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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.

City Takes Action to Address High Rates of Homelessness in New Orleans

2008 photo of the B.W. Cooper housing development in New Orleans. Photo by Jane Henrici.

By Nina Pasha

On November 29, the Associated Press reported that New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and the U.S. Department of Housing and Development (HUD) announced a new ten-year plan to address the major homeless problem in New Orleans. The plan includes establishing a New Orleans Interagency Council on Homelessness, opening a 24-7 homeless center in the Veterans Affairs Department hospital building, and adding 2,115 permanent beds for homeless individuals and 516 for families.

Public Housing Demolished, Leaving Homeless Vulnerable

A lack of affordable housing is one factor that may have increased the homeless population in New Orleans, which has one of the largest rates of homelessness in the country. As IWPR and others have reported, 4,500 units of traditional public housing in New Orleans were demolished in the years immediately following Katrina, despite being structurally-sound and while the city had a great need for homes.

Estimates released by UNITY of Greater New Orleans show there are 9,165 residents in Orleans and Jefferson parishes considered homeless by HUD’s definition. The number of homeless individuals has increased by 70 percent since prior to Hurricane Katrina. Similar to the national average, women make up roughly a third of the New Orleans area homeless.

Over half of homeless women in New Orleans live on the streets or in abandoned buildings, where they are at special risk of being assaulted or sexually attacked. In contrast to the national average, a greater proportion (9 percent) of those left homeless in the New Orleans area are over the age of 62—over four times the national average (2 percent).

IWPR Research on Status of Women Post-Katrina

IWPR has been publishing material on the impact of Hurricane Katrina on women’s housing, poverty status, and other related issues since the immediate aftermath of the 2005 storm and flooding. New reports to be released in early 2012 are based on in-depth and long-term qualitative research about women who were residents of New Orleans public housing prior to Hurricane Katrina and their lives in the years just after Katrina in the cities of Baton Rouge, Houston, and New Orleans.

I assisted with the research on women who were residents of New Orleans public housing prior to Hurricane Katrina for these reports. As a result, I read fascinating stories that illustrated the needs of many women and families following the disaster.

One participant explained her public housing unit had a sense of a community and it should not be demolished because everyone who lived there “didn’t have anything and if we had anything we’d been gotten out.” Another participant said public housing provided stability and confidence to those who could not afford to rent or buy housing.

The majority of residents who were renting units in public housing prior to Hurricane Katrina were low-income, single-parent, black women and their families. These populations were directly affected when the buildings were torn down. In fact, New Orleans’s homeless plan notes that many of families who are currently homeless are African American and lived in rental housing (public or commercial) prior to Hurricane Katrina. The city also spotlights the New Orleans Women’s Shelter as one of the participants in the new plan, acknowledging the specific needs of homeless women.

For more information on IWPR’s research on the status of women following Hurricane Katrina, please visit our website.

Nina Pasha is a Research Intern with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

After the Great Recession

By Heidi Hartmann

This post was originally published on the Women’s Media Center blog. The economic recovery has yet to begin for American women, according to two reports issued this week by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR). Here, acclaimed economist Heidi Hartmann, who co-authored the analyses, explains the disturbing findings.

Frequently referred to as a ‘mancession,’ the Great Recession of 2007 to 2009 hit men much harder than women initially. Men’s employment fell farther and faster than women’s, as the male dominated construction and manufacturing industries each lost more than a million jobs while the only industry that gained jobs every month was health care, one that employs more women than men.

The recovery period is however a different story.  In the past two plus years since the recession was officially declared over, women lost jobs while men regained some of the jobs they lost.  For women the recovery has not yet begun, and their economic worries have not abated.

It is almost as if women and men have had two different recessions and are now having two different recoveries. Case in point: 50 percent of women aged 18 to 34 report in a recent IWPR survey funded by the Rockefeller Foundation that they were unemployed and looking for work sometime in the past two years; the figure for men in the same age group is 24 percent.  Single moms report experiencing a month or more of unemployment in the past two years at roughly double the percentage of other parents:  42 percent of single moms compared with 21 percent for married dads and 26 percent for married moms.

Both women and men by the millions still report severe economic distress two years into recovery, but women have the worst of it:

  • Ten million women and six million men aged 18 and older report having gone hungry in the past year because they could not afford food.
  • Twelve million women and eight million men have gotten food stamp benefits in the past year.
  • Forty-one million women and 27 million men are currently having difficulty paying for other basics like utilities.

