Patricia Yarberry Allen, M.D. is a Gynecologist, Director of the New York Menopause Center, Clinical Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Weill Cornell Medical College, and Assistant Attending Obstetrician and Gynecologist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. She is a board certified fellow of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Dr. Allen is also a member of the Faculty Advisory Board and the Women’s Health Director of The Weill Cornell Community Clinic (WCCC). Dr. Allen was the recipient of the 2014 American Medical Women’s Association Presidential Award.

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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.

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  • D. A. Wolf October 2, 2013 at 5:43 pm

    Digging deeper into the source data referenced (the PDF), I was glad to see demographic data address the issue of single mothers.

    It is especially distressing to read the statistics on children in poverty and:

    More than half of all poor children (56.1 percent) lived in families headed by women. Nearly 587,000 single women with
    children (13.2 percent) who worked full time, year round in 2012 lived in poverty.

    That our children and older citizens, women in particular, continue to endure this shameful situation should be appalling to all of us. And the item above clearly shows that millions work full-time and still cannot rise out of poverty.

    But hey, let’s just shut down the government for awhile and posture… rather than working together to deal with serious, systematic, persistent social, political, and economic issues.

  • Tobysgirl September 30, 2013 at 4:35 pm

    Glad to see your comment, L Janway. My mother died in 1994 and she was living on $500+ per month, half of my father’s Social Security earnings. She was shocked when the director of the retirement housing she lived in told her there were many women there living on less. I wrote some horrible person in the Bush administration who wanted to get rid of Section 8 housing; Section 8 housing permitted my mother to have a bit of breathing room each month.

    I am sick of a society that wants to deprive children, sick people, and old people of pennies while grossly enriching a few. I am sick of a society in which members of Congress have luxurious health care and enormous salaries while cutting back on food stamps and Social Security and Medicare.

  • L Janway September 30, 2013 at 10:23 am

    I’m 76 and knew this long ago, @ age 18 I earned $.25 an hour. When I left the working world the Social Security agency told me I would get 450.00 a month while my husband rec’d 2000.00 a month. Now that he is deceased I get 1000.00 of his check and none of mine. And they talk about what they spend each month on the Soc. Sec. checks. I see it a a gain not a loss on their end.