Public policy has the power to set women and families up for success, and new data released by the Census Bureau yesterday provide a critical look at where our country stands on the issues that matter most in determining just how successful they are. The data, which look at poverty, health insurance, and income in the United States, make clear that policy makers have unfinished business to take care of to make sure women and families have all the supports they need to live healthy and secure lives.
Here's our analysis:
The data show that women, particularly women raising children on their own, are more likely to be poor or economically insecure compared to men, and that Black and Latina women are especially likely to live in poverty. However, the data also make clear that we know how to end poverty. The supplemental poverty measure (SPM) – which is a more sophisticated way to measure poverty that accounts for cost of living and the impacts of public policies – highlights the importance of investments made as a result of the pandemic, such as stimulus payments and the Child Tax Credit, especially for women and families. According to the SPM, poverty for women and girls declined significantly by 1.7 percentage points, from 9.6 percent in 2020 to 7.9 percent in 2021. The decline for households headed by women was even more striking: among these households, poverty rates declined by more than one-third.
The data on health insurance also revealed the importance of policy choices. Uninsured rates decreased significantly in 2021, with 1.1 million fewer people uninsured. It's critical to note that this improvement occurred despite the fact that private insurance coverage declined. Instead, the improvements were due to an increase in Marketplace coverage through the Affordable Care Act, and a significant increase in public insurance coverage, thanks to policies passed in response to COVID. This expansion of public coverage was important across communities, with Black, Latino and white, non-Hispanic people all seeing significant increases in public insurance coverage. Meanwhile, people living in states that had not expanded Medicaid continued to have higher rates of uninsured people, underscoring the disparities between these states. Inequities in access to high-quality affordable care lead to widespread harm, particularly for the over 800,000 women of reproductive age living in non-expansion states. Look no farther than the maternal health crisis to see the ripple effects of inaccessible and unaffordable care.
The income data provide a mixed picture. Income inequality grew significantly in 2021, for the first time in a decade, and median earnings for full-time, year-round workers declined. However, the number of full-time, year-round workers increased and median earnings for women workers overall increased significantly in 2021. As a result, the wage gap for all women workers compared to all men narrowed by 4 cents – to 23 cents, likely due to an economy on the mend. But the wage gap among full-time, year-round workers was not significantly different for this year's data and wage gaps remain even larger for many women of color.
The Impact of Racism
The new data also show that systemic racism continues to drive inequities. Black and Latina women are more likely to be economically insecure, lack health insurance and have larger wage gaps compared to white, non-Hispanic women. And Asian Americans were the only racial group to see their official poverty rate increase in 2021.
Policy makers – both nationally and at the state level – must act. Many states have yet to expand Medicaid, leaving millions without health coverage. The Inflation Reduction Act failed to close the Medicaid coverage gap, leaving millions of people, including 650,000 Black women, without access to better, more affordable care. This legislation also lacked critical caregiving supports, including paid leave, child care, and home- and community-based care and services for people with disabilities – investments that are essential for supporting families and our economy. And Congress has yet to pass the Pregnant Workers' Fairness Act to support pregnant people on the job or confirm Kalpana Kotagal to lead the EEOC – a critical role to ensure that we have the research and enforcement capacity we need to close the wage gap.
These data show how much of a difference public policies – such as stimulus payments and the Child Tax Credit – made during the pandemic, helping address longstanding inequities in our economy. And they further support the need for urgent action from policy makers. Since these data were collected, things have worsened for women and families – Roe v. Wade has been overturned, undermining pregnant people's health and economic security, and inflation has continued to climb. Now and into the new year, policy makers must center women and families – especially women and families of color – in their policymaking to ensure they aren't left behind.Back