Among Americans lucky enough to have jobs, only 35 percent of single moms, compared with 58 percent of married dads, say they have enough personal savings to cover two months of earnings if they lost that job.  Not so surprising, since we know that single mothers are disproportionately poor—not only do they have multiple mouths to feed but they are typically doing so on their own, without an additional earner.  But here’s a surprise: married mothers report a level of personal financial security more like that of single moms than like that of their husbands: only 31 percent say they have enough savings to cover two months of earnings.

Married moms are just about as likely as single moms to say they are having trouble paying for health care for their families, at 38 percent for single moms and 34 percent for married moms.  But only 17 percent of married dads report they are having trouble paying for their family’s health care.

Looking at the future, both men and women worry about losing health care, not saving enough for retirement, and not having enough to maintain their standard of living in retirement, and both men and women report being substantially more worried about these issues in 2010 than they were in 2007, before the recession began.  But on virtually all types of worries and in both years, women are much more concerned than men. For one example, in 2010, 58 percent of women are worried about not having enough money to live on in retirement, and 43 percent of men are similarly worried.

Although the gender differences are striking, these numbers are shocking for both women and men: 43 percent of men worried about not having enough money to live on in retirement?  Sixteen million adults going hungry in the past year for lack of money? These numbers should simply not be so in the richest nation in the world.

Women’s greater expression of worry fits with so much of what is known about women’s lives.  In this survey, women report experiencing greater hardship across the board:  hunger, not filling medical prescriptions, skipping doctors’ visits, having to double up since the recession began for financial reasons (17 percent of women versus 11 percent of men).  According to Census Bureau data, the typical woman who works full-time, year-round earns only 77 percent of what the typical man earns for full-time work.  Women more often raise children on their own than men do.  Women live longer than men and when older are much more likely than men to live alone and much more likely to be poor.

For many reasons, women living without men in their households have a lower standard of living than married couples or single men. But the differences observed between the experiences of women and men even when they report living in the same type of household—married couples—raise a further concern. Researchers typically measure the well-being of family members by assuming all members of the family share all income equally. The survey results suggest men and women in families may have different access to family resources, or perhaps different family roles (who pays the bills, who takes the child to the doctor) that lead one gender to express more hardship—with women worrying more about not taking a child to the doctor for lack of money, not having savings to cover two months of lost income, not having enough money to live on in retirement. As the sociologist Jessie Bernard observed in 1972, there is his marriage and her marriage and they are not the same.

What do women want?  According to the survey:  jobs, jobs that make it easier to meet family demands, economic security, equal opportunity, workers’ rights, more generous Social Security benefits, and no cuts in either Social Security or Medicare.  The say they will support candidates who will work for legislation on these issues.  Men say the same, but not in quite as large numbers as women.

Dr. Heidi Hartmann is the President of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Addressing Concerns of Immigrant Women Helps Communities Nationwide

by Claudia Williams

In recent years, the United States has experienced one of the largest waves of immigration in its history. The immigrant population has almost doubled since the 1990’s and the number of undocumented female immigrants has increased significantly. Immigrant women also make up more than half of new legal immigrants arriving to the United States.

While many immigrant women come to the United States in search of better opportunities, they are often vulnerable to poverty and discrimination and face many barriers in their day to day life, making it harder for them to achieve economic security and to advance in their careers.

Public policies are fundamental to integrating immigrant women into U.S. society. The U.S. Congress,  however, has failed to pass comprehensive immigration reform to address the complex challenges our current immigration system creates. In the absence of reform at the national level, many states and localities have introduced and passed anti-immigrant legislation. This is particularly unfortunate for immigrant women, who besides sharing risks with their male counterparts also experience particular difficulties that are more common or unique to them.

IWPR recently released a study that identified some of the challenges Latina immigrants face, such as limited proficiency in English, disproportionate exposure to violence and harassment, and lower earnings and rates of educational attainment. Also, as caregivers, immigrant women are more affected than their male counterparts by the lack of affordable and reliable child care and reproductive health services.

IWPR’s research also found that constant fears of deportation and family separation have led many immigrant women to live in the shadows. Immigrant women may be working “under the table,” without having access to quality jobs and educational opportunities, mainly due to their immigration status. Resulting economic instability prevents immigrant women from contributing fully to our society—we lose valuable resources that could help our country move forward.

