16 September 2011

Media Ignore Record Poverty Among Women

Wednesday, in "Women: The Invisible Poor," the Daily Beast's Lindsay Bennett wrote: "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."

You said it, Lindsay. We couldn't believe it either. In its lead article covering the Census Bureau's new poverty data, the Times highlighted increases in poverty among men, children and youth, with not one mention of women, who are also facing record poverty levels this year (and, as always, are more likely to be poor than men). Here are some of the numbers:
  • Poverty among women climbed to 14.5% in 2010, the highest rate in 17 years
  • Women (7.5 million of them) are also experiencing the highest rate of extreme poverty on record. 
  • Poverty rates among women of color (25.6% for Black women, 25% for Latinas) and single moms (40.7%) are even more staggering. 
  • The child poverty rate climbed to 22%, and more than half of children in poverty lived in families headed by single mothers. 
And why is it so important to report this data? In part because it underscores how important it is to elevate women's solutions -- solutions based on lived experience and tremendously urgent need.

Solutions like paid sick days (just passed in Seattle) and quality, affordable child care, both of which help women in particular keep their jobs. Solutions like using federal dollars to prevent  teacher layoffs in states nationwide, one of many put forward by our grantees that were included in President Obama's recent jobs proposal. And solutions like those of the Caring Across Generations campaign, which would create 2 million new caregiving jobs and overwhelmingly benefit low-income, immigrant women of color.

This week's poverty numbers -- as well as growing numbers of those without health insurance, and a stagnant gender wage gap -- remind us just how badly women are reeling. How urgently change generated by women is called for. And how shameful it is that the 17.2 million women living in poverty -- particularly in a climate where women are bearing the brunt of the recession -- are not front-page news.

So, press, pundits and policymakers: do your job -- and your math! -- and consider the full story. Women are half of our nation's workforce, and two-thirds of families depend on women's earnings to survive. How can our country recover if we don't do everything we can to guarantee their visibility and well-being?

Photo: © Elizabeth Rappaport and the Ms. Foundation for Women.