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Women and Poverty

Narrative

In 2009, over 43 million people in the United States lived with incomes below the poverty level, representing 14.3 percent of the U.S. population and reaching the highest rate since 1994.1 More than 16 million of those were women aged 18 and older, accounting for 13.9 percent of the adult female population. In comparison, 10.5 percent of adult men lived in poverty. With regard to race and ethnicity, non-Hispanic White women were least likely to experience poverty (10.1 percent), followed by non-Hispanic Asian women (11.8 percent), and non-Hispanic Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander women (15.1 percent). In contrast, about one-quarter of Hispanic, non-Hispanic Black, and non-Hispanic American Indian/Alaska Native women lived in poverty.

Poverty status varies with age. Among women of each race and ethnicity, those aged 45–64 years were less likely to experience poverty than those aged 18–44 and 65 years and older. For instance, 17.8 percent of Hispanic women aged 45–64 were living in poverty in 2009, compared to 26.9 percent of Hispanic women aged 18–44 and 21.3 percent of those aged 65 years and older.

Poverty status also varies with educational attainment. Among women aged 25 years and older, 31.0 percent of those without a high school diploma were living in poverty, compared to 14.4 percent of those with a high school diploma or equivalent, 10.7 percent of those with some college, and 4.3 percent of those with a Bachelor’s degree or higher.

In 2009, women in families—a group of at least two people related by birth, marriage, or adoption and residing together—experienced higher rates of poverty than men in families (10.9 versus 7.7 percent, respectively). Men in families with no spouse present were considerably less likely to have household incomes below the poverty level than women in families with no spouse present (15.1 versus 27.1 percent, respectively).

1 DeNavas-Walt, Carmen, Bernadette D. Proctor, and Jessica C. Smith, U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Reports, P60-238, Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2009, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC, 2010.
The Census Bureau uses a set of money income thresholds that vary by family size and composition to determine who is poor. If a family’s total income is less than that family’s threshold, then that family and every individual in it is considered to be poor. Examples of 2009 poverty levels were $10,956 for an individual and $21,954 for a family of four. These levels differ from the Federal Poverty Level used to determine eligibility for Federal programs.

Graphs

Data

Women Aged 18 and Older Living below the Poverty Level,* by Race/Ethnicity and Age, 2009
Race/Ethnicity Percent of Women
18-44 Years 45-64 Years 65 Years and Older Total
*Poverty level, defined by the U.S. Census Bureau, was $21,954 for a family of four in 2009.
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, Annual Social and Economic Supplement, 2009. Current Population Survey Table Creator. Accessed 02/20/11.
Non-Hispanic White 13.1 7.8 8.2 10.1
Non-Hispanic Black 28.1 19.5 21.3 24.3
Hispanic 26.9 17.8 21.3 23.8
Non-Hispanic American Indian/Alaska Native 27.5 22.3 24.8 25.5
Non-Hispanic Asian 12.1 9.7 15.4 11.8
Non-Hispanic Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander 16.5 10.5 18.5 15.1
Non-Hispanic Multiple Race 22.6 13.5 12.0 18.6
Adults in Families* Living Below the Poverty Level,** by Household Type and Sex, 2009
Household Type Percent of Adults
Female Male
*Families are groups of at least two people related by birth, marriage, or adoption and residing together. **Poverty level, defined by the U.S. Census Bureau, was $21,954 for a family of four in 2009.
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, Annual Social and Economic Supplement, 2009. Current Population Survey Table Creator. Accessed 02/20/11.
Adults in Families, Total 10.9 7.7
Adults in Families, Married Couple 5.9 5.8
Adults in Families, No Spouse Present 27.1 15.1

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