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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

    2010 Portrait of Women & Girls in the Washington Metropolitan Area
    by Barbara Gault, Ph.D. and Layla Moughari (September 2010)

    (Produced by Washington Area Women’s Foundation, Urban Institute, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, Trinity University, the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital) In 2003, Washington Area Women’s Foundation released A Portrait of Women & Girls in the Washington Metropolitan Area, with the goal of presenting a clear picture of the lives of women and girls in the region—the District of Columbia, Prince George’s and Montgomery Counties in Maryland, Arlington and Fairfax Counties in Virginia, and the City of Alexandria, Virginia—that could be used as a basis for action.


    Women in New Orleans: Race, Poverty, and Hurricane Katrina
    by Allison Suppan Helmuth and Jane M. Henrici, Ph.D. (August 2010)

    IWPR analysis of American Community Survey (ACS) and U.S. Census Bureau data1 reveals that after Hurricane Katrina and the evacuation of New Orleans in August 2005, the city’s demographics have changed with respect to race and economic status among women.


    Women, Disasters, and Hurricane Katrina
    by Jane M. Henrici, Ph.D., Allison Suppan Helmuth, and Jackie Braun (August 2010)

    Major disasters during the last decade have pushed planners and researchers to examine more closely the disparities among those hurt when crises hit. Research suggests that women often suffer disproportionately in comparison to most men when disaster strikes, while the elderly, and people in poverty, are more vulnerable than those with more mobility and those with greater access to resources. According to reports addressing disasters occurring outside of the United States, 1.5 times as many women as men died during the 1995 Kobe earthquake, and three times as many women as men died from the 2004 Asian tsunami; age and income level were contributing factors.


    Mounting Losses: Women and Public Housing After Hurricane Katrina
    by Jane M. Henrici, Ph.D., Allison Suppan Helmuth, and Rhea Fernandes (August 2010)

    New Orleans public housing apartments five years ago were home to thousands of families. The residents held jobs, attended schools, and participated in New Orleans culture and its communities over the decades the developments stood. When the city’s levees ruptured and the brick apartments flooded, residents fled and found shelter in other towns and cities. The disaster emptied New Orleans and destroyed much of its housing. Five years later, market rates for renting private apartments have risen, nearly all of the old public apartments have been removed while the new remain under construction, and former residents of public housing are still displaced. For public housing tenants, most of whom were low-income African American women and their families, housing support in New Orleans has been transformed.


    Women in Poverty during the Great Recession
    by Jane M. Henrici, Ph.D., Allison Suppan Helmuth, Frances Zlotnick, and Jeff Hayes, Ph.D. (July 2010)

    #D493, Briefing Paper,

    Costs And Benefits Of In-Home Supportive Services For The Elderly And Persons With Disabilities: A California Case Study
    by Candace Howes, Ph.D. (May 2010)

    This Briefing Paper summarizes the conclusions of the California Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) report from January 2010, which argued that IHSS is just barely cost effective to the state, and shows that some of the LAO’s assumptions are unrealistic. It presents a more realistic set of assumptions and then re‐estimates the relative benefits of the IHSS program. Finally, it considers the savings to the state if, instead of cutting or part of the IHSS program, the state transitioned one‐third of nursing home residents back into the community.

    #E512, Briefing Paper, 18 pages

    The Female Face of Poverty and Economic Insecurity: The Impact of the Recession on Women in Pennsylvania and Pittsburgh MSA
    by Ariane Hegewisch, Claudia Williams (January 2010)

    #R345, Briefing Paper, 6 pages

    Unemployment Among Single Mother Families
    by Ashley English, Heidi Hartmann, Ph.D., Ariane Hegewisch (August 2009)

    Women who maintain families without a spouse present are almost twice as likely as married men to be unemployed, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for August 2009. One of every eight women (12.2 percent) who are the sole breadwinners in their families is unemployed compared with one of every sixteen married men.

    #C369, fact sheet, 4 pages

    Women at Greater Risk of Economic Insecurity: A Gender Analysis of the Rockefeller Foundation’s American Worker Survey
    by Vicky Lovell, Ph.D., Heidi Hartmann, Ph.D., Claudia Williams (April 2008)

    In February 2007, at the request of the Rockefeller Foundation, the consulting firm Yankelovich fielded a survey to explore Americans’ sense of economic insecurity. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research analyzed the survey data to explore impacts based on gender, racial and ethnic identity, education, employment status, and other important demographic characteristics. This report highlights IWPR’s findings.

    #D482, report, 27 pages

    Women in the Wake of the Storm: Examining the Post-Katrina Realities of the Women of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast (Executive Summary)
    by Avis Jones-DeWeever, Ph.D. (April 2008)


    Women in the Wake of the Storm: Examining the Post-Katrina Realities of the Women of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast
    by Avis Jones-DeWeever, Ph.D. (April 2008)

    This report puts to paper the perspectives of women gathered through a series of semi-structured one-on-one and small group interviews with thirty-eight women in New Orleans and Slidell, Louisiana as well as in Biloxi and Gulfport, Mississippi. The women included in this study ranged in age from 19 to 66 and are of diverse racial/ethnic backgrounds, including Black, White, Creole, and Latina. Each woman contributed to their communities as volunteers, activists, community organizers, or professionals engaged in public service careers. Many, but not all, were involved with organizations that focused specifically on issues of concern to women. Each sought, in some way, not just to meet immediate needs in the communities where they work, but also to address the long-standing pre-Katrina structures of advantage and disadvantage that ultimately exacerbated the tragedy of the storm’s aftermath.

