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Revisiting the Poverty Rate: New Measure Shows Less Inequality

By Jacqui Logan

A recent IWPR fact sheet, “A Clearer View of Poverty: How the Supplemental Poverty Measure Changes Our Perceptions of Who is Living in Poverty” by Jocelyn Fischer, examines the recently developed Supplemental Poverty Measure. The new measure—created in response to concerns about the adequacy of the official federal poverty measure—uses both post-tax income and federal in-kind benefits to assess the resources of families and individuals. The most salient aspect of the new measure is a more accurate poverty threshold. Each year, the new measure will be released along with the official measure by the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

IWPR’s fact sheet compares the poverty situation in America as described by the new Supplemental Poverty Measure to that described by the official measure, which takes into account only cash resources when determining income. IWPR’s analysis found two quite different pictures of poverty according to the two measures.

The overall poverty rate is higher under the Supplemental Poverty Measure (15.9 percent poor) than it is under the official poverty measure (15.1 percent poor). Moreover, IWPR’s analysis shows there is less inequality in poverty between different demographic groups under the Supplemental Poverty Measure than under the official poverty measure.

While both men’s and women’s poverty rates are higher under the Supplemental Poverty Measure, men’s poverty rate (14.1 percent under the official poverty measure and 15.2 percent under the supplemental measure) rises numerically and proportionately much more than women’s poverty rate (16.3 percent under the official measure and 16.6 percent under the supplemental measure), thus decreasing inequality between men’s and women’s poverty rates.

Similarly, there is less inequality by race/ethnicity under the Supplemental Poverty Measure than under the official measure. Furthermore, when compared wtih the official measure, the supplemental measure indicates less inequality in poverty between persons of different age groups and between the married and the unmarried.

Overall, use of the Supplemental Poverty Measure reveals a higher rate of poverty in the United States and changes perceptions of whom we consider poor.

For more information on IWPR’s research on poverty and its impact on women and families, please visit our website.

Jacqui Logan was a Research Intern with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research during the summer semester.

New BLS Data Confirm Unequal Access to Paid Leave Among U.S. Workers

By Kevin Miller and Caroline Dobuzinskis

Today the Bureau of Labor Statistics released data from the American Time Use Survey (ATUS) on access to and use of paid leave by American workers. This is the first time the ATUS has included questions on leave-taking among American workers, with a module paid for by the Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau.

The findings from the 2011 Leave Module of the ATUS reveal that many American workers lack access to paid leave from their jobs, though access varies by worker and occupational characteristics. Overall, 59 percent of workers in the United States have access to paid leave; 4 in 10 American workers lack access to paid leave. This reflects IWPR research analysis that found that 44 million workers in the United States lack access to paid sick leave and that only 58 percent of private sector employees in the U.S. had access to paid sick days in 2010.

Overall, the newly released BLS data on leave access and use by American workers confirm large disparities in access to and use of leave, especially paid leave. Workers with lower wages, Hispanic workers, workers in poorer health, and workers in jobs that put them in direct contact with the public (e.g., sales or hospitality workers) are less likely to have access to leave from their jobs and are more likely to lose pay when they do take leave.

Findings Show Large Gaps in Access to Paid Leave Among U.S. Workers

Men and women have similar rates of access to paid leave, with 60 and 58 percent of male and female workers with access to paid leave, respectively. The reasons for taking leave tend to differ between gender, with more women tending to take leave for illness or medical treatment for themselves or a family member.

Based on educational levels, there are large disparities in access to paid leave. Workers with college degrees are far more likely (72 percent) to have access to paid leave than workers without a high school diploma (35 percent). The BLS data also show large gaps in access between Hispanic and other workers. Hispanic workers are less likely to have access to leave (43 percent) than are non-Hispanic workers (61 percent). White, black, and Asian workers have similar rates of access to paid leave (59, 61, and 62 percent respectively).

Among full-time workers, those in the top quartile of earnings are the most likely to have access to paid leave (83 percent have access), while those in the lowest quartile are less likely (50 percent have access). Seventy-nine percent of workers in the financial industry have access to paid leave, while only 25 percent of those in the leisure and hospitality industries—which include food service—have access to paid leave. Workers in the private sector are less likely to have access to paid leave (57 percent) than are workers in the public sector (76 percent).

Taking Time Off Can Mean Lost Wages for Many Workers

Though over half of workers have access to some kind of paid leave, and 90 percent have access to either paid or unpaid leave, in an average week only 21 percent of workers took leave (including either vacation or sick time) according to the BLS.

