Women who grow up without a role model and “make it” financially (whatever that may mean to you) are often left to believe that they are not capable themselves.

More than 50% of lower-income moms say they don’t have many role models with a career, and 65% say that having a career sounds like a “luxury,” according to the 2023 Mothers Overcome More (M.O.M) report. The University of Phoenix just published the nationwide survey comprised of 1,000 lower-income and 500 middle- and higher-income mothers in partnership with Motherly, a mother-focused parenting platform.

Among the results taken directly from the report:

  • While the number of women in the workforce topped pre-pandemic levels this year for the first time, some of these women aren’t being paid enough to pay the bills. 
  • Nearly 20% of lower-income mothers need to have multiple jobs to make ends meet, and nearly half of low-income working moms spend more than 30% of their paycheck on childcare. 
  • Motherhood presents unique and significant challenges for all mothers’ career journeys, regardless of income, but lower-income moms in particular face disproportionate external barriers, such as money and childcare needs that compound these challenges—often derailing their career progression. 

For every 10 million single-parent families with children under the age of 18, roughly 80% are headed by single mothers, says the U.S. Census. There are 16 million mothers in the U.S. who head their household financially, and they support 28 million children, 29% of these children are in households run by Black breadwinner moms.

“We’ve known that moms are burned out,” says Jill Koziol, cofounder and CEO of Motherly, when I asked what didn’t surprise her about the survey findings. America spends $500 per toddler while countries ranging from Slovenia to New Zealand spend at least $10,000 per toddler, despite billions that go into federal funding. Not to mention that the childcare industry is still short 65,000 jobs compared to pre-pandemic levels.

Koziol was interested in digging deeper for trends among mothers in the lower-income category, in particular. Partnering with the University of Phoenix made sense. The for-profit institution has 71% of its students identifying as female, 63% caring for dependents at home, and 59% are single parents, according to Ruth Veloria, chief strategy and customer officer for the University of Phoenix, and mother of four. “The findings of our report make clear just how vast gaps in support for working mothers can be,” she says. Veloria recalls wearing multiple hats as a working mom, even with the support of a loving and present partner.

“These moms are hitting this basic-needs barrier where they’re not even thinking about themselves as having a career,” Koziol explains. “They’re only thinking of making ends meet.”

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