Low-Income Women Pushed to the Sidelines


Low-income women have been invisible in budget deliberations thus far – yet they will be injured disproportionately by cuts to income programs like Social Security and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families [TANF], as well by cuts to Medicaid, Medicare and Food Stamps.

Despite the prolonged recession, income assistance to low-income families has shriveled over the past decade, providing help to less than 40 percent of families who meet TANF criteria and to an even smaller fraction (27 percent) of all families in actual need. For those who do receive benefits, the cash value has eroded so badly that TANF cash assistance does not bring a family up to the poverty line in any state.

For low-income women and families who have fallen through the shredded TANF safety net, Food Stamps are a lifeline. But the Budget passed by the House in April slashes Food Stamps by 20 percent and caps spending. This would reduce the availability of Food Stamps to less than 40 percent of families who are eligible to receive it.

Efforts to weaken and roll back Social Security put low-income older women – especially older single women – at similar risk of economic insecurity. After a lifetime of low and unequal wages, half of all older women rely on Social Security for at least 80 percent of their incomes. For older single women – divorced, widowed, and never-married – the poverty rate is 20 percent. Without Social Security, the poverty rate would be even higher. Without Social Security, some 58 percent of all women over age 75 would be living in poverty.

The economic precariousness of life in a shredded safety net needs to be a core part of deliberations to reduce the deficit. Women need to be at the table and in the conversation to foreground the impacts of deficit reduction decisions on economically vulnerable women.

Mink is co-editor of the two-volume Poverty in the United States: An Encyclopedia of History, Politics and Policy and author of Welfare’s End. Her blog is