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About Poverty

Around the world, women tend to be in poverty at greater rates than men. The United Nations reported in 1997 that 70 percent of 1.3 billion people in poverty worldwide are women, while American Community Survey data from 2013 tells us that 55.6 percent of the 45.3 million people living in poverty in the United States are women and girls. Women’s higher likelihood of living in poverty exists within every major racial and ethnic group within the U.S. Among people in poverty, 15.8 percent are young women of ages 18 to 34, compared to 11.8 percent of men in that age range. Older women are also much more likely than older men to live in poverty. IWPR has served as a resource on women’s poverty issues since its founding in 1987.


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    Latest Reports from IWPR

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    The Clinton Round: An Analysis of the Impact of Current Proposals to "Free" Single Mothers from Welfare Dependence
    by Roberta Spalter-Roth, Ph.D, and Heidi Hartmann, Ph.D (August 1994)

    Since its beginnings, there has been heated public debate about whether AFDC should be a relatively ungenerous stop-gap program, or an anti-poverty program specifically designed to meet the needs of families headed by single women. In the latest round of this debate, the growing rhetoric has emerged that AFDC should be a stop-gap program that emphasizes transitions to paid employment rather than "welfare dependency." Is this new round of welfare reform likely to enable more single mothers and their children to live above the poverty level, or will it be another failed attempt to address a problem constructed by political rhetoric? The purpose of this paper to examine the likelihood that current proposals will aid AFDC recipients to bring their families out of poverty. The estimates and analysis are based on the actual income sources and job characteristics of a nationally representative sample of AFDC recipients generated from the 1984-1988 panels of the US Bureau of the Census' Survey of Income and Program Participation. The findings suggest that unless changes are enacted in the low-wage labor market, or income supplementation policies are designed that specifically address the family care needs of these women, many could wind up worse after a transition to work that "frees" them from dependence on welfare. We conclude by suggesting policy strategies that could successfully alter the circumstances of poor single mothers and bring them and their families out of poverty.

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    Few Welfare Moms Fit the Stereotypes
    by Jill Braustein (August 1994)

    In contrast to stereotypes of pathological dependency on public assistance, single mothers participating in the AFDC program actually "package" income from several different sources, including paid employment, means- and non-means tested welfare benefits, and income from other family members, to provide for themselves and their children. These patterns are described in a new Institute for Women's Policy Research (IWPR) study, "Welfare that Works," based on a nationally-representative sample of single welfare mothers generated from the US Bureau of the Census' Survey of Income and Program Participation. The study presents a complex portrait of women who participate in the AFDC program.


    Women's Health Insurance Costs and Experiences
    by Women's Research and Education Institute (June 1994)

    This report is part of the Join Project on Women's Health Care Policy Research of the Women's Research and Education Institute and the Institute for Women's Policy Research. The project was funded by the Kaiser Family Foundation, as part of the Kaiser Health Reform Project. This report focuses on health insurance coverage and expenditures for reproductive and preventive services among women of childbearing age (age 15 to 44). It provides the latest and most comprehensive measures of' the adequacy of women's health insurance coverage for all health care services and for reproductive and preventive health services in particular. Measurements of the adequacy of health insurance coverage used in this report include: 1) the percent of total expenditures covered by health insurance; 2) the level of out-of-pocket expenditures; and 3) out-of-pocket expenditures in relation to income.

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    Micro-Enterprise and Women: The Viability of Self-Employment as a Strategy for Alleviating Poverty
    by Enrique Soto, Lily Zandniapour and Jill Braunstein (June 1994)

    Supporters of micro-enterprise argue that self-employment is a strategy that can improve the economic well-being of low-income families and promote economic development in poverty stricken urban areas. IWPR's study "Micro-Enterprise and Women" investigates self-employment and micro-enterprise as strategies to enhance the income package of women receiving Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) as well as other low-income women.

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    Micro-enterprise and women: The Viability of Self-Employment as a Strategy for Alleviating Poverty
    by Roberta Spalter-Roth, Enrique Soto, and Lily Zandniapour (May 1994)

    In this study, IWPR assesses the factors that result in successful use of micro-enterprise as part of the income-package of AFDC recipients and other low-income women.

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    Income Insecurity: The Failure of Unemployment Insurance to Reach Out to Working AFDC Mothers
    by Roberta Spalter-Roth, Heidi Hartmann, and Beverly Burr (March 1994)

    Unemployment Insurance (UI) was designed as a program to benefit full-time, full-year workers, usually with male bodies, facing periods of temporary layoff. In many states receipt of benefits requires relatively high prior earnings and involuntary reasons for job loss (with interruptions due to childbirth or family responsibilities usually disqualified as "voluntary quits"). Because female heads of households tend to have less continuity of employment than do male heads of families, they are twice as likely to face unemployment without UI benefits. If Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), the primary income support program for impoverished single mothers and their children, becomes a time-limited program that promotes employment in the low-wage labor market, can UI serve as an effective substitute for AFDC, providing income security during periods of unemployment and non-employment?

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    Women and Welfare Reform: Women's Poverty, Women's Opportunities, and Women's Welfare Conference Proceedings
    by Gwendolyn Mink (March 1994)

    Transcript of presentations and discussions at a conference sponsored by IWPR, chaired by the late Congresswoman Patsy Mink, and co-chaired by Congresswomen Lynn Woolsey and Maxine Waters and Congressman Ed Pastor. Held in Washington, DC, in October 1993. Topics include welfare myths and women's lives, welfare reform proposals, women's employment opportunities, and alternatives to welfare. Pwerful and timeless analysis by feminist scholars such as Mimi Abramovitz, Richard Cloward, Lynne Burbridge, Martha Davis, and Linda Gordon. Available by mail in limited quantities. E-mail iwpr [at] iwpr [dot] org to place an order.

