Why Are Single Mothers Likely to Fall Into Poverty?
There is an apparently increasing group of women in Japan and in the western world. They are single mothers. Twenty five years ago when I got married, they were virtually unheard of.
Women become single mothers either by being widowed, being divorced, or not marrying. In Japan, 80% of single mothers are divorced. In this article, they will be the main focus.
According to Japan`s National Statistics, the total number of couples who married in 2016 were 621,000. The total number of divorce in that same year was 217,000. Statistically, this means that every one in three couples divorce. Following divorce, it is usually the mother who gains custody over her child/children. These mothers become single mothers.
The current number of single-mother households in Japan stands at 1.23 million, according to Bungei Shunjyu Opinion (2018) (a long established periodical in Japan). The average annual income of these households is far below the average annual income of all households. According to Research on Japan`s Single Mother Households, the average annual income of single mother households was an equivalent of $20,423 (USD), far below the average annual income of all households which stood at $49,913 (USD).
46.9% of Mothers leave their jobs after childbirth
According to the National Social Security and Population Studies Research Center, 46.9% of the mothers leave their jobs after the birth of their first child. Although many of them want to continue to work, close to half of them leave their jobs. Many of them have said that commitment to a full time job is difficult when the children are still young. Having to leave work early to pick up their child from daycare and caring for the child when he/she is ill are some of the reasons. Even with a young child, the employer often demands full time commitment and this makes it difficult for the mother to continue her job, even with her husband`s support (if she is still married). Hence they are more likely to leave their full time jobs and resort to part time jobs which require less responsibility but are often low in pay. The trouble begins when the couple divorce. As we will see, income from a part time job is barely enough to get by for a single mother.
Obtaining Child Support after Divorce
There are three types of divorce in Japan. Divorce by "discussion", through the family court, or by lawsuit. Over 90% of the divorce is by "discussion" whereby the couple signs the document and takes it to the local government. This will make the divorce immediately effective, but does not make other matters, such as custody, child support, and division of assets legally binding, even if decisions were made. So even if the non-custodial parent agrees to pay the custodial parent a certain amount of child support, since it is not legally binding, he or she can easily delay payments or make excuses not to pay. There is no check system to assure that child support is paid, unless the couple seeks the help of the family court, in which case the court will ensure that child support is paid. According to Kasiko, the author of "Singles Mothers Who Can`t Receive Child Support", only about 20% of single mothers receive child support on a regular basis. Not receiving child support exacerbates the financial situation of single mothers.
47.4 % of Single Mothers Work in Part Time Jobs Which Are Low in Pay
According to Research on National Mother-Child Households (2011), 47.4% of single mothers work in part time jobs which are often paid on an hourly basis. Since these jobs are often low in pay, they are often required to work two or even three of these jobs to make ends meet. Compared to this, only 8% of single fathers work in such jobs.
Why are single mothers disadvantaged in the job market?
For single mothers, it is difficult to work full time when the children are still young. As stated above, responsibilities toward their children often conflict with job hours so the employer sees them as less useful. Hence they are less likely to be offered a full time position which may include long work hours. With part time jobs, it is possible to have a colleague take over the single mother`s shift in times of child-related emergencies. She can also choose to move her shift beforehand if there is a conflict with school events.
How Low is the Salary for Part Time Jobs?
I teach English part time and in the hopes of looking for another job in addition, I often look for job ads online on a daily basis. The minimum wage in the area I live in is 950 yen ($8.58 USD) per hour. There are few jobs that pay more than 2,000 yen ($18.06). One of the most common jobs for women in their 30s and above is the convenience store clerk, where the salary usually starts around 950 yen/hour, and increases to 1050 yen/hour ($9.58 USD) if the work hour is after 10 pm. The same is true for those working in restaurants and bars. At least $1354 per month is needed for living expenses if a single mother is to raise a child alone, so you can imagine holding a job such as a convenience store clerk or a waitress will require many long hours of work!
The Income and Expenses of a Single Mother Household
I will now introduce the financial situation of a single mother living with her elementary school child. This is taken from the article "Single Mother Box".
Income in a month
$1354+child allowance & child raising allowance= $1598
Expenses in a month
Electricity, gas, and water $108
Cell phone $76.75
To this other expenses are added and the total expenses would be $1427
Only $171 remain after expenses.
It is easy to see how difficult this single mother`s financial situation is. Continuing to live in this kind of financial situation would send this household straight to poverty. When financial solutions are difficult to find, many single mothers resort to public assistance, the last "safety net" to save their financial situation.
Is it possible for single mothers to avoid falling into poverty?
One solution for single mothers is to learn skills that will enable them to obtain jobs that pay well and has more benefits. These jobs may be few, but such examples are doctors, teachers, and public employees working for the local and central government. The difficult part is that one needs at least a few years of training to be eligible for these jobs.
Try to receive as many of the eligible allowances and benefits
Child allowance and child raising allowance are available for single mothers. Public assistance as the last safety net is also available. However, the mother has to be living with only her child/children in order to be eligible for the child raising allowance. If she is living with her parents, she is not eligible to receive this.
Receiving child support from the single mother`s ex spouse is mandatory. This is difficult for many single mothers because they divorced by "agreement". If they go through the family court and decisions are made on child support, then the court can place penalties on the ex spouse if he/she refuses to pay child support.
Living in public housing
Especially in large cities in Japan, rent can be very expensive. To offer assistance to low income families, public housing is available. Single mothers need to prove that they are not earning enough and that they will need this type of housing.
Cutting back on expenses and saving as much as possible
Some of these would be not owning a car, not eating out frequently, and going on a budget plan for cell phone payments.
As children grow, more funds are needed for their education, so the extra money which comes from saving can be used later for their education.
It is a sad situation that an increasing number of families are headed by only one parent. It is even more sad that such families, especially those headed by a single mother, are likely to fall into poverty due to their working in low paying jobs. Children are more likely to be happy living with both parents and not having to live in a difficult financial situation.
My hope is that if they into practice the solutions mentioned above, single mothers will improve their financial situation, and they and their children will be better off, and ideally, happier.
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© 2018 Takako Komori