Women, who tend to have more caregiving duties for children and older relatives, were slightly more likely than men to take leave from their jobs during an average week (23 percent compared with 20 percent). Of women workers who took leave in an average week, 35 percent did so either to care for their own medical needs, for those of a family member or relative, or to provide elderly care or child care, compared with 25 percent of men who took leave for the same reasons.

Workers who characterized their health as fair or poor were somewhat less likely to take leave in an average week. But those who did were more likely to take unpaid leave compared with those who characterized their health as good. Sixty percent of workers in fair or poor health took unpaid leave, compared with 38 to 39 percent who characterized their health as good, very good, or excellent (most of whom took paid leave). IWPR’s analyses of the costs and benefits of paid sick days in several states and cities nationwide have found that access to paid sick days improves workers’ self-assessed health, reduces costly emergency department visits, and reduces health care costs to private and public insurers.

Reflecting the lack of access to paid leave in many service-oriented jobs, workers in management, business, and financial operations were much less likely to take unpaid leave compared with workers in service occupations (20 percent took unpaid leave compared with 66 percent). Of those workers in the leisure and hospitality industry who took leave in an average week, 86 percent took unpaid leave. Only 13 percent of workers in this industry took paid leave.

Mirroring the inequality in access to paid leave that exists across income levels, workers in the top quartile of earnings are twice as likely to have taken paid leave in an average week (82 percent) compared with workers in the lowest quartile of earnings (40 percent).

These new findings reaffirm the lack of equal access to paid leave that can leave many workers without economic or job security if an illness should arise for themselves or for a family member. Without access to paid leave, many workers simply cannot afford to take time off. Workers who are sometimes forced to work while ill tend to be those who are most likely to come into contact with the public and spread contagious illness. Women, often those caring for family members, tend to be disproportionately impacted because they are more likely to work in part-time jobs and tend to have lower earnings than men.

Visit IWPR’s website for more information on IWPR’s research on paid sick days and the impact on paid sick days legislation on workers and businesses.

Kevin Miller is a Senior Research Associate and Caroline Dobuzinskis is the Communications Manager with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Small Steps Forward in Job Gains, But Not Enough to Close Gender Gap

road signs for recession and recoveryBy Caroline Hopper

On Friday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released new data, showing 65,000 of the 120,000 jobs gained last month went to women. While I welcome this news, I would like to take a step back and examine the full picture before celebrating. The numbers also show that 339,000 women have dropped out of the labor market and the gender job gap remains at 1.5 million jobs.

During what has been an extended recovery from the recent economic crisis, men have gained a significantly larger  number of jobs than women. Since October of 2009, when men and women showed similar total job numbers, men have gained over 1.5 million more jobs than women, according to IWPR. In fact, just in the past year, women have filled only 30 percent of the 1.6 million jobs added to payrolls.

Women Abandoned Job Market

As a college student during final exams week, these statistics leave me deflated. It’s hard to stay motivated during sleepless nights in the library, working towards a degree and a profession, with these numbers looming over my head. The outlook for anyone to find a job after college is not good and for me, as a woman, it may be even worse. Once in the job market, women also face a gender wage gap that can cut deeply into their lifetime earnings—leaving them behind in their retirement years.

I’m not alone in this discouragement. According to BLS data, from October to November, 339,000 women stopped looking for work and dropped out of the labor market. Meanwhile, 23,000 men starting working or combing the classifieds for job postings. This could be a cause for some of the apparent improvement in unemployment rates (which fell for both women and men).

According to Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, those who have abandoned the job market recently might be teachers or other employees who have been laid off from the public sector. IWPR research found that at the local level, between December 2008 and July 2011, the number of women in public sector employment  decreased by 4.7 percent while the number of men  decreased by only 1.6 percent. The majority of employees in the local public sector are elementary and secondary teachers.

Balancing Act for Women Has Gotten More Difficult

Another factor leading to these departures from the job market is the difficulty for women with obligations to care for children or for elderly parents to find a job that will accommodate their needs in a poor economy. For a woman, it is now even harder to try to do it all, balancing family and career.

According to an IWPR/Rockefeller Foundation survey released in October, women are less willing to move or accept a longer commute for a new job (54 percent of women would accept an increase in commuting time compared with 64 percent of men). Single mothers are much more willing to learn a new skill (85 percent) than to accept a job with lower pay (51 percent) or have a longer commute to work (55 percent).

So, while women did gain more jobs than men this month, these numbers are only one frame of an economy that is leaving many women unemployed—and possibly facing the expiration of their unemployment benefits. And, while job opportunities increased proportionally for women last month, it is also crucial to note that job growth remained quite slow for all. After all, the recovery should not be a competition between men and women. Rather, I hope that the recovery may lift our entire nation.

Caroline Hopper is a Communications Intern at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

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