People Facing Barriers, SSI

Poverty Data Shows Why Social Security Matters to Women and People of Color

December 7, 2023 • By and

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Last Updated: December 7, 2023

Woman reviewing documentsIn 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 gap, overrepresentation 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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  1. Denise D.

    Tell me how you can help not the statistics, as we already know how poor we are! SSDI Recip

  2. Angelic L.

    It would be nice if disabled people who can’t work could get paid enough SSDI to actually live on. The cost of living cola was only 3.2 % for 2024. This will hardly cover the rising cost of rent, food, utilities and other essentials that woman need to live.

  3. Lisa R.

    My X husband had an annuity that I was legally on for years , I was a housewife with 2 children ( stay home parent) he was abusive I had to get a pfa on him and after being married 23 years and filing married and jointly he illegally divorced me in 2018 and signed papers behind my back so I could not get any of the pension etc. I am disabled Have No recent work history and have no income as for him he has his Retirement disability at age 56 and gets enough for Two ppl as I get absolutely nothing! Paid off lawyers and courts The system failed me as I was homeless for a year and have to live with my 26 yr old daughter and her income , it’s embarrassing and I have no idea what to do!? Unfair and very hard

    • S.D.

      We’re sorry to hear of your situation, Lisa. You may be eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), a needs-based program that makes payments to adults and children with disabilities, and people 65 and older, who have limited income and resources. To find out if you might be able to receive SSI and to schedule an appointment, visit our Who Can Get SSI webpage. In addition, because you were married at least 10 years, you may be able to receive divorced spouse benefits on your husband’s record if you’re at least 62 and not eligible for a higher benefit on your own record. For more information about divorced spouse benefits, visit our Benefits Planner. If you have specific questions about your situation, you can call us at 1-800-772-1213, Monday through Friday, between 8:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m.

      • S.

        Divorced spouse benefits are inadequate. Just try living on $1,450.00 a month. Penalized for being a SAHP and self-employed.
        All retirement was lost by Merrill-Lynch during the great “recession”. Still working when I can find it.

  4. Mary— a.

    Yet at least once a year the government causes unneeded stress as they play games about shutting the government down, thus the old people depending on their checks ( only income) will be horribly stressed since if the check doesn’t come they cant pay rent etc….
    Not sure why this is continually allowed. Those people shutting down the government don’t lose one check. Even if the checks are sent later, there is late charges and perhaps eviction.

    No stress for those government control people, just for the elders who paid into the system for 50-70 years.

    • Angelic L.

      Congress don’t care they only worry about their donors with millions of dollars.

  5. PD

    The “gender wage gap” disappears when education and experience are accounted for. This has been known for decades, yet curiously remains unacknowledged by those who want to use the gap for political purposes. In any event, SS is based on contributions. $X paid in will pay out the same in benefits at retirement, regardless of whether paid in by a man or woman, or what your race is.

    • Bonnie

      The wage gap is alive and well. I am a divorced 68 year old woman. In retirement, people should depend on a 3-legged plan: Social Security, plus employer benefits, plus personal savings. My employer sponsored a 401(k) plan to which employees could contribute pre-tax dollars. After a contribution of 5%, the employer would match the employee contributions. I couldn’t afford to contribute because I had 2 boys and was raising them as a single mom. Paying rent, clothes and food, school costs, daycare, etc. ate up my checks. I was paid much less than the men I worked with who were doing the same job. I also was unable to save money on the side. Social Security is a lifesaver, and is my only income, but what I receive makes unqualified for benefits from the county like Food Stamps etc. I am just slightly over the income limit.

      • Angelic L.

        The income limit for foodstamps is too low they have been needing to raise it for a long time now especially after the pandemic which rose the cost of living and the poverty line up about $1000

  6. Daniel G.

    Social Security should not be fighting poverty. Social Security is about allowing people who worked and contribute to SS for many years to have a standard of leaving proportional with their contributions. And do not turn this into a black – white – Latino – oriental – woman – man issue. That is what politicians do while also misusing the SS contributions for their projects/benefit. Just stick to the numbers and protect the funds.

