Could Women Push Recovery from the Bottom Up?

Last Updated Oct 27, 2010 5:28 PM EDT

I's not a "mancession" when unemployment nearly doubles for women who head families.
The National Women's Law Center figures that 13.4% of single moms are out of work, up from 6.9% in December 2007. And an astonishing 36.6 percent more wives are now the sole support of their families, largely due to male unemployment.

What does it say when Wal-Mart's same-store U.S. sales eroded 1.8% in the second quarter? That American families don't have two pennies to rub together.

Christine Grumm has one solution: bring micro-enterprise to American women in a big way. She is CEO of the Women's Funding Network, a consortium of nonprofits that focus on women's economic independence and related issues. Maybe, says Grumm, the way out of the economy is not a 'trickle down' from the top but a 'bubble up' from the bottom. ""If you don't move the needle on the bottom, we won't repair the foundation of our economy," she told me the other day.

The network is rolling out pilot programs in six American cities that provide a constellation of services around single mothers who are struggling to get a foothold in this floundering economy. Job training and related services are one solution, if the complicated needs of single moms are truly met.

Small business creation is another. Grumm scoffs at the notion that the economy can't possibly recover due to the efforts of mompreneurs. A small business with $250,000 in annual income can support three or four families, including the owner's, she believes. If it's good enough for Africa, why isn't it good enough for America?

Good question. The answer: it's easier to start something from scratch (i.e., in Africa) than it is to detangle a cluster of existing programs (i.e., the mess we have here with public assistance, tax refunds, nonprofits, and government programs at all levels). I agree with Grumm that single moms face a welter of intertwined problems. And i'm rooting for success with the pilot programs. But to make a difference to the economy as a whole? Not going to happen. The tangle of factors, from child care to job training subsidies, makes it impossible to measure the cost, and thus the economic impact, of the bigger program.

So i've got a suggestion for the Network and its member organizations. Can you possibly persuade a group of like-minded organizations in just one city to streamline the support systems and economic incentives for just one pilot program? If you had a single, compelling pilot that proved the results of your combined efforts, you would probably get so much attention and additional funding that you'd soon have dozens of spinoffs.

Image courtesy of Morguefile user mzacha.