Women in the U.S. represent half of the nation's workforce and hold powerful roles in both the economy and the home, yet one-third live at "the brink of poverty," according to the latest Shriver Report. In January 2014, nonprofit organization A Woman's Nation released the third report in a series in partnership with the Center for American Progress. Essays by politicians, academics, celebrities and advocates intersperse chapters of new research and explore women's affect on the nation's economy.
The report defines the brink of poverty as below 200 percent of the federal poverty line. The U.S. poverty threshold is $23,500 for a family of four, but many researchers deem this a low marker of economic hardship once a tenable cost of living is factored in. In 2012, nearly 42 million adult women lived in households on the brink, with incomes below $47,000 per year for a family of four. Just one crisis --health, housing, child care or otherwise-- can plunge a family on the brink into absolute poverty. Women have powerful roles in keeping their families financially stable; across families of all economic levels, the share of mothers contributing all or at least as much income as their partner rose from 27.7 percent to 63.9 percent between 1967 and 2010. And among working, married families in the bottom fifth of the income distribution, 70.1 percent of mothers are the family's primary breadwinner.
Women dominate a few underpaid occupations--secretarial work, nursing, teaching and service. These are the jobs the Bureau of Labor Statistics have identified to be the fastest-growing over the next decade, but work alone does not lead to financial security, the authors of the report say. Women are also more likely to cycle in and out of the labor market, docked by limited family-leave policies. Education, the report emphasizes, brings access to high-wage jobs. Women have surpassed men in earning every type of higher education, but low-income women living on the brink report being locked out of post-high school opportunities.
The report outlines solutions for challenges confronting women and makes public policy recommendations to strengthen women's economic power. Among the suggestions: increase the minimum wage, improve all levels of education, offer better access to high-quality child care and boost paid-leave policies.
The multiplatform report, available in print and as an eBook, includes community initiatives, results from a nationwide poll and a documentary film, "Paycheck to Paycheck: The Life in Times of Katrina Gilbert." The Shriver Report is a project of the nonprofit organization A Woman's Nation. The report was produced in partnership with the Center for American Progress, a think tank that aims to improve the lives of Americans through progressive ideas and action.