The XX Factor

30 Percent of Single American Moms Are Living in Poverty

A woman shops in a discount food store in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Mothers are now the primary breadwinners in four out of ten American households. But the gender shift in these families hasn’t necessarily translated to increased economic agency for women and children. New Census numbers show that U.S. women were more likely to live in poverty than men in 2012, particularly if they’re raising families alone. Over 30 percent of families led by single moms are living in poverty, compared to 16.4 percent of families led by single dads. Families run by women bring in a median annual income of $34,002; those led by men bring in $48,634 a year. There are also a lot more families living in the former category than the latter.

In total, 14.5 percent of American women lived in poverty in 2012, compared to 11 percent of men. According to the National Women’s Law Center, poverty rates are even higher for black women (25.1 percent are living in poverty) and Hispanic women (24.8 percent). Women are more likely to be poor than men at every age: Among people between the ages of 18 to 64, 15.4 percent of women are in poverty, compared to 11.9 percent of men. Above age 65, 11 percent of women are in poverty, compared to 6.6 percent of men. Even girls under age 18 are slightly more likely to live in poverty than boys are.

The gender divide in American poverty rates is not breaking news; the latest numbers are just an indication that poverty is a problem in the United States, particularly among women, and that it’s not going anywhere fast (the numbers haven’t budged since 2011). As Hanna Rosin detailed in Slate last month, the wage gap between men and women can’t be totally explained by overt discrimination (or easily remedied by implementing the Equal Pay Act). But the gap nevertheless results in a national economy where women are disadvantaged in terms of their earning potential, and also increasingly responsible for raising children on thinner paychecks.