Single Women Fend for Themselves in Recession

On the heels of another dismal job report and a flaming national
debate over the meaning of marriage, the Center for American Progress
and Women's Voices Women Vote presents a snapshot
of the unmarried in today's economy
. It turns out that single women
of color, despite their vital economic contributions as consumers,
parents and workers, bear the brunt of the economy's decline and the
failed policies that have deepened the recession.

According to the
, unmarried women fare much worse than married couples on
nearly every measure of economic well-being, including home ownership
(30 percent of unmarried women, 80 percent of married couples),
household income and poverty rates.

And during lean times, "Single women have fewer savings to fall back
on if they become unemployed or have their earnings cut." The gender
wealth gap turns into a yawning chasm when you factor in race, as
recently detailed in an earlier
report by the Insight Center
showing a vast disparity in the median
net wealth of women of color compared with white women.

Unmarried status, according to the report, not only means women lack
the cushion of an additional household income, but penalizes them on a
community level by compounding
the racial wealth gap

Unmarried women of color have even less economic security than
their white counterparts. This is a particular concern because women of
color are more likely to be unmarried and facing the economic
insecurity associated with their marital status. For instance, 68
percent of adult black women are unmarried, as are 47 percent of
Hispanic women, compared with 43 percent of white women....

What's more, women who maintain families-the vast majority of
whom are single mothers-have the highest unemployment rate of all
women. Fifteen percent of black single mothers were unemployed in 2009,
as were 11.6 percent of Hispanic single mothers, compared with 6.6
percent of black and 9.7 percent of Hispanic married women, the ethnic
group with the highest unemployment rate for married women. This high
unemployment rate for married Hispanic married women results in a
smaller gap between the unemployment rates of Hispanic married and
unmarried women than for blacks and whites.

Drawing from the experience of the Recovery Act, the report outlines
some potential policy solutions that could turn women of color's
financial liabilities into assets. For example, targeted jobs programs
that don't just focus on male-dominated industries like construction,
or reforms to welfare-to-work programs that actually move women into
real careers instead of dead-end low-wage jobs.It also wouldn't hurt to
revise the tax codes that privilege
married heterosexuals
and unemployment
insurance policies
that discriminate against low-income women. And
while they're at it, Congress ought to finally begin dismantling the perverse
barriers in the Fair Labor Standards Act
that exclude domestic
, a sector dominated by immigrant women of color.

Mired at the bottom of the racial wealth divide, single women of
color need not just a safety net but a ladder: labor policies that
respect their autonomy as workers, and social programs that enable them
to strike out on their own while ensuring their families have something
to lean on.

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