I Got It from My Momma: Economic Mobility and Motherhood

You have made an informed decision, assessed all of your options, and are going to be a mom! Congratulations! You have guaranteed yourself a lifetime of macaroni art, tiny hand prints, misspelled poems, and eventually some flowers, or even a nice handbag. As Mother’s Day approaches I am left contemplating what I could possibly give the woman who sacrificed it all for me. She gave me her time, her attention, and perhaps her economic mobility as well?

We can’t talk about mothers and the economy without discussing the history of women in the workforce. World Wars I and II brought more women into industry and public service jobs, filling vacancies left by servicemen. These vacancies broadened the scope of both the type of jobs and the types of women in the workforce. (Before World War I, many employers refused to hire married women.) By 1963, Congress passed the Equal Pay Act, which mandated equal pay for both genders. Adding another layer of protection, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, banned discrimination against pregnant women in the workplace.

Currently there are over 72 million women in the labor force, 47 percent of all workers. These women, however, are not paid the equal wage guaranteed to them by the Equal Pay Act, instead making 77 cents to every dollar made by their male counterparts. The wage disparities are even greater for women of color. African-American women earn only 64 cents, while Hispanic/Latinas are even worse off, with a mere 56 cents to the dollar.


Both dual income and single mothers face similar challenges at work and with economic mobility. In a Cornell University study entitled “Getting a Job: Is There a Motherhood Penalty?” researchers found that employed mothers face discrimination that could significantly interfere with their economic mobility, in both wages and perceptions of competence and commitment. Using job applications for a pair of same-gendered and equally qualified applicants who differed on parental status, researchers compared hiring outcomes in both a laboratory study and with actual employers. They found that in addition to the gender wage gap women face, mothers experienced a per-child penalty of 5 percent. Researchers also found that mothers are perceived as less competent and committed to their work. (The opposite was found to be true for fathers in the workforce. They were seen as more committed and even offered higher starting salaries.)  Women without children were seen as more competent than men without children. The study was unable to determine the causal mechanism for this bias. The fact that evaluators offered higher salaries to fathers suggests a gendered mentality as to who the bread winner should be. (And let’s not forget the unpaid labor of mothers working in the home as primary caregivers. It is estimated that these moms should be paid about $59,862 for all of the work they do managing households and caring for children.)

These biases have even more devastating implications for single mothers, who do not have a supplemental income from a partner. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, out of about 12 million single-parent families in 2016, more than 80 percent were headed by single mothers. Of those single mothers, about 49 percent have never married and 51 percent are divorced, separated, or widowed. Single mothers earn well below married mothers on the income ladder: in 2013, single mothers had a median income of $26,000 compared to married mothers’ median income of $84,000. All in all, single mothers fare worse on almost all accounts when compared to married mothers. Making ends meet is especially challenging for single mothers with poverty rates five times higher than that of married mothers. This leads to a higher incidence of homelessness and subpar access to health care (75 percent of homeless families are headed by single mothers and over 20 percent lack healthcare).

As mentioned earlier, women of color face an even larger wage gap compared to men and white women. The challenges facing mothers of color—single and married, working and non-working—are notable. The proportion of female-headed working families is higher among African Americans (65 percent), compared with whites (36 percent), Asians (20 percent), Latinos (31 percent), and those in other racial groups (45 percent). Mothers of color must also manage the disparities in education, obtaining culturally relevant child care, and fear of violence that their children may face due to discrimination.

While there is no holiday where more money is spent to celebrate any one individual more than Mother’s Day, I wonder if mothers have the same place of high esteem in our policies or practices. Perhaps the best way to appreciate a mother’s role in society this year would be to offer equitable wages, flexible employment opportunities, and supportive services, like quality, affordable dependent care. (But you could send the flowers, too, I guess.)

First Comes Love, Then Comes Marriage, Then Comes Economic Mobility?

Love is in the air! As you celebrate Valentine’s Day with your bae or your friends, consider that just 50 years ago, some marriages were illegal. The ban on interracial marriage was found

The Edelmans in 1968 Source: New York Times

The Edelmans in 1968
Source: New York Times

unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Loving v. Virginia case of 1967. So, if you today are able to marry the person you are deeply, unapologetically, and unabashedly in love with, then take a minute to thank those policymakers who fought on the behalf of people like you and changed the ancient wedding prohibitions. Otherwise, you would have never gotten the chance to hold a grand ceremony as you do today, be it inviting your guests to witness your union or publicly acknowledging your love with the help of photos clicked by wedding photographers Charlottesville or the like.

