January is National Poverty in America Awareness Month. It’s probably no surprise to TroubleMakers that globally, most people living in poverty are women. In the United States of America, 70% of our nation’s poor are women and children.
Poverty means being without many things. It’s so much more than not having enough money. Most of all, a life lived in poverty is one without choices. All Together in Dignity/Fourth World describes the experience of poverty this way: “Poverty means being trapped in a run-down community that lacks resources, knowing that your children are not receiving the same quality education as others, having to swallow your pride when applying for a much-needed benefit or service, being told to be grateful for the little you do have, or being made to feel ashamed for needing any kind of support. For people who experience it, poverty means that you’re always under somebody’s thumb,’ disempowered by cultural norms and social systems.”
It would be wrong to minimize the complexity of poverty’s causes and remedies. But one fact is undeniable; from birth to death, women disproportionately experience poverty because sexism is built into our institutional structures. Patriarchy subjugates all women. Systemic gender biases limit educational and employment opportunities; even more so for women of color. Without adequate policies that support their real lives, women are too often segregated into lower-paying jobs, and less likely to earn a full-time salary, or to have stable benefits.
Because caregiving responsibilities usually fall on women, they are far more likely to lose work and sacrifice income to take care of a family member. Regardless of their marital status, women without paid sick leave are forced to relinquish their income during pregnancy and after giving birth. Then the lack of safe, reliable childcare can leave even a well-educated mother, who has valuable skills, without any viable employment options. Choices are non-existent for so many.
The social safety net in the U.S. is unrealistic and inadequate.
- Anti-poverty programs are too often insufficient or inaccessible to the people who need help the most. Applications for services may require a permanent address or a computer to submit documents. Public transportation isn’t reliable transportation for necessary interviews.
- Unemployment insurance leaves out more women than men because in most states it doesn’t cover low-wage or part-time workers who lose their jobs.
- More than half of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients exhaust their entire monthly benefit in just two weeks.
- Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) is estimated to reach only half of those eligible for the support. Outreach is nonexistent or ineffective in too many communities.
- Since 1976, the highly discriminatory Hyde Amendment has prohibited federal funds from covering abortion services for people enrolled in Medicaid, Medicare, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). It is no coincidence that women and girls make up the majority of Medicare recipients and are still being denied life-changing care.
- The most effective tax credits aimed at families, the Earned income tax credit (EITC) and child tax credit (CTC): and even Social Security – on which more women than men depend – are not enough because they’re all based on unrealistic cost-of-living estimates
Violence and abuse are undeniable contributing factors to the rate of poverty among women. Abusers often weaponise money to control and intimidate their victims. Survivors may need to miss work for medical care or to seek legal assistance. Domestic assault leaves victims economically vulnerable in addition to the physical and emotional damages they suffer. This can be a self-perpetuating cycle. Women in poorer households are 3.5 times more likely to suffer abuse and economic insecurity severely limits their ability to escape it.
The result of these and other social factors is that two-thirds of minimum wage earners and 70% of tipped workers are women. Because the gender wage gap compounds over a lifetime, women over 75 are nearly twice as likely to live in poverty as men in that age group.
The World Bank Organization describes poverty in this way: “Poverty is a call to action — for the poor and the wealthy alike — a call to change the world so that many more may have enough to eat, adequate shelter, access to education and health, protection from violence, and a voice in what happens in their communities.”
So, what needs to happen?
Policy solutions to address women’s poverty will need to combine a range of decent employment opportunities with a network of social services that support healthy families, such as quality health care, child care, and housing support.
According to americanprogress.org, “Ending women’s poverty and providing better economic opportunities for all women will require specific policy actions to ensure that:
- Women receive the pay they deserve and equal work conditions
- Women have access to higher-paying jobs
- Women in the workforce have access to affordable child and elder care, as well as quality flexible work and paid family leave
- Women receive the support they need through expanded tax credits to help meet the costs of raising their families
- Women receive the contraceptive services they need so that they can plan their families
- Women receive the support and protection they need to leave violent situations while maintaining job and housing stability”
Toward that end, in March of 2021, the Biden administration established the first-ever White House Gender Policy Counsel. The official Executive Order stated: “Advancing gender equity and equality is a matter of human rights, justice, and fairness. It is also a strategic imperative that reduces poverty and promotes economic growth, increases access to education, improves health outcomes, advances political stability, and fosters democracy. The full participation of all people — including women and girls — across all aspects of our society is essential to the economic well-being, health, and security of our Nation and of the world.”
In the year that followed, the administration established The National Strategy on Gender Equity and Equality. There’s little doubt, Trouble will have to be made to keep this initiative alive, and to ensure it is progressive, strategic, and truly impactful. We’re up for that. Are you?
Trouble welcomes 2023 with readiness to face the inevitable challenges it will bring; with hope for positive changes to come. We kick it off with enthusiasm, open-minded optimism, and renewed resolve to passionately continue supporting organizations that promote equity for women and girls. Trouble – as always – invites you to join our ranks!
Stay tuned for more insights and inspiration.
Share what you learn here with the TroubleMakers you know and love.
SPEAK UP – SPEAK OUT. THIS REALLY MATTERS.