Female Poverty in the USA

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Female Poverty in the USA


Poverty characterizes the economic situation of the individual or social group when they cannot meet a certain range of the minimum requirements needed for life, maintain working capacity, and procreation. However, the definition does not always apply to any situation. Poverty is a relative concept, which depends on the overall standard of living in a given society. It is a social problem inherent to all countries of the world without exception. The studies showed the relative nature of poverty through the connection of poverty and social shame, which is the gap between social standards and the material ability to adhere to them (Kearney & Harris, 2014). The World Bank (n. d.) defines the poverty line as a global level: income is less than $ 1.25 a day. However, in the US and other developed countries, there are different criteria to describe poverty. The US poverty rate is calculated on the basis of the subsistence level, multiplied by a coefficient of 2.5. In 2014, it amounted to little more than $ 1 thousand per month, which is about $ 34 a day. Each year, the level of poverty in the US is corrected and the different poverty threshold is set for families (households) of various compositions (Kearney & Harris, 2014). Using the case method, the paper focuses on the problem of poverty among women in the United States considering its causes and statistic data in the timeframe from the 18 century until the present time.

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Female Poverty Rates in the United States

In the United States, poverty rates clearly show that women are more affected by poverty than men. In 2004, in the country, there were 14.3 million poor women, whereas the number of poor men were 9.7 million. The independent organization of women’s rights Legal Momentum has calculated that the probability of being in poverty for women in America is 37% higher than for men (Williams & Hegewisch, 2011). For females aged 65 years, the probability is 70%. In 2004, one of eight American women were poor. Among men, every eleventh American lived in poverty (Williams & Hegewisch, 2011).

According to the representatives of the White House, the number of people living below the poverty line in the United States decreased from 25.8% in 1967 to 16% today. In 2012, about 49.7 million Americans, 13.4 million of them are women, live in poverty (“The War on Poverty 50 Years Later”, n.d.).

The most favorable situation is observed in the north-east and mid-west of the USA, where the number of poor is below the national average. The worst situation is noted for inhabitants of the southern and western regions, where there is a high poverty level. It should be noted that the most disadvantaged states are the ones, where a large number of female migrants are employed in the lowest paid jobs in the service sector (Florida, California, Louisiana, Mississippi) (“The War on Poverty 50 Years Later”, n. d.).

The most catastrophic situation is developing among single women with children. The families are the large and growing sector of society affected by poverty. Currently, half of the single-mother families live under the poverty line; in 1960, they accounted only for 21% (Kearney & Harris, 2014). Previously, single mothers could not work, relying on federal aid. Since 1990, they have to work to receive it. Moreover, they can get federal aid during not more than 5 years (Kearney & Harris, 2014).

The Reasons for Female Poverty

The labor market is in a complicated position; the unemployment rate is 4%. 62% (against 34% in 1984) of single mothers also work. During the rapid economic rise in 1997, the number of low-wage female workers increased by 0.5% to 3 million people. Thus, the number of employees is growing, but poverty does not decrease. The reason is the fact that the wages fall. The actual demand for labor increases at a slow rate; graduates are required only in specific areas. Another reason for female poverty is a necessity to be at home to raise children. Single mothers stand in front of three eternal problems: they are not highly qualified, they have low wages, and have the responsibility to take care of the child.

Female Poverty throughout the History from 18th Century

The problems of female poverty and social inequality have arisen since the formation of the American States. Throughout history, the White House tried to solve the problem in different ways. At the beginning of the 19th century, according to the legislation, city and municipal centers were supposed to take care of the poor women with kids. Local elite and the authorities helped them with food, wood, clothing or small amounts of money. However, the process of industrialization, which has accelerated in the 1820s, and the increased flow of migrants have exacerbated the problem of poverty in the US (Lewis, 1965). The government was forced to resort to the new measures.

In the middle of the 19th century, the course of American politics has shifted from providing benefits to the poor women in the direction of attempting to teach the lower class to work. Various public and charitable organizations began to gather the representatives of the poor in order to guide their actions and motivate to work. In addition, in order to help the single mothers and snatch the poor minors from the adverse conditions, the American Society for Care for Children launched a program, in which the boys of poor mothers went outside the city to the agrarian West (Lewis, 1965).

