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Women’s Poverty Rate Stabilizes, But Remains Historically High

Young women make gains in health coverage due to ACA, wage gap unchanged

September 12, 2012

(Washington, D.C.) The poverty rate for women, like poverty rates overall, stabilized last year after three years of increases, but remained at a historically high level and substantially above the poverty rate for men, according to an analysis of U.S. Census data released today by the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC).  The poverty rate for women was 14.6 percent in 2011—and nearly 18 million women lived in poverty in 2011. 

“Today’s numbers show that millions of women and children live on the edge of a fiscal cliff: more than one in seven women live in poverty and over half of all poor children are in families headed by women,” said Joan Entmacher, NWLC Vice President of Family Economic Security.  “For them, these statistics aren’t just numbers on a page.  Every day, parents are forced to choose between rent and utilities, food and medicine.  Meanwhile, Congress is about to choose between protecting programs for struggling families or expanding tax cuts for millionaires. For anyone who cares about Americans living on the edge, that choice should be easy.”

The changes in poverty rates for women overall and for most subgroups of women between 2010 and 2011 were statistically insignificant.  However, there was a statistically significant drop in poverty among Hispanic women and a statistically significant increase in the poverty rate for women 65 and older living alone.

Poverty among Women and Families

•    The poverty rate for women was 14.6 percent in 2011, compared to 14.5 percent in 2010, the highest rate in 18 years. Men’s poverty rate was lower, at 10.9 percent in 2011, compared to 11.2 percent in 2010. 

•    17.7 million women were living in poverty in 2011.
•    The poverty rate for Hispanic women dropped to 23.9 percent in 2011 from 25.0 percent in 2010.

•    The poverty rate for black women was 25.9 percent in 2011, compared to 25.6 percent in 2010.

•    Among women who head families, 4 in 10 (40.9 percent) lived in poverty in 2011, compared to 40.7 percent in 2010.

•    The child poverty rate was 21.9 percent in 2011, compared to 22.0 percent in 2010.  More than half (58.0 percent) of poor children lived in female-headed families in 2011.

•    The poverty rate for women 65 and older was 10.7 in 2011, unchanged from 2010.  However, the poverty rate for elderly women living alone increased to 18.4 percent in 2011 from 17.0 percent in 2010.

Impact of Income Support Programs on Poverty

The data also show that income supports such as Social Security, unemployment insurance, the Earned Income Tax Credit and Food Stamps/SNAP benefits kept millions of Americans out of poverty last year.

•    Social Security kept 21.4 million people out of poverty including 1.1 million children, and unemployment insurance benefits kept 2.3 million Americans including 600,000 children out of poverty. If the Earned Income Tax Credit were counted as income under the official poverty measure, an additional 5.7 million Americans, including 3.1 million children, would be above the poverty line; if SNAP/Food Stamp benefits were counted as income, an additional 3.9 million Americans, including 1.7 million children, would be above the poverty line.

Health Insurance

The overall number of children and women (aged 18-64) covered by health insurance increased in 2011:

•    For women ages 18 to 64:

o    Overall, an additional 219,000 women had health care coverage in 2011. The rate of women without health insurance declined to 19.6 percent in 2011 from 19.9 percent in 2010.

o    An additional 760,000 women were covered by Medicaid in 2011, with the percentage of Medicaid coverage rising to 12.3 percent from 11.6 percent in 2010.

o    287,000 women lost employer-sponsored insurance in 2011. The percentage of women with employer-sponsored health insurance declined to 59.8 percent in 2011 from 60.4 percent in 2010.

•    For young women ages 19-25, an additional 210,000 had health care coverage in 2011. The uninsured rate for young women decreased from 27.1 percent in 2010 to 25.1 percent in 2011.

•    An additional 306,000 children had health care coverage in 2011. The percentage of uninsured children decreased to 9.4 percent in 2011 from 9.8 percent in 2010. 487,000 more children were covered by Medicaid in 2011, increasing to 35.6 percent in 2011 from 34.8 percent in 2010.

“That 210,000 young women gained coverage in 2011 is an example of the power of the Affordable Care Act to improve health care affordability and expand coverage,” said Judy Waxman, NWLC Vice President of Health and Reproductive Rights. “Thanks to the health care law, young women and men who might otherwise be uninsured today are benefitting from a new opportunity to remain on their family’s coverage until age 26. For many young adults struggling to launch their careers or working in a job that doesn’t provide insurance, knowing their health care needs are covered brings real peace of mind.

“Once the ACA is fully implemented in 2014, millions more will enjoy meaningful and affordable access to health care,’ Waxman said.  As today’s data demonstrate, the ACA is key to expanding access to health care and reducing the number of uninsured women and families. The 760,000 women newly covered by Medicaid are a testament to its importance and how much women could benefit from the program’s expansion in 2014. This is not the time for governors to turn down Medicaid expansion dollars that will provide health care coverage for vulnerable people in their state. We must not turn back now.”

Wage Gap:

•    Women working full time year round continued to be paid only 77 cents for every dollar paid to their male counterparts, unchanged from 2010.

•    Black women working full time year round were paid only 64 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men.

•    Hispanic women working full time year-round were paid only 55 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men.

“Today’s confirmation that the wage gap has budged not one penny over the last decade reinforces that far more work needs to be done,” said Fatima Goss Graves, NWLC Vice President of Education and Employment.  “The wage gap has practical implications for millions of families.  A wage gap of 23 cents translates to more than $11,000 in lost wages annually. Just over 40 percent of mothers are their families’ primary breadwinners, and they need a full and fair income to support their households. Congress has a responsibility to address an inequity that discriminates against half the population and should immediately enact the Paycheck Fairness Act to finally move the needle on this economic imperative.”

NWLC will continue to update its analysis here: http://www.nwlc.org/povertydata

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