William & Mary Journal of Race, Gender, and Social Justice


COVID-19’s arrival, and the changes it has unleashed, reveal how longstanding legal and policy decisions produced structural inequalities that have left so many families, and especially single-parent families with children, all too insecure. The fragility of single-mother families is amplified by the multifaceted discrimination they face. While all single parents, including single fathers and other single relatives who are raising children, share many of these burdens, this Article focuses on the challenges confronting single mothers.

Federal policy choices stand in sharp contrast to the political rhetoric of government support for families. Social and economic policy in the twentieth century developed to support white two-parent marital homes, with a working father and a stay-at-home mother as the ideal norm. Much of the federal government’s support for families is designed to aid this idealized family form. In contrast, single mothers, who deviate from this norm, have historically been subject to vilification. Their pervasive hardships have been justified by sexist stereotypes of single mothers—painting them as immoral, lazy and opportunistic—and policies reflect this deep suspicion.

Other nations have applied human rights norms to reshape economic and social policies to benefit all families. The United States should not be left behind. U.S. government officials and the public should become knowledgeable about these human rights and accept these obligations as well. Educating ourselves about human rights norms and obligations, advocating for ratification of key human rights treaties, and learning from their implementation in other countries are crucial first steps to ensuring justice and protection for all families.