Despite an improving economy, millions of women—disproportionately women of color—struggle to make ends meet. Women continue to be vastly overrepresented in low-wage jobs—and for women with children, especially very young children, low-wage work can severely undermine their efforts to support and care for their families.

The nearly 1.3 million mothers of very young children (ages 3 and under) who work as cashiers, personal care aides, maids, restaurant servers, and in other demanding low-wage jobs face particular challenges as breadwinners and caregivers. For the children who depend on their income, the first three years of life are especially critical due to the rapid brain development and skill formation that occur during this time. But low-wage work often makes it exceptionally difficult for parents to meet their children’s basic needs, and parents in these jobs struggle to find and afford safe, secure—much less high-quality—child care. More broadly, the very nature of low-wage jobs and the accompanying financial insecurity can create tremendous stress for parents, which can affect their relationships with their children as well as the home environment and put their children at risk of falling behind even before they enter school.

Working mothers with very young children are more likely than workers overall to be in low-wage jobs. More than half of mothers who have very young children and work in low-wage jobs are raising children on their own; four in ten are working full time; and nearly one-third are poor. They are disproportionately Black, Latina, and immigrant women. They are also less likely to have a college education than workers overall.


  • Close to 1.3 million mothers with very young children—nearly one in five—work in low-wage jobs.
  • Women of color make up more than half of mothers with very young children in low-wage jobs.
  • Almost one-third of mothers who have very young children and work in low-wage jobs are poor.
  • About four in ten mothers who have very young children and work in low-wage jobs are employed full time.


Note: This report is an update to an analysis released in 2014. The original analysis is available here.

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