How Will Obama Help Single Parents?

As we count down to a second term, a look at his family-assistance efforts.


(The Root) — Between now and the inauguration on Jan. 21, The Root will be taking a daily look at the president’s record on a number of policy issues, including his first-term accomplishments and what many Americans hope to see him accomplish in a second term. Today: addressing the challenges faced by single parents. See previous postings in this series here.

Background: It’s widely known that nearly 70 percent of black children are born out of wedlock, and a similar share are raised in single-parent households (which can also result from divorce or the death of a spouse). Many of these kids are doing fine, but as the National Fatherhood Initiative has noted, children living in single-parent homes are more likely to be poor, have emotional and behavioral problems, drop out of school, become teen parents and be incarcerated. They live in households with a median income that is one-quarter that of traditional two-parent households. Women head the majority of single-parent households.

Stacey F. Johnson remembers struggling as a single mother to raise three children — a girl and two boys. She worked two jobs, including one as a security guard, to bring in extra money. She couldn’t afford child care and sometimes had her 6-year-old daughter take care of her two younger sons, ages 4 and 1, while Johnson went to work.

“I was blessed by the grace of God that nothing [bad] ever happened,” said Johnson, 48.

Johnson started the Association of African American Single Mothers in Sacramento, Calif., 17 years ago. The nonprofit focuses on education opportunities for single mothers and teaches them financial stability and life skills. Her children are now adults, ages 25, 22 and 20. But Johnson still remembers what she faced as a single parent.

“It was a challenge,” said Johnson. “I had to go the extra mile when it came to being a single mom.”

First-term accomplishments: The government has a number of safety net programs that help families with housing, food and child care — assistance that single-parent households need disproportionately. For example, using funds from the Recovery Act, the Obama administration expanded the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, or SNAP, to help families with food crises and invested in jobs for disadvantaged youths and low-income individuals. And the administration’s Promise Neighborhoods give cradle-to-college services to high-poverty communities.

But as the child of a single mother, Obama also knew firsthand the importance of a strong male figure in a child’s life. During his first term, President Obama visited churches on Father’s Day and talked about the joy of being a father and the impact that dads can have on their children’s lives.

“The National Fatherhood Initiative comes from the president’s own personal experience. It’s an issue that’s important to him and personal to him,” said Michael Strautmanis, deputy assistant to the president and counselor for strategic engagement to White House Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett. “He grew up without a father in his life. He knows the impact that can have on a child. He’s also working to be the best dad he can be to his two girls.”