Anyway, you must be wondering if there were any obstacles in the marriages that took place in the past. Well, for your information, there were several cases–some got highlighted, others did not make it to the press. But today we will discuss one that could come out in the open. This recent story on Peter Edelman and Marian Wright Edelman got us thinking about love and marriage…and economic mobility. (It also reminded us of that day Peter came to visit MDC.) Marian Wright, founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, and Peter Edelman, Carmack Waterhouse Professor of Law and Public Policy at Georgetown University Law Center, were the third interracial couple to be married a year after the Loving case. This union was the beginning of a powerhouse couple in the civil rights arena.

At the time of their marriage, Marian was an accomplished Yale-educated civil rights lawyer and the first African-American woman admitted to the Mississippi bar. Peter had been an aide to U.S. Sen, Robert F. Kennedy and was working in policy and law. They would’ve faced quite a few challenges right from the start of the marriage. It would’ve been difficult for them to find people for their wedding, unlike today when you could just take a wedding photographer quiz or look up progressive caterers online. But no doubt, Marian and Peter Edelman’s mutual support and encouragement contributed to their many successes. Similarly, one can speculate that some financial benefits of marriage helped in strengthening their partnership and the prospects of their three children as well. Just a year earlier, the marriage would have been unlawful.

And sure, love and commitment are great. It is the foundation of any successful relationship or marriage. Despite the fact that time can play tricks on relationships and people might turn to True Pheromones or like products to rekindle their passion, these are only the emotional and physical aspects of it. Marriage historically is an economic engagement, too. Conventional wisdom points to financial benefits like having a dual income, the ability to share expenses, tax breaks, and lower rates on health insurance.

The U.S. Supreme Court used the precedent set by Loving for reasoning as such in Obergefell v. Hodges (2005), which protected the right of same-sex couples to marry, making the institution available to even more people. There is research that suggests some economic benefit to some people who tie the knot. However, there is much debate about how marriage and financial benefits are associated with one another.

While some argue that this link is direct and causal, others argue that the relationship between the two is more nuanced. For example, dual-earner households have higher household incomes and, therefore, more resources at their disposal that can be used for personal enrichment, creating a financial safety net, or investments in their children’s future. Proponents of this perspective suggest that strategies to improve upward economic mobility should focus on improving “the security of poor people and their children,” which will in turn “also tend to improve the stability of their relationships.” As they become economically stable, they might feel that their bond is becoming stronger. Nevertheless, if they have ongoing issues between them, they can also seek professional assistance from a counselor (similar to counselling east melbourne).

But still, the moral of the story is: more marriages and the wealth gap closes, right? Sorry to ruin your honeymoon, folks, but the racial wealth gap persists regardless of family structure. As you can see in the figure below, the median, single-parent white family had roughly twice as much wealth as the median, two-parent black or Latino families.

Source: Demos. The Asset Value of Whiteness: Understanding the Racial Wealth Gap

Source: Demos. The Asset Value of Whiteness: Understanding the Racial Wealth Gap

This recent Demos report argues that “family structure does not drive racial inequity, and racial inequity persists regardless of family structure.” In short, the financial benefits of marriage are failing to close the racial mobility gap.

Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote in 1967: “The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men.” So, considering factors such as personal rights, happiness, and disparate benefits to different people, the Facebook status of the relationship between marriage and economic mobility might just be: “It’s complicated.”

A Day in the Life of an Autry Fellow

What do you call a recent college graduate who can go from conducting policy research on early childhood education to facilitating a presentation on employment trends for community representatives, to guiding focus groups with community college students in one day?

The Autry Fellow!eablog

The Autry Fellowship is a year-long, paid fellowship that provides recent college graduates with the opportunity to expand their learning in an organization that is going on 50 years of advancing equity and opportunity in the South.


Autrys are anything but typical…

There is no set curriculum or track for Autry Fellows. The fellowship is intended to be a unique learning experience for each Fellow that incorporates their skills and interests in what they choose to pursue. Anna Shelton-Ormond, 2015 Autry, was born and raised in North Carolina. Her interest in gender equity, Southern culture, and reproduction of wealth inequality culminated in her honors thesis “Bloodlines, Ball Gowns, Trashed in the Hotel Room: Hegemonic Processes of Debutantes as Southern Social Royalty.” This lens on gender equality significantly shaped her work at MDC. During her Autry year Anna devoted much of her time to a report that studied, addressed, and proposed solutions for the low mobility rate of too many North Carolinians, “North Carolina’s Economic Imperative: Building an Infrastructure of Opportunity.” Anna is continuing her work at MDC as a Program Associate and is part of the team conducting follow-up work with the N.C. communities featured in the report she contributed to during her Autry year.

