U.S. Women Hit Hardest by Poverty, Says Census Report

Reporting new poverty figures, major media ignore the fact that women are the hardest hit in every category.

Spencer Platt / Getty Images

When the U.S. Census Bureau released the latest poverty statistics this week, the news was predictably bleak—or at least the news that people were given. But there was a little something the major media omitted from their coverage.

That minor detail? Half the population.

The larger half.

And when it comes to the latest economic data on women, the news is even worse than most people seem to realize. But you couldn’t learn that by reading The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal, neither of which even mentioned women in their front-page stories about the rise in the poverty rate, which has soared to its highest level since 1993.

When it comes to discovering what that means for the majority of the American population, one had to look elsewhere. For the news the big guys didn’t see fit to print, we can thank the National Women’s Law Center, a Washington-based nonprofit organization that focuses on women’s economic security and legal rights.

When the NWLC crunched the latest numbers from the Census Bureau, the results showed that record numbers of women are living in poverty. And in news that should surprise no one, the findings reveal that millions of those women do not have health insurance.

The poverty rate among women rose to 14.5 percent last year, up from 13.9 percent in 2009—the highest rate in 17 years. The “extreme poverty rate” among women was the highest ever recorded, climbing to 6.3 percent in 2010 from 5.9 percent in 2009.

“Extreme poverty” means that your income is below half of the federal poverty line—and by 2010, more than 7.5 million women had fallen into that dire category.

What all those statistics add up to is that more than 17 million women were living in poverty last year, compared with 12.6 million men. As usual, things were worse for older women; twice as many women over 65 were living in poverty, compared with men.

And those numbers just represented the population-wide average. For Hispanic and black women, the poverty rate increased even faster and rose higher—to 25 percent for Hispanic women and to 25.6 percent for black women.

As usual, single mothers are having the hardest time of all. More than 40 percent of women who head families are now living in poverty. With more than half of poor children living in female-headed families in 2010, the child poverty rate jumped to 22 percent.

The trends are equally alarming when it comes to health insurance. Nearly one in five women is now living without health insurance. The percentage of women aged 18 to 64 who don’t have health insurance increased from 19.2 percent in 2009 to 19.7 percent in 2010—the highest rate recorded in more than a decade.

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“More than 19 million women younger than 65 were without health care coverage in 2010,” the NWLC reported.

Private insurance isn’t coming to the rescue. The percentage of women covered by employer-sponsored health insurance declined to 60.6 percent in 2010, down from 61.7 percent in 2009—a decrease that affected more than 600,000 women.

Government assistance is also going down; the percentage of women covered by Medicaid declined to 11.5 percent from 11.7 percent the previous year.

The news on women’s earnings was just as dismal. “Women working full-time year-round continued to be paid only 77 cents for every dollar paid to their male counterparts,” reported the NWLC.

“The wage gap, which has been stuck at 77 cents for the last three years, has been virtually stagnant over the last decade and means an average of more than $10,000 in lost wages for women each year,” said Fatima Goss Graves, NWLC’s vice president of education and employment. “Nearly 40 percent of mothers are primary breadwinners today. In these difficult times, no family can afford women’s salaries to be discounted.”

So why are the mainstream media ignoring them?

And what about everyone else, from the politicians to the pundits? If government leaders are going to deal with the enormous amount of deprivation and suffering out there, they have to start focusing on women and children.

Because as usual, they’re suffering more than anyone else.

And as usual, most of the powers that be aren’t paying attention.