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Women's Poverty Rate Stabilizes, Remains Historically High

Analysis of New 2011 Census Poverty Data

NWLC’s detailed gender analysis of U.S. Census poverty data released on September 12, 2012 found that poverty rates among women, like poverty rates overall, stabilized last year after three years of significant increases, but remained at historically high levels and substantially above the poverty rates for men. 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. The wage gap was unchanged in 2011, with women working full time, year round earning 77 cents to every dollar paid to their male counterparts.

For more information, see National Snapshot: Poverty Among Women & Families, 2011, and the full report, Insecure and Unequal: Poverty and Income Among Women and Families, 2000-2011.

Data in Detail

Poverty among Women and Families

  • The poverty rate among women was 14.6 percent in 2011, statistically unchanged from 14.5 percent in 2010, but still the highest rate in 18 years. Men’s poverty rate was lower, at 10.9 percent in 2011, statistically unchanged from 11.2 percent in 2010. 
  • 17.7 million women were living in poverty in 2011.
  • The poverty rate for black women was 25.9 percent in 2011, statistically unchanged from 25.6 percent in 2010.
  • The poverty rate for Hispanic women dropped significantly to 23.9 percent in 2011 from 25.0 percent in 2010.
  • Among women who head families, 4 in 10 (40.9 percent) lived in poverty in 2011, statistically unchanged from 40.7 percent in 2010.
  • The child poverty rate was 21.9 percent in 2011, statistically unchanged from 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 significantly to 18.4 percent in 2011 from 17.0 percent in 2010.

Impact of Income Support Programs on Poverty

  • 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.

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.

Health Insurance

The number of women under age 65 without health insurance decreased by a small percentage. NWLC’s analysis shows that:

  • For women ages 18 to 64:
    • The rate of women without health insurance declined slightly, to 19.6 percent in 2011 from 19.9 percent in 2010.
    • A total of 19.2 million women were uninsured in 2011, a decrease of 219,000 women from 2010.
    • Nearly one in five women did not have health 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, a decrease of 287,000 women.
    • The percentage of women covered by Medicaid rose slightly to 12.3 percent in 2011 from 11.6 percent in 2010, an increase of 760,000 women.
  • The percentage of uninsured children decreased slightly to 9.4 percent in 2011 from 9.8 percent in 2010, while the percentage of children covered by Medicaid increased from 34.8 percent to 35.6 percent, an increase of 487,000 children.
  • For young women between 18-26, the uninsured rate decreased from 25.7 percent in 2010 to 24 percent in 2011.