The Price of Poverty and its Unique Costs for Women

by Laura Fortman and Latifa Lyles on January 17, 2014 · 4 comments

This week the Shriver Report was released, which examines financial hardship among American women. It includes contributions from luminaries like Maria Shriver, Anne-Marie Slaughter and Beyoncé, who share their perspectives on the unique economic challenges women in this country face.

Many articles emphasize the challenges that arise due to lack of flexibility in the workplace, and with good reason: Today’s working woman has to balance a number of responsibilities, including work, raising children and taking care of aging parents. Forty percent of American households have a working mother as the sole or primary breadwinner. Two-thirds of those households are led by single mothers, and a startlingly high number of single-mother households live not just on the brink, but indisputably in the grips of poverty.

At the Department of Labor, we see the effects of these challenges every day. Minimum-wage entry-level jobs (in which women outnumber men two to one) often have inflexible hours and challenging physical demands in addition to insufficient pay and limited benefits. These factors make it almost impossible for women in those professions to ascend the ladder of opportunity to more lucrative jobs.

The Shriver Report notes that the public and private sector both have a role to play in addressing these challenges. So what is the Department of Labor doing to help women push back from the brink?

First, we are advocating for a raise in the federal minimum wage. In recent years, the economy has expanded, and the stock market has soared. Yet, low-wage workers aren’t reaping the benefits. Nearly 60 percent of those who would benefit from increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour are women. That additional income, along with tax credits, would lift a full-time minimum wage worker and her family above the poverty line. Raising the minimum wage isn’t just pro-worker, it’s pro-economic growth. As Secretary Perez has said, “the best anti-poverty program is the availability of good jobs.” Putting money in the pockets of working families means they’ll spend it on goods and services, which in turn helps businesses thrive and create more jobs.

We have stepped up enforcement efforts in industries such as healthcare, restaurants and garment, which employ large numbers of workers – many of whom are women – at risk of labor violations. We also announced a new final rule that will extend the Fair Labor Standards Act’s minimum wage and overtime protections to most direct care workers – of which more than 92% are women – employed in private homes to provide critical services to those who need care, enabling them to remain in their homes, and to remain in their communities.

We’re also working to raise awareness about the gender pay gap, providing resources to help workers educate themselves about their pay rights, and engaging citizens that want to help promote gender pay equity, such as those that participated in our 2012 Equal Pay App Challenge.

Flexibility is another important component in this equation, which is why we were so excited to announce expansions to the Family and Medical Leave Act last year. These expansions ensure that even more workers receive greater opportunities to take leave, enabling them to care for family members without worrying about losing their jobs.

The Shriver Report notes that “[t]he most common shared story in our country today is the financial insecurity of American families,” and that this problem requires public, private and personal solutions. By working together to confront these challenges, we’re doing our part to ensure that someday, our most common shared story may be our joint efforts to restore financial security to those families.

Laura Fortman is the deputy administrator of the Wage and Hour Division, and Latifa Lyles is the acting director of the Women’s Bureau

 

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Mary Leary January 17, 2014 at 7:15 pm

Very thoughtful analysis of gripping issues facing women in the workforce, especially single mothers.

2 suzsnne January 17, 2014 at 8:48 pm

How many years have we been striving for change?? When will it happen? We keep writing literature when we need to lobby Congress and let our Senators hear us out.
I never thought I would become a single divorced intonmy senior years..ways I think of combatting this is to change individually and think for yourself..get the right job and don’t quit for anything..take advanced education courses online and collect SS while working full time at 66 and put as much away as possible
There is absolutely no reason to retire at this age.keep working as long as you can; keeps your mind alert and you stay younger longer and of course it also puts food on the table..
reach out and join support groups and find ways to travel inexpensively..
It can be had if you are enterprising..

3 suzanne January 17, 2014 at 8:53 pm

How many years have we been striving for change?? When will it happen? We keep writing literature when we need to lobby Congress and let our Senators hear us out.
I never thought I would become a single divorced into my senior years..ways I think of combatting this is to change individually and think for yourself..get the right job and don’t quit for anything..take advanced education courses online and collect SS while working full time at 66 and put as much away as possible
There is absolutely no reason to retire at this age.keep working as long as you can; keeps your mind alert and you stay younger longer and of course it also puts food on the table..
reach out and join support groups and find ways to travel inexpensively..
It can be had if you are enterprising..

4 Terry January 24, 2014 at 12:27 pm

Interesting, introduction that suggests we need to start educating our daughters (nieces, granddaughters, etc) at an early age on the benefits of delayed gratification (the sons need to hear the same message), to be able to succeed in education and financial independence. Oh, the report costs money ($6.99 on Amazon.com), leading me to believe only academics, government officials, pundits and reporters will read it, thereby leaving out the majority of women who might be interested in reading it.

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