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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

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.


The Children Left Behind: Deeper Poverty, Fewer Supports
by Deanna M. Lyter, Ph.D., Melissa Sills, Gi-Taik Oh, Ph.D., Avis Jones-DeWeever, Ph.D. (September 2004)

This study examines the well-being of low-income children living with a single parent before and after welfare reform. Age and race/ethnicity variables are used to illuminate the range of impacts experienced by the children in the sample.

#D457, Report, 57 pages

Florida’s Unemployment Insurance System: Barriers to Program Adequacy for Women, Low-Wage and Part-Time Workers, and Workers of Color, Executive Summary
by Vicky Lovell, Ph.D. and Maurice Emsellem, Esq. (March 2004)

(Written collaboratively by Vicky Lovell, PhD, Institute for Women’s Policy Research, and Maurice Emsellem, Esq., National Employment Law Project) The Florida unemployment insurance (UI) system is not meeting its basic goal of providing a modest measure of income support to temporarily unemployed workers. This is due in significant part to the UI system’s failure to keep pace with fundamental changes in the labor market, including the growth of low-wage and parttime work and the vastly expanding role of women in the labor market. This situation exists despite the significant reserves in Florida’s UI trust fund, even during the current economic downturn, and record-level UI tax cuts.

#C356, 2 pages

The Impact of Disabilities on Mothers’ Work Participation: Examining Differences between Single and Married Mothers
by Sunhwa Lee, Ph.D., Gi-Taik Oh, Ph.D., Heidi Hartmann, Ph.D., Barbara Gault, Ph.D. (January 2004)

This study examines the prevalence of disabilities among mothers and children and analyzes how these disabilities influence mothers’ work participation. Our analyses focus on differences between single and married mothers. We also consider the effect of social support coming from family configurations and living arrangements by including the age structures of children with and without a disability, and the number of other adults in the family. We find that mothers’ own disability status has a profound impact on mothers’ work participation—both continuous and partial work activities. Child disability also has a significant impact on mothers’ work participation, but not to as great an extent as the mother’s own disability. The impact of child disability also varies by children’s age between single and married mothers. Older healthy children have a positive influence on maternal work only among married mothers, while older children with a disability increase single mothers’ partial work activities. Having other adults in the family does not facilitate work participation of either single or married mothers.


Child Care Subsidies Promote Mothers’ Employment and Children’s Development
by Colleen Henry, Misha Werschkul, Manita C. Rao (September 2003)

In the current debate over welfare reauthorization, the importance of child care assistance for low-income and working families cannot be overstated. This briefing paper explores the current status of government child care assistance, reviews research on the connections between child care assistance, mothers’ labor force participation, and children’s development, and offers policy recommendations for improving the quality and quantity of child care assistance.

#G714, Briefing Paper, 10 pages

40-hour Work Proposal Significantly Raises Mothers’ Employment Standard
by Vicky Lovell, Ph.D. (May 2003)

#D460, Research-in-Brief, 8 pages

Before and After Welfare Reform: The Work and Well-Being of Low-Income Single Parent Families
by Institute for Women's Policy Research (May 2003)

This Fact Sheet highlights select findings from IWPR’s new report, Before and After Welfare Reform. The report examines the income sources and employment patterns of low-income families, utilizing longitudinal data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Survey of Income and Program Participation to shed new light on the characteristics and well-being of low-income single parent families just before and roughly three years after the implementation of welfare reform.


The Children Left Behind: Deeper Poverty, Fewer Supports
by Avis Jones-DeWeever, Ph.D. (May 2003)

This Fact Sheet highlights findings from IWPR’s forthcoming report, The Children Left Behind: America’s Poorest Children Left in Deeper Poverty and with Fewer Supports after Welfare Reform. The report utilizes 1996 and 2000 data from the Census Bureau’s Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) to examine the situations of low-income children in single-parent families both before and after welfare reform.


Before and After Welfare Reform: The Work and Well-Being of Low-Income Single Parent Families
by Avis Jones-DeWeever, Ph.D., Janice Peterson, Ph.D., Xue Song, Ph.D. (May 2003)

The purpose of this report is to contribute to federal and state policy debates through an examination of the changing characteristics and economic well-being of low-income single parent families in the context of welfare reform. In so doing, this report examines the employment characteristics, income sources, poverty status, and demographic characteristics of low-income single parent families before and after the implementation of the 1996 welfare reform.

