Revisiting the Poverty Rate: New Measure Shows Less Inequality

By Jacqui Logan

A recent IWPR fact sheet, “A Clearer View of Poverty: How the Supplemental Poverty Measure Changes Our Perceptions of Who is Living in Poverty” by Jocelyn Fischer, examines the recently developed Supplemental Poverty Measure. The new measure—created in response to concerns about the adequacy of the official federal poverty measure—uses both post-tax income and federal in-kind benefits to assess the resources of families and individuals. The most salient aspect of the new measure is a more accurate poverty threshold. Each year, the new measure will be released along with the official measure by the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

IWPR’s fact sheet compares the poverty situation in America as described by the new Supplemental Poverty Measure to that described by the official measure, which takes into account only cash resources when determining income. IWPR’s analysis found two quite different pictures of poverty according to the two measures.

The overall poverty rate is higher under the Supplemental Poverty Measure (15.9 percent poor) than it is under the official poverty measure (15.1 percent poor). Moreover, IWPR’s analysis shows there is less inequality in poverty between different demographic groups under the Supplemental Poverty Measure than under the official poverty measure.

While both men’s and women’s poverty rates are higher under the Supplemental Poverty Measure, men’s poverty rate (14.1 percent under the official poverty measure and 15.2 percent under the supplemental measure) rises numerically and proportionately much more than women’s poverty rate (16.3 percent under the official measure and 16.6 percent under the supplemental measure), thus decreasing inequality between men’s and women’s poverty rates.

Similarly, there is less inequality by race/ethnicity under the Supplemental Poverty Measure than under the official measure. Furthermore, when compared wtih the official measure, the supplemental measure indicates less inequality in poverty between persons of different age groups and between the married and the unmarried.

Overall, use of the Supplemental Poverty Measure reveals a higher rate of poverty in the United States and changes perceptions of whom we consider poor.

For more information on IWPR’s research on poverty and its impact on women and families, please visit our website.

Jacqui Logan was a Research Intern with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research during the summer semester.


To view more of IWPR’s research, visit IWPR.org

New BLS Data Confirm Unequal Access to Paid Leave Among U.S. Workers

By Kevin Miller and Caroline Dobuzinskis

Today the Bureau of Labor Statistics released data from the American Time Use Survey (ATUS) on access to and use of paid leave by American workers. This is the first time the ATUS has included questions on leave-taking among American workers, with a module paid for by the Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau.

The findings from the 2011 Leave Module of the ATUS reveal that many American workers lack access to paid leave from their jobs, though access varies by worker and occupational characteristics. Overall, 59 percent of workers in the United States have access to paid leave; 4 in 10 American workers lack access to paid leave. This reflects IWPR research analysis that found that 44 million workers in the United States lack access to paid sick leave and that only 58 percent of private sector employees in the U.S. had access to paid sick days in 2010.

Overall, the newly released BLS data on leave access and use by American workers confirm large disparities in access to and use of leave, especially paid leave. Workers with lower wages, Hispanic workers, workers in poorer health, and workers in jobs that put them in direct contact with the public (e.g., sales or hospitality workers) are less likely to have access to leave from their jobs and are more likely to lose pay when they do take leave.

Findings Show Large Gaps in Access to Paid Leave Among U.S. Workers

Men and women have similar rates of access to paid leave, with 60 and 58 percent of male and female workers with access to paid leave, respectively. The reasons for taking leave tend to differ between gender, with more women tending to take leave for illness or medical treatment for themselves or a family member.

Based on educational levels, there are large disparities in access to paid leave. Workers with college degrees are far more likely (72 percent) to have access to paid leave than workers without a high school diploma (35 percent). The BLS data also show large gaps in access between Hispanic and other workers. Hispanic workers are less likely to have access to leave (43 percent) than are non-Hispanic workers (61 percent). White, black, and Asian workers have similar rates of access to paid leave (59, 61, and 62 percent respectively).

Among full-time workers, those in the top quartile of earnings are the most likely to have access to paid leave (83 percent have access), while those in the lowest quartile are less likely (50 percent have access). Seventy-nine percent of workers in the financial industry have access to paid leave, while only 25 percent of those in the leisure and hospitality industries—which include food service—have access to paid leave. Workers in the private sector are less likely to have access to paid leave (57 percent) than are workers in the public sector (76 percent).

Taking Time Off Can Mean Lost Wages for Many Workers

Though over half of workers have access to some kind of paid leave, and 90 percent have access to either paid or unpaid leave, in an average week only 21 percent of workers took leave (including either vacation or sick time) according to the BLS.

Women, who tend to have more caregiving duties for children and older relatives, were slightly more likely than men to take leave from their jobs during an average week (23 percent compared with 20 percent). Of women workers who took leave in an average week, 35 percent did so either to care for their own medical needs, for those of a family member or relative, or to provide elderly care or child care, compared with 25 percent of men who took leave for the same reasons.

Workers who characterized their health as fair or poor were somewhat less likely to take leave in an average week. But those who did were more likely to take unpaid leave compared with those who characterized their health as good. Sixty percent of workers in fair or poor health took unpaid leave, compared with 38 to 39 percent who characterized their health as good, very good, or excellent (most of whom took paid leave). IWPR’s analyses of the costs and benefits of paid sick days in several states and cities nationwide have found that access to paid sick days improves workers’ self-assessed health, reduces costly emergency department visits, and reduces health care costs to private and public insurers.