Training to become High School Teachers

I, on the other hand, came into my Autry year with two years of teaching experience with Teach for America. My own background as a Latinx and working with immigrant children and families had led me to focus on the advancement of education with a lens for Hispanic populations. As such, I have focused much of my time on Great Expectations, an early childhood initiative that seeks to have all children in Forsyth County, N.C., ages birth to six-particularly those who are living in financially disadvantaged families-meet age-appropriate developmental milestones in their first five years, enter kindergarten ready for the grand adventure of schooling, and leave kindergarten fully ready for learning and life success. I have been able to use my background in parent engagement and Hispanic culture to inform our policy research in the hopes of establishing a parent leadership team.

… But here is a typical day

My daily activities and responsibilities vary based on the projects I am working on. On a typical day I will start in the morning by monitoring our social media accounts and posting updates. Next I will check my email and plan my day around any meetings I may have. For example, the day I wrote this post, I met with an interested applicant at 1 p.m. and with the lead on Great Expectations at 3 p.m. to complete work on a training webinar we are hosting. In between, I informally met with many of my wonderful colleagues to discuss current projects they are working on and my role in them. Once I wrapped up this blog post, I moved on to processing all of your wonderful Autry applications we’d already received. After lunch I drafted some interview questions for all past 16 fellows for a project I am working on in celebration of MDC’s 50th anniversary. I also continued my research on the growing Hispanic population in North Carolina to blog about in the coming weeks. As a fun, personal side project I planned a holiday party for the office that included a photo booth and costume contest. All of these activities lead toward goals I set for myself in the beginning of the year: to develop my research and writing skills, represent the importance of the Hispanic population in the South, and have a fun/authentic Autry experience.

So what will you accomplish your Autry year? As you can see from their profiles, Fellows come from a variety of backgrounds and go on to pursue diverse paths in their journeys to pursue to equity and opportunity. Applications for MDC’s 2017-2018 Autry Fellowship application are now being accepted until Jan. 9. (That’s today!) Top candidates will be invited to interview in mid-February.

Beyond Black & White: Latinos Reciprocal Impact on the Southern Economy

This year’s election highlighted the growing impact Latinos are having on the South. And there’s a reason for that: the highest rates of increase in Latino populations in the U.S. between 1990 and 2000 were in six states: North Carolina, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Alabama. None of these states are generally considered traditional settlement states-and none are the Southern states where one might expect to see such rapid growth, such as Texas or Florida.

In 2010, 36 percent of all Latinos in the United States lived in the South. North Carolina had the highest rate of increase, an astounding 394 percent (see Table 1 for the increase in other states). And overall, the South experienced a growth of 57 percent in its Latino population, four times the growth of the general population in the region (14 percent). Across the U.S., since 1960, the Latino population has increased from 6.3 million to 55.3 million and is projected to grow to 119 million by 2060, according to the latest projections from the U.S. Census Bureau (2014).

What does this mean? Here’s an analogy. We can probably all agree that middle school is hard and awkward for everyone, with new social norms and higher expectations. Now imagine that middle school feeling, but infused in every part of your life-housing, transportation, employment, and beyond. Imagine having just moved to town, being from a different country, and not knowing the language. Imagine doing that alone. These are just some of the challenges faced by Latinos, who migrate here for work, and their families, who eventually end up calling the South their home.


This isn’t a new story. The traditional settlement states-New Jersey, California, Illinois, and New York-have experienced increases in Latino population from the beginning of migration waves from the 1960s, and at a steady rate. The Latino population grew in every region of the United States between 2000 and 2010, most significantly in the South and Midwest. What makes the Latino migration in the South unique is the speed of its growth, the relation to the growth of other population groups, the reasons for the growth, and the characteristics of the Latinos settling here. More and more people from Latin American nations like Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico are settling in southern states, so there might be a substantial shift in their growth. It is not uncommon for people to renounce their citizenship from Latin nations and migrate to the United States. Usually, when someone leaves his home country, such as Brazil, he or she signs a declaração de saida definitiva do brasil (declaration of definitive departure from the country) that may allow them to absolve themselves of any tax liabilities from that country.

In the traditional settlement states, most Latinos come to be reunited with family members. Since the Latino population growth in the South is still relatively new, the number one reason for Latino migration is work. According to the 2006 report “The New Latino South: The Context and Consequences of Rapid Population Growth,” Latinos in the South are much more likely to be foreign-born recent arrivals, often of Mexican origin, who only speak Spanish. They tend to be young, single males with a median age of 27, with little formal education. While work is often the draw, in 2000 the median annual income of Hispanic workers in these new settlement states was just $16,000 per year. Even more disheartening are the poverty rates among Latinos in the six Southern states. Between 1990 and 2000 poverty rates increased from 19.7 percent to 25.5 percent, a 30 percent increase compared with the poverty rate for Latinos nationwide, which dropped by 4 percent.

