Many single parents collecting unemployment benefits are running out of money to pay rent, with Congress still unable to pass a relief bill to help.



Working till midnight, homeschooling your kids, cleaning, cooking - the life of a single parent during the pandemic is a marathon. NPR's Chris Arnold reports on how single moms in particular are struggling whether they've lost their job or are still working.

CHRIS ARNOLD, BYLINE: If you think your average day is tougher than usual right now, meet Ellen Griffin.

ELLEN GRIFFIN: Last night, I think it was 2 before I fell asleep and, you know, then up at 6. Like I said, I'm always kind of half-awake.

ARNOLD: Griffin's a single mom in Birmingham, Ala. She's got two sons, 11 and 13. She works at the public library.

GRIFFIN: I have to be at work at 8.

ARNOLD: So she gets her older son set up for remote school at her dad's house. He's 90 years old.

GRIFFIN: We've set up a school room in my old bedroom at my dad's house.

ARNOLD: Her younger son Drake needs more attention because of his autism, so he's going to in-person school part of each day. And then there's speech therapy in another location.

GRIFFIN: It's like Tetris trying to fix all the pieces so everything is covered.

ARNOLD: Millions of single parents are playing this real-life game of Tetris right now. In September, four times as many women as men dropped out of the workforce, many of them to deal with family life and home schooling. But for single working moms...

GRIFFIN: It's, oh, my God, I hope I don't lose my job.

ARNOLD: But a lot of single moms have lost their jobs, and many are now running out of money.

DEBORAH: I've really had to watch every dollar, and I've had to just pay the bare minimum on my credit card bills.

ARNOLD: Back in May, Deborah lost her job in public relations at an entertainment company in Los Angeles, and she's not sure how she's going to be able to pay rent next month. She hasn't talked to her daughter about that.

DEBORAH: I mean, she's 7. I want her to make sure she keeps her innocence. So I want her to just think the world is all rainbows and, you know, whatever. But for me, I'm feeling a bit nervous.

ARNOLD: A lot of people collecting unemployment are getting increasingly desperate. It's been nearly three months since an extra $600 a week in federal benefits expired, and economists say many people on unemployment have used up whatever small savings that they had. Deborah doesn't want to use her last name because she doesn't want to do anything that could hurt her chances of finding another job. She's been looking hard, but she says nothing's coming through.

DEBORAH: Some lady was like, oh, we're just collecting resumes.

ARNOLD: Across the country in Ringwood, N.J., Nelly Riether can't pay rent for much longer, either. Her kids are 13 and 15, and she's facing a choice - start spending her retirement savings or uproot her family from the house that they're renting and move in with her sister.

NELLY RIETHER: When I first got divorced, I lost my home and my kids, and I ended up living with my sister for a little while. So I know it is possible. To be honest with you, it's mortifying and embarrassing at 46 years old to say, I'm going to have to move in with my sister. Emotionally, it's a bit of a failure.

ARNOLD: Riether has been furloughed from her job in office building design since April, and she says she's worked hard all her life from starting when she was 13 at her dad's pizza shop. She's never collected unemployment before, but the state benefits alone don't even cover her rent, let alone her car payment, insurance, food. And she's frustrated that Congress couldn't figure out a compromise a month ago to send more help in the middle of a national emergency.

RIETHER: This is beyond politics. This is people's lives. This is my life. This is my family's life. We need a stimulus package.

ARNOLD: One thing that's been hard for Riether, too - as a single mom, she doesn't have a partner not only to share the financial burden but just to talk to. And as far as her friends...

RIETHER: When you asked, I started kind of feeling, like, a little bit of a welling up because it isn't something that I talk about with my friends, really. I mean, I don't want to burden other people with, well, I'm going to lose my home and be homeless. I might make a joke about it, but it is very heavy, and it weighs a lot. The future is uncertain, and it's incredibly scary. It's just incredibly scary.

ARNOLD: It's a scary time for a lot of people but especially for single moms like Riether who are going it alone without enough help to get by.

Chris Arnold, NPR News.

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