While the issue of poverty might not be as hot as the debate over whether or not Beyonce's a feminist or as alarming as the legislative attacks on reproductive rights in 39 states across the country, when more than half of the 47 million individuals living in poverty in the U.S. are women and girls -- poverty should be at the top of the women's agenda in 2014.
Across the globe, women have always been disproportionately represented among the poor. This is not new. What is head scratching though, is the fact that although women have made tremendous gains in terms of labor force participation, access to higher education and hold more high profile positions in government and corporations than any time other time in our nation's history, they still remain at the bottom of the economic totem pole. The question is why? I'll give you three good reasons:
The first is that despite increased labor force participation since 1950 (33.9 percent compared to 59.3 percent in 2005), women continue to hold some of the worst jobs in America, defined by lower wages, few benefits and little flexibility. And although they now make up more than half of the workforce, women also make up nearly 60 percent of low-wage workers in the country. These jobs tend to have little upward mobility let alone a bathroom break or a paid sick day.
Next, chances are if there is a field or profession dominated by women, such as teaching, day care, waitressing, administrative assistant positions, or other service jobs, the pay is miserably low. On average, these jobs tend to pay less than $10.00 per hour or about $19,200 annually, a figure significantly lower than the federal poverty line for a family of four at $23,550.
Women also continue to earn just 77 cents for every dollar paid to men. For Black and Latino women, the numbers are even worse -- 64 cents and 55 cents, respectively. This translates directly into less money to cover daily expenses, save for the future or to ride out long spells of unemployment.
The third reason is culturally, we just don't get it -- we still have a difficult time viewing women as breadwinners and providers. Nationally, 4 in 10 households with children under the age of 18 are headed by women who identify as the primary provider and in a recent survey of over 1,000 women by Prudential, 53 percent were breadwinners in their households. Today, women work out of necessity, not because they are challenging outmoded gender norms or expectations. Their only choice is to lean in.
Since the War on Poverty was declared 50 years ago this week, talk of inequality is often met with the rhetoric of just how far we've come. However, the growing income and wealth gap, the spike in the number of individuals living in poverty, and millions of working families who rely only on food stamps to survive show us otherwise.
Strategizing about solid ways to stem the tide of poverty and build the economic security of women and families over the next two generations should be a national imperative and at the top of all of our agendas. Even the Queen Bey herself would agree, we cannot afford this conversation in another 50 years.