With the crisis continually referred to as a "mancession," stories about how women are uniquely or disproportionately affected by the recession -- and longstanding economic insecurity -- have been scarce. Last Friday, the New York Times offered an exception in an article about how low-income African American women are disproportionately subject to eviction:
[In Milwaukee] and in swaths of many cities, evictions from rental properties are so common that they are part of the texture of life. New research is showing that eviction is a particular burden on low-income black women, often single mothers, who have an easier time renting apartments than their male counterparts, but are vulnerable to losing them because their wages or public benefits have not kept up with the cost of housing.And this was true before the national economic collapse. The Milwaukee study, which found that "women from largely black neighborhoods constitute 13 percent of the city's population...but 40 percent of those evicted," goes back to 2002. And women have represented the majority of low-wage workers for years.
The article paints a devastating picture of economic crisis with a much longer view: in the lives of low-income women and women of color nationwide, insecurity about wages, housing, health care and food have combined to create a cycle of poverty that has long been a reality -- national recession or not.
That said, today's economy is making it even harder to make ends meet. Women who head households across the country are experiencing disproportionately high unemployment rates: in December, their rate was 12.9%, climbing to 15.2% for African American women (in the same month, the national rate was 10%). Last November, the USDA reported that one in three single mothers struggled for food in 2008 and that more than one in seven said someone in their home had been hungry, "far eclipsing the food problem in any other kind of household."
The USDA also reported that most families in which food is scarce contain at least one adult with a full-time job, suggesting, as our grantee Wider Opportunities for Women notes, that low wages as well as job scarcity is a problem. This is especially true for women, who tend to be clustered in low-wage sectors and still -- let's not forget -- make $.77 for every dollar a man does.
A Call for Renewal
So as we hear discussions of what's needed to ensure economic "recovery," let's insist upon taking a longer, more expansive and honest view. Economic insecurity -- crisis, really -- has long been part of the past (though it's certainly worsened by today's recession) for many low-income people, people of color, women, immigrants and others nationwide. And economists say the effects of this recession (more so than others) will last well into the future -- particularly for middle-aged women who face disproportionate rates of long-term unemployment.
In fact, we need to start by questioning what "recovery" means -- and for whom it's intended -- altogether. For example, true "recovery" will require much more than jobs, as crucial as they are. It will require more than an extension of unemployment benefits, which must soon be renewed. It will call for long-term policy changes, like a re-envisioning of quality jobs, subsidized child care, and wage parity. It will demand a look at the inequities that persist and are perpetuated by our economic system. It will require the democratic improvement of all people's lives, not just the privileged few or the financial system. And it will take not just a commitment to recovery, but to long-term renewal.
Sara K. Gould
President & CEO
Ms. Foundation for Women