From 2007 to 2009 (the most recent data available), the poverty rate in North Carolina increased from 14.3 percent to 16.3 percent. For women in North Carolina, the rate increased from 16.1 percent to 17.7 percent. Shockingly, this means that almost 828,000 women in North Carolina, or 1 in 5.6 women, lived below the federal poverty level (FPL) in 2009.
While 828,000 women living in poverty in our state is a disturbing statistic, it underplays the true number of women who are unable to make ends meet. According to the FPL, in 2009 a four-person family with two children was “officially” considered to be living in poverty if the family’s annualized income was $22,050. According to the more realistic Living Income Standard, however, a North Carolina family of four must earn $48,814 annually – an amount equal to 221 percent of the FPL – to afford the actual costs of such basic needs as housing, food, childcare, healthcare and transportation. In other words, statistics based on the FPL underestimate the actual number of struggling North Carolinians.
Still, these numbers offer a revealing snapshot of our state. Looking at women and men’s poverty rate by age reveals an even greater gender disparity for adult residents of the state. The poverty rate of working-age adult women was 16.8 percent compared to 13.1 percent of working men, and the poverty rate of women over 65 was almost twice that of men at 12.5 percent compared to 6.5 percent.
Women living in poverty is not a women’s issue. It is a lens into the long-term effects of persistent gender inequity. As the demographics of our workforce continue to change and more women become primary breadwinners, families will depend more and more on women’s incomes. For the sake of North Carolina’s families and the economic recovery, policy makers must continue to invest in the public structures and policies that ensure that all of our residents are able to make ends meet. On the state level, this means supporting such important programs as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), which more than 883,00 working families relied on in 2009 (the most recent data available). The state EITC assists working families with purchasing necessities and, ultimately, since most of these dollars are spent locally, helps stimulate the economy.