#D454, report, 62 pages

Survival at the Bottom: The Income Packages of Low-Income Families with Children
by Heidi Hartmann, Ph.D., Roberta Spalter-Roth, Ph.D., with Melissa Sills (May 2003)

This study builds on previous IWPR work and provides information on the income packaging strategies and outcomes for a variety of low-in- come families with children in the United States during a time period prior to the welfare reform legislation of 1996. The study is organized around three major themes: (1) the diversity of family structures; (2) the income generating activities of low-income families; and (3) the economic well-being of low-income families.

#D453, Report, 98 pages
Preview not available

Welfare Reform in Washington, DC: An Examination of Needs and Impacts 'In Their Own Words'
by Danielle Hoyt, Ashley Simons-Rudolph, and Avis Jones-DeWeever (April 2003)

Presents results from twenty-six personal interviews conducted throughout the District of Columbia between January and April 2002. In examining the fate of DC welfare clients, thsi study relates the experiences of women receiving welfare, "in their own words," to assess the effects of welfare reform, particularly its success at providing access to services taht ultimately result in employment and a chance at long-term economic security. Available by mail in limited quantities. E-mail iwpr [at] iwpr [dot] org to place an order.


Social Security: The Largest Source of Income for Both Women and Men in Retirement
by Heidi Hartmann, Sunhwa Lee (April 2003)

This briefing paper uses the Current Population Survey to focus on four major sources of income for persons aged 50 and older--earnings, Social Security, pensions, and assets--and shows that during retirement, Social Security is the most universal and the largest source of income for both women and men.

Briefing paper

Children in Single-Parent Families Living in Poverty Have Fewer Supports after Welfare Reform
by Deanna M. Lyter, Ph.D., Melissa Sills, Gi-Taik Oh, Ph.D. (August 2002)

This Research-in-Brief summarizes a study that explores the economic well-being of children in low-income single-parent families since the 1996 passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) or welfare reform. Specifically, we examine how family income and access to health insurance, food stamps, and cash assistance changed for children in low-income single-parent families between 1996 and 2000. While child poverty has improved overall (the share of low-income children living in poverty has fallen), children in poor single-parent families in 2000 are less likely to receive cash assistance, Medicaid, and food stamps. Even the most disadvantaged children—those living in extreme poverty, defined as below half the poverty line—are less likely to receive benefits now than previously.

#D451, Research-in-Brief, 11 pages

Disabilities among Children and Mothers in Low-Income Families
by Sunhwa Lee, Ph.D., Melissa Sills, and Gi-Taik Oh, Ph.D. (June 2002)

This Research-in-Brief presents selected findings from an IWPR analysis examining disabilities among children and mothers in low-income families. The findings indicate that single mothers receiving TANF are more likely than other low-income mothers to have a child with a disability. Furthermore, they themselves are more likely to have a disability. Nearly half of single-mothers receiving TANF have a disability or a disabled child, but only a small proportion receives government supports. The high prevalence of disabilities among TANF recipients underscores a need for careful assessment of disability status and accompanying difficulties among low-income families, as well as a need to provide continued income support and expanded childcare services for this highly disadvantaged population.

Preview not available

Marriage Promotion and Low-Income Communities: An Examination of Real Needs and Real Solutions
by Avis Jones-DeWeever, Ph.D. (May 2002)

One of the most private, personal, and critical decisions one makes in life is if, when, and whom one should marry. It seems the ultimate in big government, if not social engineering, to have public policy anywhere near these critical, life-altering decisions; but this is precisely what some members of Congress and the Bush Administration have in mind, to the tune of $200-300 million per year, in the context of TANF reauthorization.

#D450, Briefing Paper, 6 pages

Life After Welfare Reform: Low-Income Single Parent Families, Pre- and Post-TANF
by Janice Peterson, Xue Song, Avis Jones-DeWeever, Ph.D. (May 2002)

This Research-in-Brief is based on selected findings from an Institute for Women’s Policy Research study, Life After Welfare Reform: The Characteristics, Work, and Well Being of Low-Income Single Parent Families, Pre- and Post-PRWORA. The findings in this study underscore the need to make improvements to the welfare system to address gender and racial inequities and focus on poverty reduction.

#D446, Research-in-Brief, 6 pages

Marriage and Poverty: An Annotated Bibliography
by Hedieh Rahmanou, Amy LeMar (April 2002)

This annotated bibliography is designed to provide researchers, policymakers, advocates, and the general public with an overview of the debate and research surrounding the promotion of marriage as a solution to reducing poverty. In addition to newspaper articles familiarizing the reader with the current debate, topics covered in this bibliography include: economic insecurity and single motherhood, child welfare and single motherhood, factors that influence marital decisions, race and family formation, the conservative and feminist perspectives, and current policy proposals.

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