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Poor and low-income women: A diverse group.

Nine million women of childbearing age are poor, and more than 10 million are low-income. (38) These women have surprisingly diverse backgrounds: Many have not finished high school, but some are college graduates; some are married, while others have never married or are separated or divorced from a husband who provides little or no support for his children; some are teenagers, while others are near the end of their reproductive lives; most are not employed, but some have full-time jobs. Despite this diversity, women in some groups are more likely than others to be poor or low-income; as a result, lower income women differ from higher income women in some notable respects: They are more likely, for example, to be young, unmarried, black or Hispanic, and unemployed (Figure 3).

Age and Marital Status

As they get older, the likelihood that women will be economically disadvantaged diminishes: (39)

* Roughly 20% of adolescent women and of those aged 20--24 are poor, and about another 20% of women in each of these age-groups are low-income.

* By contrast, only 9% of women in their early forties are poor and 14% are low-income.

Since women's economic status improves as they get older, it is not surprising that reproductive-age women who are poor and low-income tend to be younger than higher income women. (40)

* Thirty-eight percent of poor women and 33% of low-income women are in their teens or early twenties, compared with 26% of higher income women.

* On the other hand, only 23% of poor women and 29% of low-income women are in their late thirties and early forties, compared with 38% of higher income women.

The decline in poverty as women get older probably reflects, at least in part, the greater likelihood that as they reach their late twenties and beyond, women are married. (41) Unmarried women are much more likely to be poor or low-income than married women: Thirty-nine percent of never-married women aged 15--44, and even higher proportions of those who are separated, divorced or widowed, are poor or low-income, compared with 24% of those who are married. (42)

Given the relationship between marital status and poverty status, it is unsurprising that the majority of lower income women are unmarried. The contrast between poor and higher income women is especially striking. (43)

* Half of women living in poverty have never married, and only a quarter are currently married.

* Only a third of higher income women, on the other hand, have never married, and 58% are currently married.

* Child support is especially difficult for never-married women to obtain, because they are less likely than divorced women to have a court order directing the father to provide support for his children. (44)

Marriage, of course, is no guarantee against poverty. Many of the partners of poor women are poor themselves. They are unable to find jobs that pay decent wages, either because they lack the necessary education and training, or because they live in areas, such as inner cities or rural areas, where jobs are scarce, or because of racism and prejudice against blacks, Hispanics and other racial and ethnic groups.

Race and Ethnicity

A common misperception persists that poverty is concentrated largely, if not exclusively, among minority populations. In fact, half of all poor women and two-thirds of low-income women are white. At the same time, however, black and Hispanic women are much more likely than whites to be poor or low-income. (45)

* Thirty-four percent of black women and 30% of Hispanic women are poor, compared with 11% of white women.

* Twenty-two percent of black women and 29% of Hispanic women are low-income, compared with 16% of white women.

* As a result of these differences, black and Hispanic women account for a disproportionate share of women who are poor or low-income. (46)

Education and Employment

Level of education is clearly related to women's poverty status. Women who have not graduated from high school--roughly one woman in five aged 15--44--account for close to half of those who live in poverty and nearly 30% of those who are low-income. By contrast, only 14% of higher income women do not have a high school diploma. (47)

* Slightly more than a third of lower income women are high school graduates; another quarter have spent some time in college, although only 6% have a degree.

* By comparison, more than half of higher income women have attended college, and a quarter are college or postcollege graduates.

A large majority of women who are poor neither work outside the home nor are actively looking for work. On the other hand, nearly a third of poor women, and more than half of low-income women, have jobs; some work full time.(48) In part, due to their low levels of education and their family obligations, these working women are unable to command salaries that would lift them out of their disadvantaged circumstances.


Poor and low-income women account for a significant proportion of reproductive-age women in each state, ranging from 17% in Connecticut to 50% in Mississippi (Table 1; see pages 28-33).(49)

* In 26 states and the District of Columbia, at least a third of all reproductive-age women are poor or low-income; in 12 of these states, at least 40% are lower income.

* The states with the highest proportions of poor and low-income women are relatively rural; half are in the South.

* States with the highest proportions of poor and low-income women usually are not the same as those with the largest numbers of such women. On the other hand, states with the largest populations generally also have the highest number of lower income women: California has more than two million; New York and Texas each has more than one million; and Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania each has more than 750,000 (not shown).

Family Size

Like more affluent women, most lower income women either are childless or have small families (Figure 4; see page 15). (50)

* Forty-one percent of poor women and 38% of low-income women have no children, compared with 46% of higher income women.

* Thirty-three percent of poor women and 40% of low-income women have 1-2 children, compared with 4l% of higher income women.