Advocacy and service organizations working on the ground with immigrants recognize that an overhaul of the current immigration system is needed. However, advocates and researchers also need to focus more on the concerns of immigrant women. In most policy discussions little or nothing is said about how certain policies (such as the DREAM Act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors), 287(g) and Comprehensive Immigration Reform) would specifically affect women. IWPR’s study found that the limited attention women’s issues receive is an important gap within the immigration grassroots and advocacy movement. Out of 280 organizations interviewed for the IWPR study, only eight advocated with a specific focus on the rights and needs of immigrant women.

A better understanding of women’s challenges and circumstances would represent an important step forward in filling this gap. Many of the issues directly affecting women also affect men and children, so addressing these challenges would be beneficial to the entire immigrant community.

Claudia Williams is a research analyst at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Putting the Pieces Together: How Social Security Supports Black Women

by Mallory Mpare

The longer Social Security remains on the table for cuts as part of a comprehensive debt reduction plan, the more nervous those close to the program should be. And with good reason. Social Security was conceived as a protection against the risks—such as disability or lack of employment at older ages –that might lead to poverty. It is meant to work in conjunction with other retirement plans or savings as a critical piece of a comprehensive economic security plan. In the aftermath of the Great Recession and in the midst of economic recovery—when unemployment is high (9.1 percent unemployment as of May 2011)— it seems an especially inopportune time to discuss actions which might make people even more vulnerable to the very circumstances Social Security protects against.

While Social Security has benefited men and women of all racial and ethnic backgrounds and income levels, the impact of proposed cuts to Social Security on women of color is particularly troubling. Black women experience higher rates of poverty, are concentrated in low-wage jobs, have fewer employee benefits, and are less likely to work in jobs covered by pensions. This combination of circumstances makes black women particularly vulnerable to economic insecurity at older ages.

Following a fact sheet on the importance of Social Security to Latinas, IWPR released a fact sheet that describes the critical role Social Security plays in the lives of many black women. To begin with, the Social Security benefits received by black women are modest. Black women over the age of 62 average $961 per month in benefits as retired workers. Still, Social Security is the most common source of income for black women aged 62 and older—received by 49 percent of black women aged 62–64, 83 percent aged 65–74, and 88 percent of black women 75 years and older. In fact, a solid majority of black women aged 75 and older rely on Social Security for at least four-fifths of their income.

What would happen to these women if Social Security disappeared? Simply put, without the income received from Social Security many more black woman would live in families or as individuals with incomes below the poverty threshold. If you think this is an exaggeration (as some must, considering the attacks on the program), think again. Even with the program as it stands today, more than one in four black women aged 75 and older lives with an income below the poverty threshold. Without Social Security benefits, six out of ten of these women would live in poverty. When we talk about Social Security beneficiaries, images of the elderly are easily brought to mind. However, 26 percent of black women who receive Social Security do so not by consequence of reaching retirement age, but because of disability. This contrasts to the 12 percent of white women and 14 percent of all adult women combined who receive Social Security benefits due to disability and not age. In other words, for disability benefits alone Social Security is especially important to black women.

It is hard to tell when attacks on Social Security will stop. One thing is for certain: the puzzle of economic security is incomplete without a strengthened Social Security program.

Mallory Mpare is the Communications Fellow with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Women and Immigration

http://www.iwpr.org/publications/pubs/organizations-working-with-latina-immigrants-resources-and-strategies-for-changeby Mallory Mpare

The U.S. has often been dubbed the “nation of immigrants” and this is no less true today.  However, the face of immigration has drastically changed while policies and practices have failed to adapt. There is a long history of immigrant men seeking opportunity in—well—the land of opportunity by working to provide for families, often left behind in their countries of origin.

No longer is this the singular scenario.

Immigrant women have increasingly sought to reunite their families while also seeking new employment and educational opportunities in the U.S. for themselves. Instead of being met with uplifting and economically empowering opportunities, these women experience disproportionately higher rates of domestic violence, on the job violence, employment discrimination, and sexual exploitation.

At an IWPR release event on March 25 at the Woodrow Wilson Center for the report, Organizations Working With Latina Immigrants: Resources and Strategies for Change, Sara Manzano-Díaz, Director of the Women’s Bureau, U.S. Department of Labor, noted that “comprehensive immigration reform is part of winning the future.” The report notes that, currently, nonprofit organizations and congregations play an integral role in advancing the rights and well being of immigrant families.

