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Last week, the U.S. Census Bureau released its data on poverty in America in 2012. While the overall rate of poverty did not rise from the rate in 2011, it is bad news that it did not decline, since the recession technically ended four years ago.
Minorities continued to fare badly when compared with the balance of the population, but the real brunt of poverty was borne by women. And the problem becomes more severe as women age.
When the Women’s National Law Center reviewed the data, its experts highlighted two parts of the Census information.
The Poverty Rate is Higher for Women . . .
“The poverty rate for women (14.5 percent) was 3.5 percentage points higher than it was for men (11.0 percent). The extreme poverty rate for women (6.3 percent) was 1.5 percentage points higher than it was for men (4.8 percent).”
. . . and It Increases as Women Grow Older
“Among people 65 and older, more than twice as many women (over 2.6 million) as men (almost 1.3 million) lived in poverty in 2012.”
When looking across the spectrum of demographic data on race, age, and marriage, it is hard to find a ratio that is as astonishingly high as this 2-to-1 disparity between older women and older men.
The National Women’s Law Center does not provide much analysis of, or explanation for, why the disparity between men and women persists, particularly as they age. However, the data about women’s earnings in general provides some insight. The center repeats the income statistic we often hear—that women (as a group) make 77 cents for every dollar made by men (as a group). Since this income difference extends across several decades of work, the chance for women to save for retirement is highly likely to be worse. If they can save, it is not at a level comparable to that of men. To the extent that this analysis is true, there will be no improvement in the poverty numbers for older women until wages between the sexes become identical.
The problem of poverty among older women will get much worse as the U.S. population ages at an increasing rate due to the entrance of the baby boomer generation into retirement. Equal pay for equal work is a still an unresolved policy issue in the private sector, and has not been resolved by government mandate. Businesses have chosen to evade this issue, because there are financial advantages to unequal pay. Women’s opportunities to save for their retirement will require more active support by the federal government in order to prevent rising poverty in this already disadvantaged group of Americans.