Forty-one percent of Georgia’s low-income working families are headed by women and 46 percent of these mothers have no college education according to a new report by the Working Poor Families Project. Georgia was home to 402,000 low-income working families with children in 2012, the most recent figures available for the report. These represent more than a third of all Georgia families with children.
Since women head such a huge portion of the state’s low-income working families, Georgia needs to take the lead from other states to increase the educational attainment and earning potential of its low-income mothers.
A college education can be an important step on the path to economic mobility. The median salary of a Georgian with only a high school education is $27,706, which meets the definition of low-income for a family of three. By contrast, the median salary for Georgians with at least a bachelor’s degree is about double that at $51,979.
Many low-income women face barriers to upward mobility through higher education, including unfinished degree programs, lack of access to child care and transportation, as well as rising tuition costs. About 20 percent of working mothers nationwide cannot enter post-secondary education until they complete high school.
Lack of affordable child care is often another obstacle. Low-income college students with children are 25 percent less likely to obtain a degree than low-income adults without children. Georgia is one of just seven states that does not make subsidized child care available to parents pursuing a post-secondary degree.
Rising tuition also presents a barrier to working mothers seeking to pursue college education. Tuition and mandatory fees are up an average of 88 percent across Georgia’s university system since the 2008 fiscal year and the onset of the Great Recession. Tuition within Georgia’s technical college system also rose in recent years. The technical college system raised tuition the 2013 fiscal year by $150 per term for full-time students. Creating need-based financial aid could help low-income women pursue higher education despite increases.
States can also use federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families funds to help low-income women achieve postsecondary credentials. This assistance is available through welfare reforms of the 1990s and is meant to help low-income parents achieve economic independence. Some states use this money to pay for low-income students to complete high school and then get occupational training, or go to college. Georgia spends a below-average portion of this money on education and training.
Georgia should follow the example of other states and do more to help put low-income working mothers on the path to financial stability. It is critical to Georgia’s future they get a better chance to reach their potential.