    #D481, Report, 36 pages

    Resilient and Reaching for More: Challenges and Benefits of Higher Education for Welfare Participants and Their Children
    by Avis A. Jones-DeWeever, PhD and Barbara Gault, PhD (February 2008)


    From Work to Retirement: Tracking Changes in Women's Poverty Status
    by Sunhwa Lee, Ph.D., and Lois Shaw, Ph.D. (January 2008)

    Preview not available

    The Unemployment Insurance Modernization Act
    by (September 2007)

    I am Dr. Vicky Lovell, Director of Employment and Work/Life Programs at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR). I hold a Ph.D. in Public Policy and Administration from Portland State University and have been employed at the Institute for eight years. In that time, I have written or co-authored several research reports on Unemployment Insurance (UI), including comprehensive analyses of UI systems in Georgia and Florida and historical reviews of women’s experiences of the UI system. Other IWPR staff have completed research projects on UI that have fundamentally altered our understanding of the importance of this program for women, and especially low-wage women, and highlighted inequities in the program that leave working women at a disadvantage.


    Keeping Moms on the Job: The Impacts of Health Insurance and Child Care on Job Retention and Mobility among Low-Income Mothers
    by Sunhwa Lee, PhD (January 2007)

    Since the 1996 welfare reform legislation, government support programs for low-income families have emphasized “work-first” strategies, viewing employment as the primary route to self-sufficiency. The employment situations of welfare leavers and other low-wage workers, however, show considerable instability. Most welfare leavers, for instance, find jobs, but many lose their jobs fairly quickly and experience a substantial period of unemployment before finding another job. While job changes can lead to improved earnings for some workers, this does not seem to be the case for most low-skilled workers or former welfare recipients. For these workers, job retention is crucial for accumulating work experience and improving earnings over time. Yet, for many low-wage workers or welfare leavers who are single mothers facing the dual responsibilities of work and family, sustaining employment and earning a living wage pose a tremendous challenge.

    #C360, 81 pages

    The Women of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast: Multiple Disadvantages and Key Assets for Recovery Part II. Gender, Race, and Class in the Labor Market
    by Erica Williams, Olga Sorokina, Avis Jones-DeWeever, Ph.D., and Heidi Hartmann, Ph.D. (July 2006)

    This Briefing Paper is the second in a two-part series addressing the multiple disadvantages experienced by women, particularly women of color, in the areas hit by Katrina and Rita and in the areas in which many are now living. In Part 1, we discussed poverty among women and people of color in the Gulf Coast region and in the South more generally. In Part 2 we present data from before and after the storms, examine women’s role in the labor market in some detail prior to the hurricanes, and offer policy recommendations for reincorporating women into the workforce during and after the rebuilding period.

    #D465, Briefing Paper, 32 pages

    The Women of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast: Multiple Disadvantages and Key Assets for Recovery Part I. Poverty, Race, Gender and Class
    by Gault, Barbara (September 2005)

    by Barbara Gault, Ph.D., Heidi Hartmann, Ph.D., Avis Jones-DeWeever, Ph.D., Misha Werschkul, and Erica Williams. This Briefing Paper, the first in a two-part series addressing the needs of the women of the Gulf Coast region, uncovers the multiple disadvantages experienced by women who lived in the areas affected by both the hurricanes, Katrina and Rita, and in many of the communities to which the evacuees are moving. It also outlines policy alternatives to help rebuild their lives in a way that will allow them to ultimately leave poverty behind.

    #D464, Briefing Paper, 12 pages

    Valuing Good Health: An Estimate of Costs and Savings for the Healthy Families Act
    by Vicky Lovell, Ph.D. (March 2005)

    #B248, 21 pages

    Staying Employed: Trends in Medicaid, Child Care, and Head Start in Ohio
    by Jon Honeck and Vicky Lovell (October 2004)

    This paper reviews changes in state child care and health care programs and discusses how such programs can help low-wage parents remain employed.

    #B246, 19 pages

    Staying Employed: Trends in Medicaid, Child Care, and Head Start in Ohio
    by Jon Honeck, Ph.D., and Vicky Lovell, Ph.D. (October 2004)

    (Written collaboratively by Jon Honeck, Policy Matters Ohio Vicky Lovell, Institute for Women’s Policy Research) Over the past two and a half decades in Ohio, more women have entered the labor force, and families have increased their work hours. Yet, job quality has often declined: wages for most workers have been stagnant, health insurance provision by employers has decreased, and Ohio remains nearly 264,000 jobs below its peak employment. The poor performance of Ohio’s labor market coincided with the imposition of time limits for cash assistance under the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. These broad trends mean that more women are paying for child care and health care while in low-wage jobs. This paper reviews changes in state child care and health care programs and discusses how such programs can help low-wage parents remain employed.

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