Reflecting the lack of access to paid leave in many service-oriented jobs, workers in management, business, and financial operations were much less likely to take unpaid leave compared with workers in service occupations (20 percent took unpaid leave compared with 66 percent). Of those workers in the leisure and hospitality industry who took leave in an average week, 86 percent took unpaid leave. Only 13 percent of workers in this industry took paid leave.

Mirroring the inequality in access to paid leave that exists across income levels, workers in the top quartile of earnings are twice as likely to have taken paid leave in an average week (82 percent) compared with workers in the lowest quartile of earnings (40 percent).

These new findings reaffirm the lack of equal access to paid leave that can leave many workers without economic or job security if an illness should arise for themselves or for a family member. Without access to paid leave, many workers simply cannot afford to take time off. Workers who are sometimes forced to work while ill tend to be those who are most likely to come into contact with the public and spread contagious illness. Women, often those caring for family members, tend to be disproportionately impacted because they are more likely to work in part-time jobs and tend to have lower earnings than men.

Visit IWPR’s website for more information on IWPR’s research on paid sick days and the impact on paid sick days legislation on workers and businesses.

Kevin Miller is a Senior Research Associate and Caroline Dobuzinskis is the Communications Manager with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.


To view more of IWPR’s research, visit IWPR.org

Being a Student Parent: My Experience and How Policy Is Improving for Student Parents Today

By Ann DeMeulenaere Weedon

As part of my work as a summer intern at IWPR I have had the privilege of working with the Student Parent Success Initiative (SPSI). The SPSI report, Improving Child Care Access to Promote Postsecondary Success Among Low-Income Parents (2011), reflects my personal obstacles to higher education. Lack of access to childcare was the sole reason I did not attend college earlier and it is the reason many student parents struggle to complete their education. I am an IWPR intern, a single mom, and a graduate student at the age of 42 because I could not do these things when my children were young. I am sharing my story here as a thanks to the SPSI team at IWPR for research that improves the lives of student parents. I hope this serves to add some personal context to the SPSI research.

Like many people, when I graduated high school I was unsure of the career I wanted to pursue. I decided some life and work experience would help me choose. For a year, I worked for a citizen lobby organization where I felt like the work I was doing was important and made a real difference. The job paid well (for a recent high school graduate) but there were no benefits as I was considered an independent contractor. Shortly after leaving that job, while working a part-time temp job, I discovered I was pregnant. I was 19 years old, had no secure, permanent job, and no health insurance. If I could find a job while pregnant, at that time, any health insurance company could consider my pregnancy a pre-existing condition and deny coverage. In 1996, the Health Insurance and Portability Act made it illegal to treat pregnancy as a pre-existing condition. At the time of pregnancy, Medicaid and Aid to Families with Dependent Children (the AFDC program that was ended in 1996) were my only real options to provide for my child and pay for the costs of his birth and my prenatal care. I reluctantly accepted the assistance but planned to move on as soon as possible.

After the birth of my child I intended to get my college degree. I qualified for grants to pay tuition but I would need assistance paying for childcare. I was told that childcare assistance was available if I was working but not while in school. If I got a job to pay for childcare for the hours I was in class I would lose most of my state benefits since I would now have an income. The state would assume I could use this income to pay for food and living expenses so they would cut my aid and I would not have money to pay for childcare. I felt trapped; there was no way for me to get the education I needed to improve my life and that of my child. Mine is a story shared by many mothers. Those on assistance are often discouraged from pursuing education over employment. This prompted Diana Spatz to found LIFETIME, an organization allied with SPSI that helps student parents successfully achieve higher education.  You can read more about her story on the organization’s website.

The birth of my first child was over 20 years ago and I am currently taking classes towards my Ph.D. It took much longer than it should have to get here. I had to wait to begin until my son was in school, attend part-time, and rely on the help of student loans. At the completion of my doctorate degree I will be facing the repayment of those loans.  The SPSI project at IWPR has recently shed light on the debt burden of single student parents like myself in their fact sheet, Single Student Parents Face Financial Difficulties, Debt, Without Adequate Aid (May 2012). Among the research findings, single parents are much more likely to need financial aid to enroll in postsecondary education and are more likely than traditional students to say that financial difficulties are likely to result in their withdrawing from college. If they do it make it through, they often face staggering lingering debt: Single student parents have between 20 and 30 percent more student debt one year after graduation than other students. The figures are startling and I am glad that IWPR is making visible my lived experience.

In addition, IWPR recently released a fact sheet The Pregnancy Assistance Fund as a Support for Student Parents in Postsecondary Education (July 2012) that details two programs funded by the Pregnancy Assistance Fund (PAF) to offer support to pregnant and parenting students. I could not be happier that programs are finally being created to help women in these circumstances. PAF is also part of legislation under the Affordable Care Act. We have a long way to go but this is encouraging progress.

It is my hope that this information will make an impact on policies and programs at the national, state and local levels and help other parents attend college. I am grateful for the opportunity to work for such a wonderful organization dedicated to improving women’s lives and to assist on a project to help students like myself. Thank you IWPR and the SPSI team!

Ann DeMeulenaere Weedon is the Communications Intern at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.


To view more of IWPR’s research, visit IWPR.org