In the report, IWPR explored how nonprofits and congregations work with immigrant women, especially low-income Latinas, to better enable them to safely navigate through life in a new, and sometimes hostile, environment. The report notes that although these organizations serve as a vital resource to immigrant women, they face obstacles such as negative public dialogue, restrictive policies and an ever dwindling funding stream which hinder their ability to meet the full needs of immigrant women.

While increasing immigrant women’s access to resources is important, if immigrant women must seek out these resources in a hostile environment, their access will surely remain limited. Of the 280 groups in the study, 120 are involved in some type of advocacy, and seek change a social and political structure which—they feel—deny the rights of immigrant women. Immigrant rights— like women’s rights and human rights—are about preserving personal agency, and allowing space and resources for people to make decisions about their own lives and the lives of their families.

In her presentation at the Wilson Center, Cynthia Hess, Study Director and co-author of the report outlined the wide range of services that nonprofit organizations offer to immigrant women such as English classes, child care, health services, and access to affordable transportation. She noted that, in many cases, religious groups have stepped in to provide services when the government has not, and that a climate of fear—for both documented and undocumented immigrants—may prevent Latina immigrants from seeking services. Fear of being pulled over by the authorities can even lead immigrants to avoid driving.

Perhaps it is a coincidence that IWPR’s report was released on the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory tragedy. Many of the victims of that tragedy were working immigrant women and girls. In the days leading up to the Triangle factory tragedy, women organized around their concerns , protesting and forming unions to protect their interests.  However, one well-known factory, The Triangle, refused to recognize these unions and would face tragic consequences as a result.

IWPR’s report, Organizations Working with Latina Immigrants, also shows that there are consequences for ignoring the needs of immigrant women and the challenges they face in trying to earn a living in their adopted country.

Other speakers and panelists at the March 25 launch event included Sonya Michel, Director of the United States Studies program at the Wilson Center; Patricia Foxen, Associate Director of Research at the National Council of La Raza (NCLR); Pierluigi Mancini, Executive Director of CETPA (professional mental health counseling services for the Latino community); Jen Smyers, Associate for Immigration and Refugee Policy with Church World Service; Cecilia Menjívar, Cowden Distinguished Professor of Sociology at Arizona State University; Lydia Guzman, President of Somos America; and, Mary Odem, Associate Professor of Women’s Studies and History at Emory University. Speaking on behalf of IWPR were Heidi Hartmann, President, and co-authors of the report and Study Directors, Jane Henrici and Cynthia Hess.

Mallory Mpare is the Communications Fellow at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Gay Marriage a Boon to DC’s Economy

By Robert Drago

A year ago today, the District of Columbia legalized same-sex marriage, and according to the Washington Post, the number of marriages soared from 3,100 in the year prior to 6,600 in the year since.  According to a court representative, the number of marriages usually varies by less than 100 from one year to the next, suggesting the increase was mainly due to same-sex couples (the District does not track the gender of marriage partners). In fact, it is likely that the difference of 3,500 additional marriages understates the marriages of same-sex partners, because the national marriage rate has been falling, undoubtedly due to the economic insecurity experienced by millions of Americans in the last few years.

Although you might not know it from media coverage of national politics, the District is a shockingly poor city. A recent IWPR publication reported that the rate of poverty among all black women and girls in the District is 26 percent, and the rate for single mothers is 37 percent. This is a city that needs some help.

Gay marriage can be a boon to the local economy.  Assuming that in 2010, same-sex marriages in DC cost the same as the national average of  $24,000, then gay marriage generated $84 million dollars of additional consumer spending last year.

The Williams Institute has documented the economic benefits of same-sex marriage and civil unions in Colorado and elsewhere. These analyses suggest reasons why the $84 million figure might be overstated  (e.g., purchasing wedding attire or holding wedding receptions outside of the District), but far more reasons why it would be understated – particularly given the high cost of living in Washington DC, and additional spending when wedding guests come in from out of town and stay in hotels, eat in restaurants, and shop.

It might be a coincidence that over a similar time period, Washington, DC saw a net increase of 22,000 new jobs, and was one of only two states to enjoy a decline in the unemployment rate of two percent or more. Then again, maybe gay marriage created some desperately-needed jobs in the District.

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