Why ‘Having It All’ Isn’t Enough

Three of four single moms in Massachusetts aren't earning enough to raise their kids.

Photo by David Arky for

Photo by David Arky for “Mind the Gap

Right now, you can’t swing a handbag without hitting a book or article dissecting the state of women in America today. Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In has been on sale for just over a week and has dominated the discussion as of late, but between Marissa Mayer’s work-from-home debacle, the New York Magazine cover story this week about feminist housewives, and the ongoing chatter about how and why women can “have it all,” it’s easy to forget that these are debates are being argued from a position of privilege. Yes, women do not earn as much as men (a topic I’ve written about at length) and need to take a sledgehammer to glass ceilings, walls, and windows in order to truly rethink the way the organizational structure of the workplace works. But the fact remains that a wide swath of women aren’t earning nearly enough. Period. For them, having it all isn’t even an option. Just having enough is what’s worrying them most.

A new study out today from the Crittenton Women’s Union is a sharp reminder of that. The 189-year-old organization has been tracking the amount needed to raise a family in Massachusetts for the last decade, and has found that three out of four female-headed families in the state aren’t earning enough to stay afloat. Statewide, a woman raising one child without government assistance needs $65,880 a year to cover the cost of housing, transportation, food, child care, medical care, and other living expenses. That number jumps up to $73,776 if there’s another kid in the mix. In the City of Boston, those numbers jump up even higher to $67,200 and $73,404 respectively.

It’s only getting harder for lower-income parents to make ends meet, because, as the report notes, “… median wages are declining, and unemployment is high, particularly among those with less than a college education, while the cost of living is increasing.” And when it comes to cost of living, one of the biggest hurdles facing single parents is child care, which, here in Massachusetts, is the most expensive in the country, and makes up the largest percentage of overall expenses that a parent must lay out a month—more than rent or food. This is something that single-parent households aren’t alone in worrying about: 40 percent of two-parent households in the state do not bring in enough money to make ends meet, either. It’s a problem, and it’s not going away any time soon.

In his State of they City address earlier this year, Mayor Menino pledged to make Boston “the premiere city for working women,” and last week, he announced two initiatives to launch the program, creating a networking group for female business owners and partnering with the WAGE project to help women earn what they’re worth. They’re both huge steps toward realigning the way women women work in this city. But I’m still waiting to hear more about the third promise that Menino introduced in his speech: the $1 million in low-interest loans so that “family-based early education providers [can] invest in safe, quality child care environments.” If Boston can really start to make changes there, we might finally be able to let women stop worrying about how to make enough to provide for their kids. Because having it all is far different from having enough.