With Only Dimes in Her Pocket
By Gianna Francesca Vescio
In her third installment of the “For All Women” series, Gianna Vescio addresses how feminism can better serve women in poverty. Poverty creates an added obstacle for women, their futures, and their health. But poverty is preventable. So how do we stop it?
While fighting for women’s rights, it is easy to focus on creating opportunities for women to achieve high-level positions in business and politics, where they will be more visible. However, prioritizing filling top-tier jobs with women does not always have a widespread effect on women of lower economic status. Not all women start on equal footing, and many do not have access to even the most basic necessities. Poverty creates an added obstacle for women, their children, and their health.Yet, there are ways to level the playing field.
According to the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), women account for two-thirds of the workforce in the lowest paying jobs, which includes childcare workers, home health aides, food service workers, and others. Of these women, an average of 42% live at or near the poverty line. And, it comes as no surprise, that women of color are disproportionately affected by poverty. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that in 2018, of the 38.1 million people living in poverty, 58.3% were women of color. (see footnote 1)
Hiring a new female CEO, a position which typically requires a high level of education and access to other economic resources, does not guarantee that the problems of their low-income female employees will be resolved or that homeless women will be given a place in that business. It also does not solve the problem of childcare.
Three in ten single mothers live beneath the poverty line, twice the number of single fathers in poverty. (see footnote 2) These single mothers manage a constant balancing act of finding work to support their family and caring for their children. Combining the stress of work, poverty, and parenthood may leave these women more vulnerable to chronic illness and mental health disorders. Without a stable income, health insurance, and equal pay, obtaining healthcare can be impossible for women in poverty. This becomes an even greater burden if they do not have transportation, someone to watch their children, or are unable to take time off work.
While this situation seems dire, it is possible for states and federal governments to prevent poverty. It is not enough to create a pathway to work if that pathway does not provide a living wage, benefits, or decent hours. This is where state and federal governments must fill the gap with legislation that will enforce wages (both a living wage and eliminating the wage gap), grant wider access to insurance or universal healthcare, and encourage flexible work hours and more paid time-off for parents.
Poverty is preventable. With women experiencing a greater risk for poverty, the advancement of gender equality depends on eliminating this societal ailment. That requires not only ways for impoverished women to find jobs but protections once they are working.
Next month, our discussion of intersectionality will continue by delving into the obstacles faced by transgender women.