Republican U.S. Senate candidate George Allen recently lamented the financial hardships facing women and said they would benefit from his general formula for fixing the economy: cut government spending, regulation and taxes.
"The poverty rate amongst women is the worst it’s been in 17 years and the extreme poverty rate is the worst it’s ever been," he said.
We asked the Allen campaign to back up its statistics.
In a response on its website, the campaign cited a number of articles about the difficulties women encounter in seeking work and making ends meet. Among them was a story from The Daily Beast that details how women, single women and female-headed households were worse off in the Census Bureau’s 2010 survey of households than in the previous year.
Women in Poverty
The story, written in September 2011, accurately notes that the 2010 census survey found that 46.3 million of all Americans -- 15.1 percent -- lived in poverty. It found that 25.5 million women -- 16.3 percent -- lived in poverty. In 2010, the Census Bureau standard for poverty was $22,113 in earnings for a family of four with two children or $11,139 for an individual.
The bureau has data reaching back to 1966. As the article claimed and Allen correctly repeated, the poverty rate for women in 2010 was the highest since 1993, or 17 years, when it reached 16.9 percent. The rate fell to 12.6 percent in 2001 and has been trending up every since.
The census bureau, which releases its poverty report every September, has updated its data since the story Allen cited was published. In 2011, the poverty rate for women continued at 16.3 percent, while for all Americans, it fell slightly to 15 percent.
Women in Extreme Poverty
Extreme poverty is defined as living at half the poverty rate. In 2011, that meant earnings of $5,742 or less for an individual and $11,405 for a family of four with two children. In 2011, 6.6 percent of Americans and 7.2 percent of women fell into that category. That’s the highest figure since the Census Bureau started tracking extreme poverty in 1988. So Allen is right.
Why are there more women in poverty than men?
Much of the reason is related to a wage gap, said Joan Entmacher, vice president for family economic security at The National Women’s Law Center. A large reason in the difference between poverty among men and women is primarily related to the wage gap, she said.
As we’ve previously written, full-time employed women make 77 cents to every dollar full-time employed men make. Several studies have concluded that only a small portion of the difference is caused by sexism. Women generally choose occupations that have relatively low wages and take more time off than men for childbirth and child care.
"Women remain disproportionately in traditionally female occupations, which pay low- and very-low wages, certainly as compared to more integrated and traditionally male occupations," said Wendy Pollack, director of the Women’s Law & Policy Project at the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, a nonprofit in Chicago that develops programs and advocates for policies to help the poor.
Entmacher said cuts in public spending during recent years have particularly hurt women. "Teachers were the largest group of public sector employees affected and teacher jobs are held at a rate of about 70 percent by women," she said. "So public-sector job losses have been a real drag on the recovery for women."
Allen said, "The poverty rate amongst women is the worst it’s been in 17 years and the extreme poverty rate is the worst it’s ever been."
The numbers back him up. We rate his statement True.