Those income and poverty rate figures may be the result of language barriers and lack of an established community, which limit economic mobility and make it difficult for them to participate in the institutions that make up an infrastructure of opportunity. A drive through major cities in the traditional settlement states such as Los Angeles, New York City, and Chicago would reveal strip malls of Latin food, clothing, and services. When Latinos move to these cities they are more likely to find others who speak Spanish and can connect them to jobs. There are some business districts popping up here and there in the South (think taquerias, Latin grocery stores, and laundromats), but in many places they are not nearly as established or accessible.

What parts of the infrastructure of opportunity can help break down the barriers that limit economic mobility? Here are a couple:

  • Breaking down the language barrier is key. Bilingual or dual language resources like food assistance programs and job placement agencies can contribute to ease of access to living wage jobs for this demographic and help new residents learn how to navigate financial, education, and employment systems.
  • While the current demographic is young and single, there are future generations to consider. We know that a child’s health, education, and economic mobility are closely linked to a parent’s financial well-being and education. A two-generation approach is key to consolidating the complexities of being born in the United States to immigrant parents.

That next generation will enter the education system and eventually the economy. They will be bilingual, have unique life experiences, and two cultures. With these unique and powerful attributes, how do they belong? How can we make sure they thrive? How can we ensure they are shaping the South-and their own lives-for the better? In upcoming posts we will explore what it looks like in the second generation of Latinos as these young people settle down and have families.

Cultivating Eagerness: Economic Mobility in the North Central Prosperity Zone

High school students piled out of a school bus while another student came out of his car in a suit. From my first few minutes on campus I could tell that Vance-Granville Community College was a place of eagerness. Inside the Civic Center was no different: leaders from Vance, Granville, Warren, Franklin, were all gathered and eager to continue making positive changes in their communities. These leaders represented nonprofit organizations, economic development, the K-12 public education system, higher education, and philanthropy with the ultimate goal of addressing the challenges of economic mobility in their respective counties. And thanks to the wonders of technology, we had a similar group from Nash County gathered to participate at Nash Community College. These counties are all part of the North Central Prosperity Zone (an NC Department of Commerce classification).

Earlier this year, MDC and the John M. Belk Endowment released a report examining economic mobility across North Carolina. During a convening on October 17, we had the chance to see how communities are responding to recent Equality of Opportunity research showing that upward economic mobility is particularly low in the South compared to other U.S. regions. Researchers looked at economic mobility in “commuting zones” (regional economies that share a labor force and sometimes cross county or state lines). The three commuting zones that encompass these counties are Wilson, Henderson, and Raleigh. Out of 729 zones they rank 13th, 23rd, and 85th, respectively, with #1 being the least mobile.

In the Henderson commuting zone (Vance and Warren counties), 38 percent of children born to parents in the bottom income quintile will stay there as adults. Only 26 percent will rise to the middle or upper middle income quintile; a meager 4 percent have a chance to make it to the highest income quintile. The figures are similar in the Wilson and Raleigh commuting zones.

Henderson Commuting Zone: Chances a child born in a given income quintile will move to another as an adult Source: Equality of Opportunity Project

Henderson Commuting Zone: Chances a child born in a given income quintile will move to another as an adult
Source: Equality of Opportunity Project

In the face of these bleak data emerged that sense of eagerness I witnessed in the parking lot. Attendees reflected on the idea of the American Dream–and The Jefferson’s theme song–and how that could be a reality for their residents. Leaders were passionate in sharing both strengths and challenges their communities faced.

Community leaders were well-aware of all of the outstanding resources and programs that were helping residents move on up, including: a brand new performing arts center, a strong Chamber of Commerce, a committed community college, internship, CTE and STEM programs for high schoolers, and youth leadership for grades 8-10 that connects students with small business opportunities.

Equally important was their cognizance of forces that were impeding residents’ upward mobility such as limited industry participation, substance abuse, limited role models for youth, teens balancing work and school, higher standards for entry-level positions for higher paying jobs, and discrepancies in communication about opportunities available to different youth.

With the knowledge of what is working for and against their mobility odds, leaders put their minds together to engineer ways to build an infrastructure of opportunity (or the systemic factors that can be aligned to work more effectively in favor of expanding education and living-wage prospects for residents). A theme revolving around youth, innovation, and inclusion quickly emerged. Leaders in these counties plan on strengthening STEM programs, advertising the “Vance Guarantee” and CTE to middle school students, emphasizing “trauma health” without shame, building on youth’s interest in technology, focusing on those furthest from opportunity, and learning from the past.

Creating an infrastructure of opportunity is made possible when communities collectively digest data, understand the challenge, engage in dialogue about the set of conditions working for and against their shared goals for mobility, and respond accordingly and collaboratively. These counties are off to a good start!