Women in Poverty: Numbers are growing as aid is disappearing
The recently released poverty statistics were filled with bad news; one in every six Americans live in poverty, the highest rate in at least the last 50 years, and more than one in five children live in poverty. One of the more startling themes to emerge is the growing number of women living in poverty, at a rate much higher than men. The number of women living in poverty is 14.5 percent and 6.3 percent live in extreme poverty, adding up to over 17 million women living in poverty as of 2010, compared with 12.6 million men. For minority women, the numbers are even worse; 25 percent for Hispanic women and 25.6 percent for black women. Single mothers are hardest hit according to poverty statistics, with 40 percent of women who head families living in poverty. The child poverty rate rose to 22 percent, with more than half of children living in poverty coming from female-headed families.
These numbers are even more striking when you take into account the number of cuts to human services programs designed to help people in need. Cuts to a myriad of services including child care, senior services, homeless services, and domestic violence programs only compound the issues women in poverty face. For example, women make up 80 percent of adults living in family shelters and 28 percent of families living in shelters are there because of domestic violence situations. New York State and City have implemented drastic cuts to homeless service programs, including ending a program designed to lift 15,000 families out of the shelter system.
Additionally, approximately 75 percent of informal caregivers are women, so when programs such as home-delivered meals or senior center programs are cut, women must figure out how to provide those meals and rearrange work schedules to care for relatives. The same is true when child care and after school programs are cut; women not only make up the majority of workers in those fields, but also are more likely to rely on those services. Cuts like these almost ensure women in need will not find economic security anytime soon.
Government aid programs are another vital lifeline for women in need. The children who rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) are equally divided among boys and girls, but among adults 65 percent of SNAP participants are women. There are 9.3 million non-elderly female adults helped by SNAP, compared to 5.3 million non-elderly male adults, and fully twice as many elderly women utilize SNAP (1.8 million compared to 0.9 million elderly men).
The current national debate is centered around cutting $10 trillion dollars from the U.S. budget, with little to no mention of how these cuts will impact the number of people – predominately women and children- who have given up making ends meet and are now just trying to survive. Programs on the chopping block include safety net programs such as SNAP, and even more cuts to human services programs such as homeless services and child care. An economic recovery plan that does not contain solutions to lift a fifth of our population out of poverty is unacceptable. To be successful, any economic plan that is adopted must address the needs of the millions of women in poverty by protecting the programs that are their lifelines.
Contributed by Michelle Jackson of the Human Services Council