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NWLC Analysis of New Census Data Shows Record Numbers of Women in Poverty, Without Health Insurance

September 13, 2011

(Washington, D.C.) Record numbers of women lived in poverty – and extreme poverty – in 2010, according to an analysis of Census data released today by the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC). The poverty rate among women climbed to 14.5 percent in 2010 from 13.9 percent in 2009, the highest in 17 years. The extreme poverty rate among women climbed to 6.3 percent in 2010 from 5.9 percent in 2009, the highest rate ever recorded. Over 17 million women lived in poverty in 2010, including more than 7.5 million in extreme poverty; extreme poverty means income below half the federal poverty line.

 In addition, the percentage of women under 65 without health insurance increased from 19.2 percent in 2009 to 19.7 percent in 2010, the highest rate recorded in more than a decade. Over 19 million women younger than 65 were without health care coverage in 2010.

 “Behind today’s grim statistics are real people who are finding it harder than ever to keep a roof over their heads, feed their families, get the health care they need and give their children a chance at a better life,” said Joan Entmacher, NWLC Vice President for Family Economic Security.

 “The record numbers of women and families living in extreme poverty and without health insurance should send an urgent wake-up call to Congress to tackle the immediate deficit facing this nation – the lack of jobs – by acting swiftly on President Obama’s job creation proposals and passing a robust package that will put millions of American women and men back to work.”

 Poverty among Women and Families

  • The poverty rate among women climbed to 14.5 percent in 2010 from 13.9 percent in 2009, the highest rate in 17 years.
  • Extreme poverty among women climbed to 6.3 percent in 2010 from 5.9 percent in 2009, the highest rate since this was first measured 22 years ago.
  • 17.2 million women were living in poverty in 2010, 0.8 million more than in 2009; 7.5 million women were living in extreme poverty, 0.5 million more than in 2009.
  • The poverty rate for Hispanic and black women rose even more than the poverty rate for women generally – for Hispanic women to 25.0 percent in 2010 from 23.8 percent in 2009 and for black women to 25.6 percent in 2010 from 24.6 percent in 2009.
  • Among women who head families, 4 in 10 (40.7 percent) lived in poverty (up from 38.5 percent in 2009).
  • The child poverty rate, already high at 20.7 percent in 2009, jumped to 22.0 percent last year. More than half of poor children lived in female-headed families in 2010.

Health Insurance

The number of women under age 65 without health insurance continued its steady increase. NWLC’s analysis shows that for women ages 18 to 64:

  • The rate of women without health insurance rose to 19.7 percent in 2010 from 19.2 percent in 2009, the highest rate in more than a decade.
  • A total of 19 million women were uninsured in 2010, an increase of more than 0.5 million women from the previous year.
  • Nearly one in five women did not have health insurance in 2010.
  • The percentage of women with employer-sponsored health insurance declined to 60.6 percent in 2010 from 61.7 percent in 2009, a decrease of over 0.6 million women.
  • The percentage of women covered by Medicaid declined slightly to 11.5 percent in 2010 from 11.7 percent in 2009.

“These grim numbers underscore how critical it is for all women and their families to have access to meaningful and affordable health care, regardless of where or whether they work,” said Judy Waxman, NWLC Vice President of Health and Reproductive Rights. “Congress should not consider any cuts to Medicaid, which can cushion the loss of employer-paid health insurance.

“The Affordable Care Act is key to expanding access to health insurance and reducing the number of uninsured women and families,” said Waxman, who cited estimates from the Congressional Budget Office that by 2019, 32 million people – including 17 million women – will have secured health insurance coverage as a result of the new health care law.”

Wage Gap

  • Women working full-time year-round continued to be paid only 77 cents for every dollar paid to their male counterparts.

“The wage gap, which has been stuck at 77 cents for the last three years, has been virtually stagnant over the last decade and means an average of more than $10,000 in lost wages for women each year,” said Fatima Goss Graves, NWLC Vice President of Education and Employment. “Nearly 40 percent of mothers are primary breadwinners today. In these difficult times, no family can afford women’s salaries to be discounted. Closing the wage gap is an economic imperative.”

Entmacher added that “To reverse today’s bleak picture, Congress must act quickly to help women and men go back to work. It must reject calls for further cuts to programs vital to vulnerable women and families and instead ensure that millionaires and corporations – who so far haven’t contributed a penny to deficit reduction – pay their fair share of taxes. That’s the best way to rebuild an economy that works for everyone.”

A more in-depth analysis of the 2010 Census data will be available later this week at http://www.nwlc.org/povertydata.

Maria Patrick (mpatrick@nwlc.org) or 202-588-5180
Andrea Maruniak (amaruniak@nwlc.org) or 202-588-5180

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