New Census Figures on Poverty Paint a Bleak Picture for Women

The U.S. Census Bureau released new statistics on poverty last week, revealing a dismal picture for women and families across the country. The number of people living in poverty increased from 39.8 million in 2008 to 43.6 million in 2009 – in real terms, that means that one out of every seven Americans is living in poverty. The full report can be accessed here [PDF].

Of all types of households, the ones headed by women claim the lowest median earnings: the 20.6 million single women not living with family members have a median income of $25,269, while the 14.5 million families headed by women have a median income of $32,597.

Contrast those figures with the median incomes for single male households ($36,611), families with a single male householder ($48,084), and married-couple households ($71,830).

For single women raising children, the picture is even bleaker: 29.9% of female-headed households live below the federal poverty line. By contrast, 11.1% of all families are in poverty, and for married-couple families, that percentage drops to 5.8%.

The gender wage gap didn’t significantly change last year:

Both men and women, 15 years old and over, who worked full-time, year-round experienced increases in real median earnings between 2008 and 2009. The median earnings of men increased 2.0 percent, from $46,191 to $47,127; and the earnings of women increased by 1.9 percent, from $35,609 to $36,278. In 2009, the female-to-male earnings ratio was 0.77, not statistically different from the 2008 ratio.

Breakdowns by state and county will be available later this year. In 2008, 12.1% of Pennsylvanians lived below the poverty line.

These figures are depressing, but not hopeless. There are several things you can do to show your support for equal pay and giving single mothers the help they need to get out of poverty:

  • Let your elected officials know that you support the Paycheck Fairness Act. The PFA would strengthen the Equal Pay Act and proposes voluntary guidelines for employers to follow in evaluating jobs and eliminating sex-based pay disparities for the same work.
  • Tell Congress that the safety net is failing women and families. This report [PDF] from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research describes the many ways that the systems set up to help people in need are failing women and children. The U.S. Senate Finance Committee is holding a hearing on September 21 on “Welfare Reform: A New Conversation on Women and Poverty.” You can submit written comments here.
  • If you’re in Pennsylvania, you can urge our gubernatorial candidates to pledge to raise cash assistance levels in their budget proposals to the state legislature. Contact Republican Tom Corbett here and email Democrat Dan Onorato here.

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The Women's Law Project creates a more just and equitable society by advancing the rights and status of all women throughout their lives. To this end, we engage in high-impact litigation, advocacy, and education.
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