Education Plays Vital Role In Single-Mother’s Journey

Statistics are showing an increase in women being considered the primary “breadwinners” for households, but the reason behind the jump may be due to an increase in single mothers.

Darlynda Miktuk, of Jamestown, became a single mother 16 years ago, when she was 32 years old. The father of Miktuk’s daughter has never been a part of their lives, not even financially.

“It was always me from the start,” Miktuk said. “In fact, my daughter’s birth certificate says, ‘Father unknown.’ I know who the father is, but it just didn’t work out between us, and off he went. I have always taken care of my daughter.”

Miktuk isn’t alone. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2007-2011 American Community Survey, there are an estimated 6,661 households in Chautauqua County with a female householder and no husband present. Of that, an estimated 4,131 households have children under 18 living in the residence.

On the other hand, there are an estimated 2,326 households in Chautauqua County with a male householder and no wife present. Of those, an estimated 1,085 households have children under 18.

Comparatively, there are an estimated 26,202 married couple families in the county according to the survey, 9,362 of which have children under the age of 18 living at the home.

In order to rise to the challenges of motherhood, Miktuk, who was in the U.S. Army and stationed in Hawaii when she learned of her pregnancy, chose to return to Jamestown to be closer to family.

“That shifted my life immediately,” Miktuk said. “I was in Hawaii, it was obvious the dad wasn’t going to play much of a part.”

THE ROLE OF EDUCATION

Miktuk chose to go from active duty down to the National Guard, which she said immediately resulted in a loss of income.

“Then I thought, ‘You know what? I want to go to college,'” she said. “I didn’t want to wait until my daughter was older, so I actually was three weeks into the semester when I gave birth to her.”

It was the decision to go to school that changed Miktuk and her daughter’s lives. She now holds an associate degree, two bachelor’s degrees, a master’s degree and a Ph.D.

“I’ve gone all the way from nothing to a Ph.D.,” Miktuk said. “Now, I do owe a nice chunk of change in student loans. But, when my daughter was born I was on welfare. So, I went from welfare, pulling us through no child support, nothing, to just taking care of myself and my daughter. I saw education as my out. That was how I was going to financially make it better for her and I. And, it panned out. It did.”

According to the Associated Press, among all U.S. households with children, the number of married breadwinner moms has jumped from 4 percent in 1960 to 15 percent in 2011. For single mothers, the jump went from 7 percent in 1960 to 25 percent. And, the AP says women are becoming more educated as well. Only 7 percent of married women in 1960 had a higher education than their husbands, while in 2011 it was 23 percent. Couples with spouses having similar educational backgrounds is roughly 61 percent.

In Chautauqua County, the U.S. Census estimates 89,914 residents are over age 25. Of those, it estimates 3,263 residents have less than a ninth grade education; 8,491 have completed ninth to 12th grade, but do not hold a diploma; 32,626 hold a high school diploma; 16,122 have attended at least some college, but do not hold a degree; 10,954 have an associate degree; 10,352 have a bachelor’s degree; and 8,106 hold a graduate or professional degree.

THE FEMALE BREADWINNER

Having Miktuk as the sole breadwinner in the family affected both her and her daughter.

After earning her second bachelor’s degree, Miktuk became a teacher, while still working to continue her own education. She said she would wake up at 3 a.m. to do schoolwork, teach all day and come home to spend time with her daughter. At the same time, her daughter was learning to be independent.

“Because I had to work, there were things she had to be able to do,” Miktuk said. “I relied on her for some things. I couldn’t do everything for her; she had to do some things for herself. She is very independent; she is almost fierce in that way. I think part of that came around from the fact that I had to work. I think being a single mom made us closer.”

Although they are doing well 16 years later, being a single mom and the sole breadwinner was not without its challenges.

“The biggest struggle was financially, especially in the beginning,” Miktuk said. “In the beginning, I didn’t have any degree, so I wasn’t able to work full time. At that point, I was part time. But, I also had the military. The National Guard paid me very well for the weekend, so that covered my rent. Also, as a single working mom, don’t think that my child has not gone on the job with me.”

In Chautauqua County the estimated number of residents over age 16 is 109,064: Of that, 55,967 are female, and 53,097 are male. Of those numbers, 34,133 men and 31,106 women are considered eligible to work in the everyday U.S. economy, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. However, 31,312 men and 28,615 women were estimated to be employed at the time of the survey.

The median earnings in the county for full-time, year-round male workers was $41,270. For females, it was $31,626, according to the survey.

“If someone is a single parent, obviously, if I’m a single mom, I just have to step up to the plate,” Miktuk said. “But I think another thing is, too, it just depends on who is able to get the job. It could end up being, in this day and age, with the way things are, it could end up being the woman. If a woman is able to go out and get the job that can sustain the family, then so be it. That’s what it has to be.

“If dad steps away, the mom has to step up. Or, it just could be they end up with the better job. I really think it’s part of our economy.”