In addition to the aforementioned measures, some associations appealed to wealthy Americans to speak to the audience and share with the single mothers the lessons of survival and success in the American reality. Leaders of the United States tried to help the poor women not only financially, but also to educate them socially, teach the culture and ethics of the emerging middle class (Lewis, 1965).

In the middle of the 19th century, the problem of overcoming poverty was the main topic of debate between the industrial North and the slave-holding South. Republicans have seen the American idea of freedom as a possibility for everyone to overcome the path from poverty to wealth and independence. Moreover, they believed that slavery is an obstacle to their goals. Southerners, in turn, said that they have no problems with poverty and that the slave system saved the region from poverty, crimes, and revolutionary sentiments. After the Civil War, the South was the poorest part of the United States, because the population was struggling with debts and suffering from low prices for cotton after the military destruction (Lewis, 1965).

As a result, the broad masses of the population began to immigrate to other parts of the country. In order to solve the problem of the growing number of poor migrants, local police began allowing women with children to spend the night in their offices. In the 1880s, the opportunity was used by about 600 000 women (Jones, 1992). However, charities continued to insist on the approaches to re-educate the poor woman and help them in the long run. Founded in 1877, the society of charitable organizations acted under a slogan “not a benefactor, but a friend.” It consisted of female volunteers who were trying to teach the poor cleanliness and thrift.

Since the Great Depression and the background of worsening domestic economic and social stratification in the United States, thousands of American agricultural producers and industrial workers were ruined. Hoover and Roosevelt Administration began to attract people to public works, create a variety of programs and work camps, and part-time jobs in order to address the problem of unemployment and poverty. For several years after the Depression, more than two million women were working in the established system and received a salary of $ 30 a week. The measures could partially mitigate the impact of the manufacturing crisis and reduce the level of social tension.

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Statistic Data on Female Poverty at Present Days

The number of Americans living below the poverty line in 2010 exceeded 46 million people. The figure is stated in the official report of the United States Census Bureau. During the year, the number of poor people in the country grew by 2.8 million people (DeNavas, Proctor & Smith, 2011). In total, 15.1 percent of the female population lives below the poverty line in the United States. The number is for 0.8 percentage points higher than a year earlier. Statistics of the Census Bureau indicates that the number of poor people in the US is increasing, despite the fact that the country has recovered from the recession. In the United States, the number of poor women increases the fourth consecutive year. In addition, the poverty rate among single mothers is at the highest level for the time of observation, that is, for the past 52 years.

In 2011, materials on the human rights situation note that poverty among women and children reached a record high level in the United States. Materials, citing data from the US Census Bureau, claim that in 2010 in the United States 17 million women were living in poverty, including 7.5 million living in extreme poverty, and 4.7 million poor single mothers (Entmacher, Robbins, Vogtman, & Frohlich, 2013). In 2009, the level of poverty among women of the United States increased from 13.9 percent to 14.5 percent, which is a record high level for the previous 17 years (Entmacher et al., 2013). At the same time, the proportion of women living in extreme poverty rose from 5.9 to 6.3 percent and also broke a new record (Entmacher et al., 2013).

The Census Bureau report also says that in the last year, the number of poor among women younger than 18 years (from 20.7 to 22 percent) significantly increased, as well as among the women aged from 18 to 64 years (from 12.9 to 13, 7 percent) (DeNavas, Proctor & Smith, 2011). Moreover, the poverty rate among the elderly over 65 years remained unchanged and amounts nine percent.

The press release also stated that in 2010, the average household income was 49.4 thousand US dollars, which is a thousand dollars less than the previous year. At the same time, if dividing all Americans along racial lines, Asian women earn the most in the United States (more than 64 thousand). The second place is occupied by white women (excluding Hispanics). They earn nearly 54,6 thousand dollars a year. 32 thousand dollars of income accounted for the household of female African Americans.


Poverty is a global problem. Only the joint efforts of the international community to stabilize the social and economic situation in the least prosperous regions of the world are able to effectively counter the threat. It should also be recalled that methods of resolving problems are complex and involve not only economic but also political and socio-cultural aspects of the question. World political establishments must be aware of the increasing global interdependence of the members of the international system and to take the necessary measures to reduce poverty and improve the state of poor women.

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