Poverty in DC: A Women’s Issue.
By Delese Harvey
One Woman. Two Children. Employed but under-educated. This scenario is a common occurrence in the Washington, DC Metro Area. In DC, Women were 35% more likely to be in poverty than men.[i] In 2009 the District had the highest percentage of women in poverty in the Metropolitan region. 63% of DC’s low-income working families – families earning 185% of the federal poverty level – are headed by single women.[ii] While there are many factors that contribute to the disproportionate number of women living below the federal poverty level, we can look to certain factors as being more prominent than others.
Wage disparity can be cited as one of the top reasons women continue to live below the federal poverty line. Working women continue to earn less than their male counterparts. Women-headed families in the District have the lowest median incomes regionally with earnings of $35,700 in 2008, compared to the median income for all families in the metropolitan region of $67,308 and the median income for male-headed families in the District of $52,889.[iii]
Research shows that childcare is one of the most expensive costs single women with children must budget bear. The costs of childcare have significantly increased over the past 5 years. Childcare can account for up to 70% of a family’s budget. In the District, a family with an infant and a preschooler would pay $24,627 for childcare.[iv] This would consume nearly 70% of the median income of women-headed families, which is $35,700 a year.[v] Consequently, the family is left with 30% of its income to cover expenses such as housing, food and savings.
A lack of Job training and Education has been reported as a major factor in low earnings and the increasing number of women living in poverty. Low levels of education hinder the ability of women to compete for living wage jobs. Only 40% of low-income working female heads of household in the District have high school degrees, and only 31% have any post-secondary education.[vi] With 82% of the jobs in D.C. held by those with a Bachelor’s degree or higher this puts these women at a significant disadvantage in securing high wage jobs.[vii]
Unfortunately many women and their families are unable to cover all necessary costs of living in the District of Columbia. Poverty is a women’s issue and understanding the factors that are driving poverty is the first step in taking action to help DC women and girls achieve economic security. As you vote on September 14, please consider the needs of women and the candidates positions on policies that will directly affect their quality of life.
Mayoral and City Council Candidates were given the opportunity to respond to a number of issues raised by women and girls in our community. You can view their responses in The DC Women’s Agenda 2010 Election Guide to the Mayoral and DC Council Elections: Issues Affecting Women and Girls and Supplemental Questions from Girls in Wards 5, 6, 7 and 8, located on the DC Women’s Agenda website at www.dcwaonline.org
Delese Harvey is the Director of the DC Metro Area Family Economic Security Programs at Wider Opportunities for Women
[i]Poverty in the United States: A Snapshot. http://www.nclej.org/poverty-in-the-us.php
[ii] A Portrait of Women & Girls in the Washington Metropolitan Area http://thewomensfoundation.org/images/PortraitFinal.pdf
[iii] 2006-2008 American Community Survey
[v] 2006-2008 American Community Survey
[vi] 2006-2008 American Community Survey
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