The grim numbers recently released by the U.S. Census Bureau paint a devastating picture of poverty in America that should send a loud wake-up call to Congress to move quickly on a jobs package. Poverty and extreme poverty among women, men and children increased significantly in 2010. The poverty rate among women climbed to 14.5 percent in 2010 from 13.9 percent in 2009, the highest in 17 years. The extreme poverty rate among women climbed to 6.3 percent in 2010 from 5.9 percent in 2009, the highest in 22 years.
For millions of women these statistics are not mere abstractions. They represent a daily struggle to put food on the table, find work, get by without health insurance and give their children a chance at a solid future. They are women like Colleen, who lives with her husband and two teenagers in a small Ohio town. Every day is a reminder of how the so-called recovery has passed her by:
Life has become a pressure cooker. My husband lost his job and then I lost mine. We let go of our health insurance. And then we lost our house. Now we live with my parents. I spend hours on the computer tracking down job leads and sending out resumes that are never answered. The jobs aren't out there. My world has crashed. I wasn't able to buy my 13-year-old son a birthday present this year. I'm trying to be strong and hold on. I've got to believe that things will get better.
Analysis of the Census data by the National Women's Law Center reveals a stark gender disparity that all too often remains under the radar: women make up 57.8 percent of poor adults. Over 17 million women lived in poverty in 2010, including more than 7.5 million in extreme poverty (below half the federal poverty level).
Female-headed families with children were hit especially hard. More than four out of 10 lived in poverty last year. Among Hispanic female-headed families, the rate spiked to over one in two. Among black female-headed families it shot up to almost one in two. More than one in five children lived in poverty in 2010, and more than half of poor children lived in female-headed families.
The Census data on health insurance provide a dismal snapshot of the growing number of Americans living without insurance. Nearly one in five women was without health coverage last year -- a total of 19 million -- the highest rate recorded in more than a decade. And on the wage front, women working full-time, year-round continued to be paid only 77 cents for every dollar paid to their male counterparts -- translating to an average of more than $10,000 in lost wages each year. At a time when women's earnings are so important to their families -- women are 49.4 percent of the labor force -- closing this wage gap is an economic imperative.
The rise in women's poverty rate mirrors the surge in job losses that began with the onset of the recession in December 2007. Men have been modestly picking up jobs. But for women, the recovery hasn't just been modest -- it's been nonexistent. Women have actually lost jobs, and their unemployment rate has increased, since the recovery officially began in June 2009. Although men gained 984,000 jobs, women lost 345,000 jobs between June 2009 and August 2011. Heavy job losses in the public sector have disproportionately affected women and contributed to their bleak employment picture. Women represented 57.2 percent of the public workforce in June 2009, but they lost the vast majority -- 72.3 percent -- of the 595,000 jobs cut in this sector between June 2009 and August 2011. The situation has also been grim for women in the private sector. Although the private sector added 1.2 million jobs, women gained only one in 15 jobs, for a total of 85,000 jobs between June 2009 and August 2011.
These bleak numbers underscore the urgent need for Congress to tackle the real deficit facing the nation -- the jobs deficit -- and create a strong plan that will put millions of American women and men back to work. President Obama was right when he said, "The next election is 14 months away. And the people who sent us here -- the people who hired us to work for them -- they don't have the luxury of waiting 14 months. Some of them are living week to week, paycheck to paycheck, even day to day. They need help, and they need it now."