March 21 is National Single Parent Day, a holiday that celebrates a rapidly growing demographic in the United States. Over the past several decades, the number of children with single parents in the U.S. has grown exorbitantly, from 9% in 1960 to 34% in 2013. That number is only expected to continue going up as more millennials — what with our lax social mores and blasé attitudes toward marriage — raise children without partners.
While their family structures are less stigmatized than ever before, single parents' lives are far from easy. Single parents of all ages have a significantly harder time affording basic expenses, and more than a quarter live in poverty. For millennials, those issues are compounded by the generational struggles of a tough job market and our crushing student loan debt. Additionally, current policies — such as the lack of paid family leave, affordable daycare or a livable minimum wage — present enormous obstacles for U.S. parents, whether they have partners or not.
In short, being a millennial single parent is tough — but this year, as the election approaches, it also carries a lot of power. With millennials making up a crucial demographic of eligible voters, the wants and needs of our generation — and of the single parents among us — have the potential to influence the 2016 presidential election in hugely consequential ways.
Mic spoke with three millennials who are raising kids without partners about which issues matter most to them and their families this election, and how the race could change their lives. Here's what they had to say.
Alyssa Sanchez, 25
Sanchez, who lives in Houston, Texas, with her 4-year-old daughter, has been a single parent for about two years. Her daughter's father provides child support, which allows Sanchez to stay home and watch her child, alleviating daycare costs she says would otherwise be unaffordable.
"When I got pregnant I had just turned 21, I wasn't in school at the time, was working [in retail] and had just moved in with my boyfriend. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do. It's nice to have had the option [to have an abortion], and [having that option available is] still important to me. But I decided I was ready and I wanted to have [my daughter]. ... It's important to me to vote for a candidate who is pro-choice because of the support I got when I made my decision. I don't think I could vote for any of the Republicans, but neither of the Democrats has really stood out to me yet.
"As soon as I found out I was pregnant [and] I decided that I was going to keep her, I went ahead and filed for Medicaid. My daughter's father has private insurance for her, but he switches jobs often. Those months he's not covered, it's very important that I can rely on Medicaid as backup. Unfortunately, my daughter is always sick. Last year I had to pay out of pocket for [flu medication] and I didn't have the money. Luckily I have family to help me, but if I didn't have them ... I wouldn't be able to afford that.
"Cost of childcare is the number one reason I've stayed home with my daughter."
"Cost of childcare is the number one reason I've stayed home with my daughter. I looked at how much childcare is, and whatever I would be making a month would pretty much all go to her childcare. If I couldn't live with [my grandmother], I would work whenever I could and never see her. Her dad works a lot. Honestly, there's really no one that can watch her that's nearby.
"Increased minimum wage would help a lot. Right now I'm banking on what I would make if I were to go get a job on minimum wage, and I wouldn't make anything. The major financial questions we have now are holding me back from thinking of the future. I think about how much I can save a month for the next 14 years, so I can start my daughter a little college account. Honestly, I came up with an amount that wasn't even enough for one year.
"I know so many people have their parents, but I don't have my parents to watch her; they passed away when I was seven. The family I do have works — a lot. I've pretty much done it by myself since day one. I am struggling right now, but we're OK."
Malcolm White, 23
White, who graduated from college in 2014, splits custody of his 3-year-old daughter "roughly 60/40" with his ex-wife, with whom he still has a good relationship. He lives in Columbus, Ohio, where he works for a small marketing agency.
"I was a sophomore in college when my [ex-wife] got pregnant. It was a blessing that I was able to graduate on time. We got married after my daughter was born, but separated six months after; we got married for all the wrong reasons. So I do have a co-parent, but we lead different lives.
"My ex works at my daughter's pre-school, so we get a discount that way. The cost of childcare is already a huge burden. Because we're not together anymore, they bill my ex and me separately. I have to pay half of tuition, and I get 50% off, but it's still about $70 a week — depending on the month, that's between about $280 and $350.
"I don't want to say I'm a socialist or anything, but I think there is a lot to be said about a political system that provides the basics for everybody, like preschool and school in general. We aren't on any type of government assistance, but I don't know if I would've been able to stay in school without things like food stamps or Medicaid. Right now, I work for a small company that doesn't provide health insurance. Because I'm 23, I'm able to stay on my mom's health insurance for another three years.
"What I care about is the way politicians view me and people who look like me."
"Being a black father, I'm looking at not only my own safety, but the world my daughter is going to be raised in and the types of things she's going to have to experience. I'm a Bernie Sanders supporter, and the biggest reason why is because of the way he talks about things. I think ideologically, he and Hillary Clinton are pretty similar, but ... he gives me confidence in the way he looks at life. I feel valued as a person. I feel like when he's making decisions in the Oval Office, he'll take into consideration the fact that we're all equal.
"What I care about is the way politicians view me and people who look like me. ... What I'm looking at for a leader in the country is what type of tone they're setting for everyone else to follow. When you don't have the basics, such as being able to drive around in whatever car that you own in whatever neighborhood, without being afraid of being stopped, it's hard to focus on the economic laws."
Rae Gomes, 30
Gomes, who is originally from Trinidad, lives in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, with her 3-year-old son. A freelance writer and activist who graduated at the height of the economic downturn in 2008, she chronicled her experience on temporary assistance before enrolling full-time in graduate school.
"There was sort of an atmosphere of despair [when I graduated from college], and I was just trying to survive. I was thinking of moving back to Trinidad, so I went back to visit, and when I came back [to the U.S.] I found out I was pregnant. I was 26 going on 27. ... I had to look for [full-time] jobs and do interviews while I was pregnant. Up until six months, I could hide it and look kind of chubby, but it was terrifying. There was a lot of anxiety around that.
"After my son was born, I was able to stay with him for eight months at home [because] I was on temporary assistance. I had applied to grad school when my son was three months old... [but] I deferred because I couldn't figure out the logistics of it: I was breastfeeding, he couldn't stay on campus, and there was no insurance for going to school.
"I would say my politics since then have become a lot more localized. I think since going through having a kid and realizing how much local policies affect my everyday life, I can be really specific about the things I've been focused on activist-wise. I've realized how inaccessible fresh and healthy food is [in my neighborhood], for example.
"There are so many different ways things could be harder for me."
"I found one [daycare for my son] and it was $3,000. I asked if there were scholarships and the woman scoffed at me. I ended up finding a pretty great in-home daycare, but I couldn't imagine what it would've been like if I would've had to leave him after three months, which my company's leave policy guaranteed. That's a lot; most places only give six weeks, if anything.
"One of the benefits of being a single parent is that you qualify for income-based repayment on student loans. When I got IBR, my monthly contribution was $0 monthly. When I was working it was, like, $300. I think on a national level student loans need to be forgiven; the debt stymies you to complete inaction in every aspect of your life.
"There are so many different ways things could be harder for me. But now I feel like I'm a lot more empathetic and willing to fight for things that are definitely harder for people who don't have the [privileges] that I do. I've been able to build a community. As much as I complain about childcare, the people that help me with childcare are friends. There are different ways we've found these alternative communities in order to survive, in order to make our lives livable. On a larger, national level, though, nobody is talking about the things I want to hear about.
"I have these battles in my head: Can I really buckle down and do these [jobs I hate] and be miserable, but be a 'contributing member of society' and work? ... [But] supporting my family should not be a contradiction to doing what I love and doing things that make me happy."