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    Making Work Pay: The Real Employment Opportunities of Single Mothers Participating in the AFDC Program
    by Roberta Spalter-Roth, PH.D (February 1994)

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    AFDC Recipients as Caregivers and Workers: A Feminist Approach to Income Security Policy for Women
    by Roberta Spalter-Roth, Ph.D, and Heidi Hartmann, Ph.D (January 1994)

    This article examines whether current proposals that "reward work over welfare" by continuing the shift in AFDC from a program that subsidizes the private, familial caregiving activities of impoverished mothers to a program that subsidizes their low-wage employment will aid AFDC recipients in bringing their families out of poverty. The research presented here, based on the US Bureau of the Census' Survey of Income and Program Participation, shows that the kind of intermittent jobs that AFDC recipients are likely to obtain do not provide the earnings necessary to keep their families out of poverty, without additional income support. The research further suggests that because the Earned Income Tax Credit, the major program to supplement wages, most benefits full-time, full-year workers and does not take into account women's caregiving activities and their family-related work absences, most recipients will not be better off as a result of welfare reform proposals. Alternative income support programs, such as expanded Unemployment Insurance and Temporary Disability Insurance, that provide for all the sources of earning losses common to single mothers will be needed to bring families out of poverty, if AFDC benefits become time-limited. Additional strategies such as reforming the low-wage labor market, including its race and gender bias, and augmenting AFDC are also suggested. These policies, taken together, can benefit AFDC recipients (and other low-wage working mothers) as both workers and as caregivers.

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    Dependence on Men, the Market, or the State: The Rhetoric and Reality of Welfare Reform
    by Roberta Spalter-Roth, Ph.D, and Heidi Hartmann, Ph.D (November 1993)

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    The Real Employment Opportunities of Women Participating in AFDC: What the Market Can Prove
    by Heidi Hartmann and Roberta Spalter-Roth (October 1993)

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    Supporting Work: The Relation Between Employment Opportunities and Financial and Other Support Programs
    by Roberta Spalter-Roth, Beverly Burr (August 1993)

    Testimony before the Working Group on Welfare Reform, Family Support and Independence. Describes employment patterns of single mothers with a history of AFDC receipt. Argues that to implement a time-limited welfare reform plan, eligibility and benefit levels for the Earned Income Tax Credit and Unemployment Insurance must be expanded.

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    What is Temporary Disability Insurance?
    by Stephanie Aaronson (May 1993)

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    Combinando El Trabajo Y La Asistencia Social: Una Estrategia Alterna Para Combatir La Pobreza
    by Roberta Spalter-Roth, Heidi Hartmann, and Linda Andrews (November 1992)

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    Combining Work and Welfare: An Alternative Anti-Poverty Strategy
    by Roberta Spalter-Roth, Heidi Hartmann, and Linda Andrews (November 1992)

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    Combining Work and Welfare: An Alternative Anti-Poverty Strategy
    by Roberta Spalter-Roth, Heidi Hartmann, and Linda Andrews (May 1992)

    #D406, Report, 44 pages

    Improving Employment Opportunities for Women Workers: An Assessment of the Ten Year Economic and Legal Impact of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978
    by (September 1990)

    Issues of rights or equity for working women (and men) promise to continue to be as hotly contested in the 1990s as these issues were in the 1970s and 1980s. Organizations representing women workers have been active over the last two decades in seeking policies that address equity issues for working women along with more traditional demands for better wages and benefits. The context for these issues is the increasing number of women in responsibilities for earning wages while simultaneously bearing or caring for children and other family members.

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    Unnecessary Losses: Costs to Americans in the States of the Lack of Family and Medical Leave
    by (August 1989)

    Despite widespread agreement that employment policies should be responsive to the needs of working families, Congress is currently engaged in debate about a national leave policy that would require minimum protections against job loss because of family and medical needs. The proposed policy would provide protections against job loss if a worker takes a short, unpaid leave for the birth or adoption of a child, the care of a seriously ill child or parent, or the worker's own illness. Although some businesses object the the cost of a national policy, the cost to workers, and to society at large, of not having such a policy is often overlooked.


    Feminization of Poverty: A Second Look
    by (August 1989)

    From the poor widow of Biblical times to the divorced mother of today, women have always experienced a disproportionate share of poverty. But in the United States in the nineteen-sixties and seventies that share appeared to be increasing in a trend known as the 'feminization of poverty' (Pearce, 1978.) Events in the nineteen-eighties, however, raise the possibility that the feminization of poverty trend has either reversed itself, or that it has been overwhelmed: unemployment, homelessness, and poverty have increased in this decade, for men as well as women, to a degree not seen since the Depression. Popular aricles on poverty in the nineteen-eigthies focus on plant closings, displaced workers, competitiveness, budget deficits, trade imbalances... and the "New Poor." The "New Poor" are not women, or even children, but are archetypically the 47 year-old Pittsburgh steelworker, more of less permanently laid-off.

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    Mothers, Children, and Low-Wage Work: The Ability to Earn a Family Wage
    by Roberta Spalter-Roth, Heidi Hartmann, and Linda Andrews (August 1989)

    #D403, Book Chapter, 12 pages
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