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Editorial: Crucial help for single mothers and their children

One of society's biggest challenges is helping single mothers escape poverty. Single mothers are much more likely to live in poverty than single fathers. About 60 percent of the children of single mothers are poor. Even worse: Too often, the cycle is perpetuated. Children of single-parent households are more likely to drop out of school, more likely to bear children out of wedlock, and more likely to have trouble keeping jobs as young adults.

Here in Fargo-Moorhead, there are 2,300 poor single mothers, a number that grew by 16 percent over the past six years. Most of those mothers have children under the age of four; fewer than half of those children are enrolled in preschool.

But there's reason to hope that grim picture will soon begin to brighten. The Jeremiah Program recently broke ground for a home that will provide housing for 20 poor single women and their children under the age of 5 to help the mothers pursue a college degree.

The home, which will open in January 2018, is on land made available for $1 a year by Catholic Health Initiatives at 3104 Fiechtner Drive South in Fargo. Besides living accommodations for the women and their children, the Jeremiah house will include an early childhood education center and classrooms where the mothers can develop life skills and gain confidence.

A college degree is a proven path out of poverty. Mothers who lack adequate support are at high risk of dropping out of college. When that happens, they are highly likely to be trapped in low-skilled jobs and public assistance.

By providing affordable housing and other assistance, the Jeremiah Program works to change the trajectory of poor single mothers' lives. The program, which is in St. Paul, Minneapolis, Boston and Austin, Texas, has an impressive track record.

The college completion rate of the women who have been helped by the Jeremiah Program is almost 70 percent. In a survey of the program's alumnae from the past five years, women reported an average income of $47,609 and a 77 percent reduced reliance on public assistance. Children benefit as well. Almost 90 percent of children in the program's child development centers perform above age development benchmarks.

The Jeremiah Program project is the result of six years of hard work. It was made possible by public and private contributors, including $2.2 million from the North Dakota Housing Financing Agency, $1.1 million from the National Housing Trust Fund and donations from foundations and private donors totaling $3 million.

It's been said that it takes a village to raise a child. Our village is about to get a lot stronger.

Forum editorials represent the views of Forum management and the Editorial Board.