The Feminization of Poverty

The Feminization of Poverty

Despite the widespread misperception that women are achieving economic equality, their economic status has deteriorated sharply since the late 1960s. Today women—and children—are the primary beneficiaries of social welfare programs for the poor. Between the mid-’60s and mid-’70s, the number of poor adult males declined, while the number of the poor in households headed by women swelled by 100,000 a year. By 1980, America’s poor were predominantly female; two out of three adults whose incomes fell below the official federal poverty line were women, and more than half the families who were poor were headed by women. This trend prompted the National Advisory Council on Economic Opportunity(since then disbanded by the Reagan administration) to observe that “All other things being equal, if the proportion of poor in female headed households were to continue to increase at the same rate as it did from 1967 to 1978, the poverty population would be composed solely of women and their children before the year 2000.” Poverty in the United States has always been disproportionately concentrated among minorities, but the convergence of gender and class is unprecedented in American history.

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