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Why Social Security Matters to Women and People of Color

Why Social Security Matters to Women and People of Color

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In September, the U.S. Census Bureau released new poverty data showing a historic increase in poverty rates in 2022 as measured by the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM), which takes into account the value of noncash public benefits. The surge in poverty rates reflects the expiration of pandemic relief – like stimulus payments, expanded refundable tax credits, and expanded Unemployment Insurance.

Unfortunately, as history has taught us, the impacts of poverty are felt most strongly by the most marginalized. For example:

  • SPM poverty rates for women and girls increased from 7.9% in 2021 to 12.8% in 2022.
  • One in nine adult women lived in poverty as measured by the Census Bureau’s official poverty measure (OPM).
  • The official poverty rates for women of color were even worse: 16.6% of Black women and 16.8% of Latina women were in poverty last year as compared to 7.3% of white, non-Hispanic men.
  • Women made up six in ten seniors who lived in poverty last year, with the official poverty rate for senior women remaining high at 11.2%.

The systemic inequities and underinvestment that women experience throughout their lives puts them at greater risk of living in poverty: The cumulative impacts of the gender wage gapoverrepresentation in low-paid jobs, caregiving responsibilities, and more have put women, especially women of color, at an economic disadvantage. Gender injustice compounded by structural racism means the risk of economic insecurity is much higher for older women of color.

Scary, we know.

But it doesn’t have to be this way: The solutions are right in front of us.

While the increase in SPM poverty between 2021 and 2022 is discouraging, the poverty data is a reminder that public benefits and supports can make a difference. In addition to showing the impact of pandemic relief, the SPM makes it abundantly clear how vital social insurance programs like Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) are in combating poverty.

Social Security continued to be the most important anti-poverty program in 2022, moving 28.9 million people out of SPM poverty. SSI also lifted 2.5 million people out of SPM poverty in 2022.

Social Security and SSI are especially critical for older women, people of color, people with disabilities, and people with low incomes, because they serve as the foundation for their economic security, helping to make up for the fact that society has failed to effectively combat systemic discrimination and invest in their well-being.

The bottom line is that Social Security and other policies can alleviate poverty in this country and make a real difference for the economic security of women and people of color.

The National Women’s Law Center is a non-profit organization that fights for gender justice—in the courts, in public policy, and in our society—working across the issues that are central to the lives of women and girls.

Our posting of this blog does not constitute an endorsement or recommendation of any non-Social Security organization, author, or webpages.

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