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Monday, March 28, 2016

Women and Poverty

I had a friend in college whose mother was widowed. I don't remember what she did for income, but I remember her moving into my neighborhood from a beautiful ranch house on the outskirts of town. She moved into a house that was about 900 square feet. Later, as a single parent, I moved into a house very similar. There were two bedrooms, a living room, a very small kitchen (we could reach the refrigerator from the table), a bathroom with bathtub, sink and toilet. There was a laundry room off the kitchen that was big enough for the appliances and a few shelves. The house I rented had a garage. I don't remember what if my friend's mother did. It seemed so harsh for her to have to move there just because her husband died, but no one came to her aid with a better job. This was the status of women when I was growing up. It was fine for men to ask to be paid a sufficient amount to raise a family, because they were often the breadwinner for the family. Men who drove trucks (like my dad) made good money because they had a union and because they had a family. They weren't expected to get by with less. Now I know there are a lot of families out there that did not have that experience, but those were the general expectations of the fifties and sixties.

In 1970, I read an amazing book: The Economics of Being a Woman, by Dee Dee Ahern. There are still about 40 copies on Amazon, if you shop there. It taught me about the assumption that women's work was worth less than men's. that women often gave up valuable years of income to raise a family, which was never recouped. That affected their social security benefits, so that in later years, they had less income as well. In effect, women who stayed home and raised the family were doing it for free. As such, they were not entitled to some of the monetary benefits men received. At that time, the average woman's salary was 70% of a man's.

In 2001, census results revealed that:

"Of the 100 million people 15 and over who were full-time, year-round workers with earnings in 2001, 41 percent were women and 59 percent were men. Women were more likely to have lower earnings. For example, 4.4 percent of women, compared with 2.8 percent of men, reported earnings of less than $10,000. At the opposite end of the earnings distribution, only 5.5 percent of women reported earnings of $75,000 or more in 2001, compared with 15.8 percent of men.

Of the 109 million families in 2001, 5 percent had an income below $10,000, 64 percent had an income of $10,000 to $74,999, and 31 percent had an income of $75,000 or more. The type of family also matters, because often both spouses are employed. Among married-couple families in 2001, only 2 percent had an income below $10,000 and 37 percent had an income of $75,000 or more. Of the families maintained by women with no spouse present, 17 percent had an income below $10,000 and only 8 percent had an income of $75,000 or more. In contrast, of the families maintained by men with no spouse present, only 8 per- cent had an income below $10,000 and 17 percent had an income of $75,000 or higher.

In 2001, 12.9 percent of the female population and 10.4 percent of the male population lived below the poverty level. Poverty rates were highest for children: the proportions of boys and girls (those under 18) who were poor were not statistically different (16.4 percent and 16.2, respectively). From ages 18 to 64, the poverty rate was11.6 percent for women and 8.5 percent for men. For those 65 years and over, the poverty rate was 12.4 percent for women com- pared with 7.0 percent for men."*

Fast forward to 2016, or even the census of 2010. Women now earn 80% of men's salaries. At this rate, my great-great-great-granddaughters will be close to earning the same as men. Some of the changes that have occurred since I was a child are the cost of housing (now requires two incomes), the cost of medical services (now requires insurance) and the cost of food (did it ever go down when gas prices went down?). Most concerning of all these statistics is the poverty rate for the children, which I will tackle in a future post. If children tend to attain the same educational level as their mother (and I can't cite the source on this, I heard it on NPR), then our future civilization needs to examine why women tend to receive less pay, less retirement income and less ability to attend school or send their children to school.

*United States Census Bureau, 2003, Women and Men in the United States 2003 Population Characteristics, P20-544,, retrieved 28 Mar 2016.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

A Few Facts on Poverty

Aside from drunks on skid row, I had not experienced homeless people until I traveled to Bogota, Colombia in 1972. I saw men living on the street and wondered what kind of a society would allow that. It was then considered a “third-world” country and I shrugged it off. When a friend and I went to a small restaurant to get “fresas con crema” (fresh strawberries with whipped cream), we saw two young girls outside the restaurant digging for food in the trash container. At first we wrinkled our noses, but when one of them took out a carton of milk and began drinking it, we both lost our appetite and gave the girls our treats. Central and South America were known for the gaps in inequality there. It was acceptable. I was a tourist and what could I do? I was in my twenties and didn’t see my responsibility for making the world a better place.

On January 8, 1964, I was a junior in high school, full of optimism and happy with the government of Kennedy and Johnson. I remember Lyndon Johnson declaring the War on Poverty, in which every home would be able to secure food and shelter. We’re not talking fancy food or fancy shelter, and there was no mention of cars, so the nation got behind it. With the new set of voters from the Voting Rights Act of 1965, attention was turning to their living conditions. The poverty rate had risen to 19% and the government felt that was too high. After all, the unemployment rate in the Great Depression had been 30%. The way poverty was computed was to add up the cost of living for a family of four, not counting housing or meat.

This remained in effect until the 80s under President Reagan. Conservatives began to portray welfare recipients as single-parent minority families, who only have children to collect benefits. Poverty levels are much higher for blacks and Hispanics. Reagan reduced benefits, claiming it was a waste of money because it didn’t get rid of poverty. Calculated in the poverty level now are the benefits they poor receive, making it seem they are wealthier than they are. If you have ever had to live in this “safety net” you will know you can’t do it on your own. Our present poverty rate is 14.8 and increases in the last year surprisingly affected people with a bachelor’s degree or more and married-couple families.

Source citation: DeNavas-Walt, Carmen and Bernadette D. Proctor, U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Reports, P60-252, Income and Poverty in the United States: 2014, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC, 2015.