Women and poverty

A new study shows that women are bearing the brunt of income inequality.

Maria Shriver published her annual report about women in America, and the findings are sobering. The Shriver Report, co-sponsored by the Center for American Progress, indicates that women– particularly single mothers– are disproportionately likely to be minimum wage workers and to earn less than men, regardless of education level.

Charlotte Alter broke down the report (her wording, my emphasis):

  • 1 in 3 American women, 42 million women, plus 28 million children, either live in poverty or are right on the brink of it. (The report defines the “brink of poverty” as making $47,000 a year for a family of four.)
  • Nearly two-thirds of minimum wage workers are women, and these workers often get zero paid sick days.
  • Two-thirds of American women are either the primary or co-breadwinners of their families.
  • The average woman is paid 77 cents for every dollar a man makes, and that figure is much lower for black and Latina women; African American women earn only 64 cents and Hispanic women only 55 cents for every dollar made by a white man.
  • More than half of the babies born to moms who are under 30 are born to unmarried mothers, and most of them are white.
  • 75% of unmarried mothers are under 30, and only 7% of have finished college. Single motherhood and lack of a college degree are two of the strongest indicators of poverty.
  • 96% of single mothers say paid leave is the workplace reform that would help them the most.
  • Even though women outnumber men in higher education, men still make more money than women who have the same level of educational achievement, from high school diplomas to advanced graduate degrees.  And in 2011, men with bachelors’ degrees earned more than women with graduate degrees.
  • 60% of low-income women say they believe even if they made all the right choices, “the economy doesn’t work for someone like me.”
  • 76% of single mothers say if they could do it all over again, they would have gotten out of a bad relationship sooner.
  • 27% of fathers and 40% of low-income fathers don’t live with their children.



In her preface to the report, Neera Tanden reflects on her childhood:

Looking back, I know that whatever success I’ve achieved in life is thanks to my mother’s tenacity and her commitment to giving each of her children a better life. But I also know that she was able to do what she did because of a social safety net that allowed her to get back on her feet. She was lucky to live in a country that says just because you’re down, it doesn’t mean you’re out.

Some of the most effective ways to help women and families succeed include ensuring a living wage and repairing the social safety net. Because when women succeed, America succeeds.

About Holly

Holly Jensen is a writer and poet who has worked with nonprofits and businesses for over a decade. She also serves as editor of The Ghazal Page, an international literary journal.
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