Bad News for American Women

by Claudia Williams and Robert Drago, PhD
The US Census just released new data on income, poverty and health insurance. Using these data, a new fact sheet from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) shows that last year women earned 23 percent less than men, which is almost identical to the 2008 figure of 22.9 percent. There was no progress towards pay equality for women this year. Despite women obtaining college degrees at a rate that is 50% above that for men, and despite the great recession supposedly being a “mancession,” women are not doing better.
Certainly, men’s unemployment (9.8%) is higher than women’s (8%), but poverty rates tell a very different story. The poverty rate is up to 14.3%, from 13.2% in 2008. And which family type is most likely to live in poverty? That would be female-headed households, where the rate rose to 32.5% in 2009. For children living in single-mother families, the rate is even higher, at 44.4%.
Why are unemployment and poverty so different for men and women? First, unemployment insurance pulls millions of Americans out of poverty (unemployment benefits are indeed included when poverty is calculated). Men were more likely to be employed before the recession, so were also more likely to receive the benefit. Second, as another recent IWPR report shows, the social safety net is in tatters: only 12% of single mothers living in poverty are receiving assistance under Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF). The program should have but did not expand coverage during the recession.
Government intervention is essential for addressing poverty, and is even more important given that tough economic times are continuing. With so many families in poverty struggling to make ends meets, we should not turn a blind eye to the human suffering we as a society are allowing at present. Further, a generation of children could be lost economically unless we help by promoting public policies that enhance and support women’s and workers livelihoods. Strengthening safety net programs like unemployment insurance, TANF, earned sick days and Social Security would help, but so would pay equity for women. It wasn’t just a “mancession” after all.
Claudia Williams is a Research Analyst at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. She is interested in gender, poverty and international development. She uses qualitative and quantitative methods to do research on women at IWPR. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Public Policy with a concentration on Women Studies at George Washington University.

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