New Report Finds that Four in Ten Women Lack Economic Security

Nov 20, 2013

By Lauren French

Despite the increasingly important role of women in America's workforce, many are still struggling to afford basic needs and make ends meet.  In conjunction with Representative Rosa DeLauro (CT-D), Wider Opportunities for Women (WOW) recently hosted a congressional briefing to discuss these economic challenges. The briefing included remarks from Shawn McMahon, CEO of WOW; Teresa Younger, executive director of the Permanent Commission of the Status of Women in Connecticut; and Anastasia Braucht, a Jersey Shore restaurant worker and volunteer with Restaurant Opportunities Centers United.

The briefing highlighted a new WOW report that finds 45 percent of Americans are economically insecure. The report defines economic insecurity based on the Basic Economic Security Tables Index (BEST), a measure of the basic needs and assets required to achieve financial stability, taking into account health care premiums, child care, retirement and emergency savings, and employer-based benefits. This measure goes beyond the baseline poverty rate, and instead calculates a benchmark income that allows families to make ends meet and escape poverty.

Importantly, the report identifies a gender gap, with women far more likely to be economically insecure. Forty-one percent of adult women live in households with income levels that do not provide economic security, as compared to 36 percent of men. Economic insecurity rates also vary by race and marital status. Black and Hispanic single women face a larger gender gap than white women. While the gap between white women and all men is 12 percentage points, black women face a gap of 16 percentage points, and Hispanic women a gap of 21 percentage points. Single women also face higher rates than their married counterparts, with 60 percent of single women living in economic insecurity. This is largely because single women are more likely to be caretakers than single men, 45 percent of whom are economically insecure.

As the WOW report notes, "families lacking security incomes may be one illness, unforeseen expense, or job loss away from personal and financial tragedy." Many workers, especially women who are disproportionately the heads of single-parent households, must often choose between their children's health and ensuring a paycheck; this is because they often lack paid sick days and paid family and medical leave. With so many women already living in insecurity, this is untenable for our nation's economy. It's critical that we enact a national paid family and medical leave program and paid sick days standards that allow women to address their caregiving responsibilities without risking their economic security.

Passing legislation to improve job quality is a necessary step in allowing low-income women to escape the cycle of poverty. Guaranteeing workplace benefits such as paid leave affords workers the opportunity to attain greater job security, while protecting them from income loss- protections that are particularly important for workers in low-wage jobs. It's time that we enact national policies that allow working women and families to move out of poverty and toward lifelong economic security.

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