional household growth has been dominated by women-led households increasing at more than double the rate of households generally since 2000—and has been occurring almost entirely in the suburbs. This growth, particularly explosive among Latina-led households, has not brought greater prosperity to these households. Many of these

women struggle to make ends meet despite working harder and being better educated than ever before, according to Changing Conditions in a Changing World, a new research report released today (October 27, 2010) by the Eleanor Foundation in Chicago. The research was conducted by Malcolm Bush,

Ph.D., at Chapin Hall, a policy research center at the University of Chicago.


According to the report, female-headed households grew by 9.77 percent between 2000 and 2008, in contrast to the substantially smaller 4 percent increase in all households in the region. Most significant, the number of households headed by single working mothers earning between $10,000 and $50,000—lower-income according to government definitions—grew 18.5 percent

between 2000 and 2008, with significant increases in outlying metropolitan areas. As a result, a third of a million, or 332,628, such households now reside in the Chicago region.


“These findings mirror national trends and shatter the assumption that the economic independence of low-income, single working mothers is an ‘inner-city’ issue,” said Rosanna A. Márquez, president of Eleanor Foundation, the former regional administrator of the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Dept. and a former member of Mayor Richard M. Daley’s cabinet. “Our report makes clear that building the region’s capacity to offer an array of sustainable, accessible

resources to help single mother-led households and other families threatened by poverty is essential to the continued economic health of communities throughout metropolitan Chicago.”


According to the report, housing cost increases have driven much of single working mothers’

economic distress despite many working full-time and improving their education levels.



The struggle for self-sufficiency


According to the study, the majority of these women are hard at work. From 2000 to 2008, the percentage not in the workforce dropped from 25 percent to 15 percent. Only 7 percent were unemployed. In 2008, 78 percent of the women were employed—79 percent of whom were working more than 35 hours a week. Yet, only 6 percent of the women had received any form of public assistance, whether unemployment insurance benefits or cash benefits, in the 12 months

prior to the Census Bureau survey. Being better educated has not eliminated their financial challenges. The percentage of women in

the research population with a college degree or more increased to 13 percent from 2000 to 2008, while the percentage of women with less-than-high-school education declined.



Financial detours driven by housing costs

The clearest measure of the economic distress faced by women in the study is that they spend a high percentage of their income on housing costs—rent, mortgages or related taxes. Households that are “housing-burdened,” according to the U.S. federal government definition, spend one-third to one-half of their income on housing while “housing-distressed” households spend more

than half their income on housing alone. By 2008, the problem was most acute in suburban CookCounty:



Female heads-of-households with

Children $10,000 – $50,000 in annual household





Cook County




Housing-burdened by 2008 77% 82% 78%

Housing-distressed by 2008 43% 47% 44%

Excerpt from Changing Conditions in a Changing World, Page 11, Table 6.

“Families paying so much of their income for housing are forced to cut back on food, clothing and health care expenditures, with bad consequences for all family members—especially the children,” said Dr. Malcolm Bush, senior research fellow at University of Chicago’s Chapin Hall, who led the research effort.

According to the report, the percentage of women-led households with children living in overcrowded situations rose from 10 percent in 2005 to 12 percent in 2008.


“We understand the grim reality that a lack of affordable housing options brings low-income, single working mothers,” noted Márquez. “Through our Eleanor Network, we leverage rental subsidies from the City of Chicago to help reduce housing burdens. And we provide financial counseling to help these women balance housing and household expenses, and start saving for their families’ futures—as well as career education to put them on a path to jobs that pay familysupporting wages. But growing challenges require regional solutions because households led by low-income, working women anchor nearly every urban and suburban community.”



The Eleanor Network, a program model for advancing single working women


In 2006, the Eleanor Foundation began designing programs with its grantee partners to build a citywide network of services to help single working women address core barriers to their selfsufficiency— investing $3.9 million to date with support from donors and co-funders. Currently, this Eleanor Network comprises five “hub” grantee partners and nine resource grantee partners that together deliver integrated services in career education, affordable housing, financial

management and childcare. The Foundation continues to expand the Network to address urban women’s needs, and offer lessons learned with policymakers, foundations and others.


The findings were released at Turning Point for a Modern Majority: Evolving Conditions for Metropolitan Chicago’s Women-Led Households, a research briefing convened by the Eleanor Foundation at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago on Tuesday, Oct. 26.


About the research

The research report, Changing Conditions in a Changing World—The Situation of Working Female Heads-of-Households in the Chicago region: Issues, Insights, Implications,” analyzes key data for the years 2000, 2005 and 2008 concerning female heads-of-households in metropolitan Chicago who earn between $10,000 and $50,000 per year, an income range that corresponds to several key definitions of low- and moderate-income households in the Chicago region. Primary data was derived from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2000 U.S. Census and its American Community Surveys. The study encompasses the eight counties that comprise the Chicago primary metropolitan statistical area (PMSA): Cook, DeKalb, DuPage, Grundy, Kane, Kendall, McHenry and Will.


About Eleanor Foundation

Founded in 1898, the Eleanor Foundation is a premier grant-making fund that invests in innovative programs for single working women who head Chicago households and are determined to achieve sustainable economic independence. The Foundation provides funding, research and institutional expertise to organizations creating programs that help these women address the core barriers to their economic security.


For more information, please visit www.eleanorfoundation.org.

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