    • Mousielove

      Agree, but “our” government now is virtue signaling at every opportunity.
      As a woman, it seems I don’t matter at all, since we all will be getting a 3.2% COLA next year.
      NOT enough even when you take into account other investment income. If that other income is stock based, with Bidenomics, it’s suffering, also.

      • Angelic L.

        Bidenomics created p poverty by letting thousands of immigrants just pass into our boards for one thing that just creates a situation where people who never paid into SSI get money from the tax payers while tax payers are homeless and can’t afford to buy food the illegal immigrants get hotel rooms food and medical care just handed to them. So they are using up the citizens of the countries resources. I am a citizen of this country and I was homeless for two years without foodstamps until I finally proved I was disabled and for SSDI. The illegal immigrants come here and they get all their needs met.

        • Sharon

          Yes as our veterans and poor are tossed aside to provide for people that have not contributed.
          I hope voters will be smarter in upcoming elections.

  7. Pedro M.

    Its all BS, people abuse Social Security (SS) for their own personal preferences and people who really need it gets screwed. SS should do better background checks and make personal visits to the homes monthly to really determine if these people really need SS?

    • Patrick J.

      Sec.8 Allready does that every month!

    • Daniel G.

      You are talking about social benefits like welfare. SS is totally different and it is about your money that you contributed/saved with the government to use when you retire.

  8. AP

    It’s insulting that the Social Security Administration is fully aware of the wage disparity and women living impoverished to begin with and even more so once on Social Security as the only “income” once they reach retirement and/or disability. Most employers for the baby boom and generation shortly after were not offering retirement plans and 401 K did not exist until their midlife. Then the greater slap in the face is the “COLA” increases are not based on actual cost of living increases when there is only a 3% increase in comparison to gas prices in CA increasing by 20%, food increasing by 12%, rents increasing by 15%, and utilities increasing by 17%. Overall to eat a healthy diet, it costs one person over $200 per month for breakfast, lunch and dinner, NO allowance for a meal out with a friend or family, where it was $150. So that little $20 per month increase doesn’t even help with the food cost and SNAP is only $19 per month, still not keeping up with the cost for only one essential monthly expense. Medi-Medi is not helpful where dental is concerned, by the time the dentists are done not providing good care due to the limited services covered (not really anything being covered except xrays and what they call a “cleaning”) the cost for dental care is out of this world to the point teeth are being pulled that could be saved only for the cost being the reason and a person having to gum their food to death in order to eat because dentures are expensive and not covered. This is the most convoluted concept, men taking in a higher wage so having a higher monthly payment from SSA where women are still forced to live with less but their expenses are higher for clothes, haircuts, personal hygiene, etc only because of their gender. And God forbid if it is increased to be equal to a man’s monthly payment, it won’t be for women already on SSA payments, it will be for future women applying for disability, retirement or SSI. This is the worse possible scenario for retiring and disabled women in this country. But let’s keep up with our surveys and research statistics and feel like we’ve done something, right?

    • Daniel G.

      You cannot ask for more money; they are all going to Ukraine to pay all government salaries, pensions, military and the rest, they go to Israel to pay for their weapons for extermination of palestinians, they pay health, rent/hotel, education, food maybe phone and so on for illegal immigrants…. Asking to take care of America first is too much for politicians.

    • Walt

      SSA is not the institution that can fix the problems in your long rant….

    • Angelic L.

      Absolutely if you didn’t make over $30,000 a year when you worked you don’t get hardly anything to live on.

  9. Perturbed

    We received an IRMAA SS penalty for using our own money to buy a house. I personally will now get LESS of my own money for at least this year.

    • Joe

      Of course, you took money out of an IRA/401k which you had not paid any taxes on so it is considered as income when you take it out to spend, even to buy a house. It is not a penalty it is based on you income level for the year.

  10. Christy S.

    Not shocked. I was deprived of 30% income because I had no penis. Even though I had two children and no child support. I was then and still am a second class citizen in the United States.

    • Sandy

      I’m an employer and 65% of my females make more than the men it’s based on performance. The issues is with second class citizen who think they are better than the rest and don’t have to work for anything. Your employer is not at fault because you choose to have two children with a man who won’t support them. See the pattern.

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