We need to stop demonizing and scapegoating single mothers.
I see single mothers every day in my community college classroom. They work hard to provide a better future for their children.
They are young and older, black, white, Latina, widowed, divorced and never married.
They arrive at class after dropping the kids off at school and before taking on another shift at work. They send assignments in at 3 a.m. when they finally have quiet time to sit and work.
They miss tests and lab work because their kids' schools close and they can't afford a sitter. Or they email ahead to tell me their 10-year-old will be coming to class.
Single mothers make up the bulk (63 percent) of those who are the sole or primary provider in their families - the "breadwinner moms." Yet, these breadwinners are still maligned by a persistent bias. A new survey by the Pew Research Center found that 64 percent of Americans today think the growing trend of women being single mothers is a "big problem." The real big problem is entrenched poverty and a widening economic gap in our country.
The median income for all families with children is $57,100, which is more than double the $23,000 median income for families led by a single mother, according to Pew findings.
It's even worse for never-married mothers, a group that has grown dramatically in the past few decades. "The share of never-married mothers among all single mothers has increased from 4 percent in 1960 to 44 percent in 2011," the Pew study says.
These never-married mothers are also much younger, disproportionally nonwhite, and have lower education and income levels than married women. Two-thirds are either black (40 percent) or Latino (24 percent), and half (49 percent) have a high school education or less.
Alarmingly, black and Latina single mothers' median family income is $17,400, the lowest among all families with children.
When I look at the single mothers in my classroom, I don't see women who are deficient in any way.
I see strivers and survivors and masters of their own fate.
I see women who make untold sacrifices to improve their families' well-being and to brace them for the possible ills that may befall them.
I see women I admire, whose work ethic I applaud, whose mental and physical stamina I often envy, and whose clarity of purpose reassures me.
I see women doing their utmost to counter the perception and expectation that single mothers are somehow harming their children. As a society, we must do more to uplift these women and their families so we don't, ultimately, harm our collective self.
Juleyka Lantigua-Williams teaches at Naugatuck Valley Community College in Waterbury, Conn. She wrote this for Progressive Media Project.