* Lower income women are slightly more likely than higher income women to have three children, and they are considerably more likely to have four or more children, although such large families are not common among women in any income group. (51)

Welfare Recipients

Although nine million women of reproductive age live in poverty, only the very poorest of these women qualify for AFDC, because only about six in 10 have had a child and because the state-set income eligibility ceilings for AFDC are so low: The ceiling is below 50% of poverty in 32 states and the District of Columbia; it is below 35% of poverty in 14 State. (52)

About 2.7 million, or 30% of poor women aged 15-44, received AFDC benefits in 1991 (Figure 4). In addition, 5% of low-income women and less than 1% of higher income women reported receiving AFDC in that year; these women were probably on welfare for some period during that year and then moved off because their income increased. Altogether, therefore, about 3.5 million women aged 15-44 were on AFDC at some time in 1991. (Another three million women, including 1.7 million who were poor, were covered by Medicaid although they did not qualify for AFDC.) (53)

Because of their more difficult life circumstances, poor and low-income women often have a harder time than women with higher incomes preventing unintended pregnancies.

(38.) AGI, 1994d.

(39.) AGI, 1994d.

About 18% of women aged 25-29 are poor and 18% are low-income. Among 30-34-year-olds, 16% are poor and 18% are low-income; among 35-39-year-olds, the proportions are 12% and 17%.

(40.) AGI, 1994d.

(41.) Forrest, 1993.

By age 24.3, half of women have married; by age 29, three-quarters have been married. Older women are also more likely to have finished their education and to be working, which is likely to raise their income.

(42.) AGI, 1994d.

Seventy-three percent of women who are separated are poor or low-income, as are 48% of divorced women and 52% of widows.

(43.) AGI, 1994d.

(44.) U.S. General Accounting Office, 1994, p.3.

(45.) AGI, 1994d.

(46.) AGI, 1994d.

Blacks account for 13% of all women aged 15-44, but 29% of those who are poor and 17% of those who are low-income. Hispanics account for 9% of all women, but 18% and 15%, respectively, of those who are poor or low-income.

(47.) AGI, 1994d.

One reason the proportions of those not graduating from high school are so high among poor and low-income women is that they are younger than higher income women and therefore may still be in school.

(48.) AGI, 1994d.

(49.) AGI, 1994h.

(50.) AGI, 1994a.

(51.) AGI, 1994a.

Fourteen percent of poor women, 12% of low-income women and 10% of higher income women have three children; 12%, 10% and 3%, respectively, have four or more children.

(52.) National Governors' Association, 1994, Table 3. Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Louisiana, Missouri, Nevada, Ohio, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia have eligibility ceilings below 35% of poverty.

(53.) AGI, 1994d.


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Compared with higher income women, poor and low-income women are more
likely to be...

Women aged 15-44, 1992: 58,680,000


 Poor Low-Income Higher income

15-24 38 33 26
25-34 39 38 36
35-44 23 29 38

Note: Table made from bar graph

 Poor Low-income Higher income

Never Married 50 36 33
Separated 11 5 1
Divorced 13 11 7
Windowed 1 1 1
Married 25 47 58

Note: Table made from bar graph or Hispanic

 Poor Low-income Higher income

Black 29 17 9
Hispanic 18 15 6
White/other 52 68 85

Note: Table made from bar graph

 Poor Low-income Higher income

Not in labor force 60 36 23
Looking for work 10 7 4
Part-time job 15 19 18
Full-time job 16 38 56

Women aged 15-44, 1992: 58,680,000

Source: AGI, tabulations of data from the March 1992 Current Population
Survey, 1994.

Note: Table made from bar graph
More Demographics

Contrary to popular stereotype, most poor women...

...are childless or have small families

Five children or more (6%)
Four children (6%)
Three children (14%)
Two children (17%)
No Children (41%)
One child (16%)

Poor women aged 15-44, 1988: 8,298,300

Note: Table mode from pie chart

...and are not on welfare

AFDC and Medicaid (30%)
No AFDC, Medicaid (18%)
No AFDC, no Medicaid (52%)

Poor women aged 15-44, 1992: 9,096,000

Sources: Number of children--AGI, tabulations of data from the 1988
National Survey of Family Growth, 1994; AFDC and Medicaid status--AGI,
tabulations of data from the March 1992 Current Population Survey, 1994.

Notes: The figure on welfare represents proportions of women who
reported receiving AFDC and/or Medicaid at any time during 1991; as a
result, proportions are higher than the proportions participating in
either program at any given time.

Note: Table made from pie chart
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Publication:The Politics of Blame: Family Planning, Abortion and the Poor
Article Type:Topic Overview
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 1995
Previous Article:Women and poverty.
Next Article:Efforts to avoid an unplanned pregnancy.

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