A new study out Monday says a single parent with two kids needs $62,000 a year just to get by in Massachusetts.
But for two single mothers we spoke to recently, that number seems far off.
"That's double my salary almost," said Michelle Feliz, raising her eyebrows. "And I'm like, 'Wow, I have a long way to go. How am I going to get there?' " Feliz works full-time as an administrative assistant at the University of Massachusetts at Boston, while raising a five-month-old son and 13-year-old daughter in one of Boston's oldest housing projects.
In Newton, where Michelle Duncan works as a crossing guard at Lincoln-Eliot School, the $62,000-a-year figure elicits a different reaction — a laugh.
"Yeah, I know I don’t make nearly that much," Duncan said. The position at the school is one the three part-time jobs she holds to help take care of her two kids — one of whom is bipolar.
Feliz and Duncan are not alone. According to a study (PDF) by the Crittenton Women's Union, a Boston non-profit, most single parents in Massachusetts earn less than they need to live.
The study also finds that daycare for two children adds up to more than rent. Duncan feels that crunch. That is why she opts for multiple part-time jobs, as opposed to one full-time position.
"You have to pay for daycare, so you're basically working for the daycare and you're not really making enough to survive," Duncan said. "So, doing the part-time work, it allows me to be there for my children, not to have to pay for daycare, and I think actually I come out a lot more ahead that way."
Feliz says child care for an infant can cost $300 a week. She pays $100, using vouchers from the state that subsidize the cost of care based on a family's income.
Even that leaves her room for little else.
"By the time I pay my rent and pay my child care, we have very little for extra things that the children need," Feliz said. "And to buy food and to pay for transportation, it's very hard. I have to really budget myself and see where I'm going to spend more or less."
Feliz applied for food stamps after her son was born. She said she was denied the first time and when she applied again, she was offered only $10 a month. She said the paperwork and time away from work isn't worth it for such a small amount.
"They see you going to work every day and they see your kids clean and fed and they think everything is OK. But it's not like that."
"It's funny, if you make a certain amount, you don't qualify for a certain assistance. But then again, you're still living in poverty," Feliz said. "I don't understand the system at all sometimes."
Still, Feliz has a plan. She is a part of the Career Family Opportunity Program, a support group that launched last June and is being tested at four South Boston housing developments. She is also working to get a bachelor's degree. Her goal — despite having just $5 in a newly opened savings account — is to take her two children out of the projects and buy her own home.
"I don't want to be in that environment with my kids," Feliz said. After Christmas, her 13-year-old was mugged. "I worked overtime to buy an iPod, and that was her Christmas gift. And that's what they took."
"They see you going to work every day and they see your kids clean and fed and they think everything is OK," Feliz added. "But it's not like that. A lot of single mothers, we do need a lot of support and a lot of help. It's not that easy."
WBUR's Lisa Tobin produced this story for broadcast.
This program aired on March 8, 2010.