The social inequality that prevails in Puerto Rico has caused an increase in social problems that adversely affect mainly women. For most women, the common factor is poverty. The economic crisis Puerto Rico is currently experiencing has made more palpable the social problems experienced by women as a result of poverty. As the gap expands between the socio-economic classes in Puerto Rico, as a result of reduced purchasing power , the quality of life in homes below the poverty level continues to deteriorate.
A recent snapshot of this problem was discussed by sociologist Marcia Rivera in her article of 2018 “Pobreza y desigualdad: el complejo nudo de la crisis puertorriqueña,” where she states that “inequality is constructed daily through policies, programs and individual and collective behaviors.” Even when individual behavior encourages inequity, inequality is a collective socio-economic condition that affects broad sectors, regardless of the characteristics of the people within those sectors.
One of the population groups most vulnerable and most affected by the economic problems that afflict Puerto Rican society is women, who typically receive lower pay for equal work, work in lower-paying jobs, both in the public and the private sector, and are more likely to be single heads of household. Many of these women are single mothers.
The Institute for Youth Development published on its website that between 2012 and 2016 in Puerto Rico, 69.6% of homes in poverty with children under 18 were led by single mothers. This data is very similar to that provided by the federal Census Bureau. According to statistics published in the Progress Report of the Demographic Challenge Committee on June 30, 2017, 68.3% of homes below the poverty level with children under age 18 were led by single mothers. This statistic reveals a category of poverty that worsens gender inequality. As women are the gender more likely to live in poverty, the vulnerability of single mothers represents an even greater vulnerability for the majority of children who live in conditions of exacerbated poverty.
According to psychologist Naychaly Rivera Nieves in a report in the newspaper Primera Hora, single mothers are the result of various factors. These include widowhood, having been the victim of gender violence, unwanted pregnancies during adolescence, and abandonment by a spouse or companion. A statistic that confirms the complexity of the economic situation for single mothers is that 80% of the homes where women are heads of households receive aid from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and in most of those there are children with special needs.
According to Rivera Nieves, women “often are not considered for positions of greater responsibility precisely because they are single mothers who have a large responsibility for their children.” This shows the type of gender discrimination in the workforce that adds to the vicious cycle of inequality and poverty.
Single mothers face permanent challenges for which there are few solutions. They must meet the responsibilities of caring for their children and providing for the household, which is even more difficult financially when the children require special care. These challenges can be worsened among women at the mental, emotional, physical, and social levels. They also contribute to a vicious cycle that cannot be broken due to gender barriers that worsen the inequality they experience.
Social inequalities in Puerto Rico represent a challenge. The situation caused by the island’s current economic crisis worsens the symptoms and augurs for more deterioration, especially among single mothers.
Barceló Jiménez, Josefina. “Criar sola tiene grandes desafíos.” Primera Hora [Guaynabo, PR], 3 Nov. 2017, http://www.primerahora.com/estilos-de-vida/madres/nota/criarsolatienegrandesdesafios-1211075/ Informe de Progreso. Comité de Reto Demográfico. Junta de Planificación de PR, 30 June 2017, http://puertoricotequiero.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Iinforme-Progreso-de-Reto-Demografico-Jun-30-.2017.pdf Rivera, Marcia. “Pobreza y desigualdad: el complejo nudo de la crisis puertorriqueña.” El Nuevo Día, 27 Apr. 2018, https://www.elnuevodia.com/opinion/columnas/pobrezaydesigualdadelcomplejonudodelacrisispuertorriquena-columna-2418082/
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