By Linda Basch, PhD*
The release of US Census data last week reporting the highest numbers of poor since 1993 came as a shock to some, but for those who have been following these issues for awhile, there was little surprise. There are now 46.2 million living below the official povery line or 15.1% of the US population. For women and single mothers, the outlook is bleak. According to Legal Momentum , women are 29% more likely to be poor than men. This gender disparity is even more devastating for single mothers who are 68% more likely to live in poverty than single fathers.
While these numbers are depressing, they are an excellent reminder that we need to pool our efforts and work collectively for change. The country's leading assistance program for the poor: Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)  is up for reauthorization at the end of this month. Currently, it provides only 8 dollars a day for a family of three, and 90% of recipients are women-headed households. Increasing TANF and other benefits is a prerequisite for strengthening poverty alleviation efforts. As committed individuals and organizations work to improve the economic security of women and their families, the work of women's research, policy, and advocacy centers is more vital than ever.
Here is some recent commentary on the poverty data, TANF reform, and job creation from experts in and around our network:
Legal Momentum  provides a gender analysis of the 2010 US Census Bureau statistics on poverty showing that women are 29% more likely to be poor, and looks at the rates of poverty among different segments of the population organized by age, family structure, and educational level.
The vast majority of households receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) are headed by single mothers. These benefits are inadequate, usually lower than $8.00 daily for a family of three. Congress must reauthorize TANF by the end of September. Legal Momentum has recommendations for improving TANF to meet the needs of poor women.
National Women’s Law Center highlights some of the data released by the US Census Bureau as it relates to women’s poverty rates.
"There was some effort to get some of the women's jobs saved-- mostly teachers and counselors and education support workers-- and I think that's more than people were expecting him to propose," said Jeffrey Hayes, senior research associate for the Institute for Women's Policy Research . [… ]But while women's groups such as the National Organization for Women and the National Women's Law Center are enthusiastically endorsing Obama's jobs plan, they said there are still some concerns that need to be addressed. For instance, if Congress votes to reform Social Security or make significant cuts to Medicare, those changes could disproportionately affect women, who have longer life expectancies than men."
For women, the recovery hasn’t just been slow – it’s been nonexistent. Women have actually lost jobs, and their unemployment rate has increased since the recession officially ended in June 2009. Policymakers’ decisions to cut public funding for public services, eliminating massive numbers of public and private-sector jobs, made a grim jobs picture for women even worse. Teachers, nurses, day care providers, and social workers have lost jobs, causing enormous suffering for families and communities.
”Women’s financial insecurity, as shown by the Census numbers, has many implications, including fewer assets over the lifespan, greater numbers of female elders in poverty, children who are getting a poorer start in life, stress-induced health problems and lower employment levels, said Teresa Younger, executive director of Connecticut’s Permanent Commission on the Status of Women. “This is far from a ‘women’s problem’: these consequences ripple out to affect all of society,” she said.”
Ms. Magazine takes a look at the latest poverty numbers and the National Women's Law Center report on women in poverty.
Ellen Bravo highlights Obama’s Jobs Proposal. She notes that men have gone back to work at three times the rate of women since the official end of the recession. She also highlights women’s heightened vulnerability to changes in Social Security and Medicare.
Most jobs lost during the recession were middle wage jobs, and those created during and since the recession have been predominantly low wage jobs. The author states the rates of poverty among racial, age, and gender demographics, noting that women are more likely to be poor. Childcare responsibilities also add to the likelihood of living in poverty.
This updated report from the Institute for Women's Policy Research  charts the fluctuation in men’s and women’s employment rates during the recession. It argues that men have been quicker to recover jobs lost while women’s recovery has been largely stagnant.
C. Nicole Mason, Executive Director of the Women of Color Policy Network at NYU Wagner , advocates for large scale governmental interventions to alleviate poverty. She also notes that those who oppose “large government” have suggested no viable alternatives.
At the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation’s Women and the Economy Summit in San Francisco, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with delegates and ministers from twenty one countries in Asia and the Americas. Clinton highlighted women’s importance to world economies, saying women are a vital source of growth. The summit participants endorsed the San Francisco Declaration, which will increase women’s access to capital, financial services, and markets. Clinton also stated, "Unlocking the potential of women by narrowing the gender gap could lead to a 14-percent rise in per capita income by the year 2020 in several APEC economies including China, Russia, Indonesia, The Philippines, Vietnam and Korea."
In a Daily Beast article, Leslie Bennetts looks at the Census Bureau’s latest figures on poverty showing that women are hit hardest in every category, but somehow the major media omitted to mention it in their reports. She suggests some of what was missed.
A Voice of America commentary recommends empowering women globally as a way to create favorable outcomes in poverty alleviation, economic growth, and general prosperity.
*Linda Basch, PhD, is President of the National Council for Research on Women