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. Tony

    There are 31.4 million women and people of color living slightly above poverty and millions more living in poverty.

    There are only 1.2 million Section 8 housing units and 2.2 million Section 8 housing vouchers.

    There isn’t enough housing for the poor Americans, but the government will house hundreds of thousands of immigrants coming through the southern U.S. boarder.

    Our resources is limited, but thousands of immigrants are coming each month.

    American don’t want these low paying jobs which is abundant for migrants, but corporate greed will soon kick in after the holidays and there will be massive layoff.

    U.S. Citizens will have to compete with migrants for the remaining jobs in 2024. There will probably be the largest amount of people applying for Social Security and SSI in 2024.



  2. Penn

    It has long been known that the census bureau’s definition of poverty is grossly invalid. It does not take into consideration government benefits which in effect radically lower the poverty rates of all classes of lower income individuals. This is another example of federal government disinformation.

  3. Tony

    Being slightly above poverty isn’t comforting to those women and people of color.

    The SSA gave people on Social Security/SSDI just enough money where they don’t qualify for SSI, welfare, and food stamps.

    • Joe

      Social security is the same for everyone, male, female, regardless of your race. You get back what you put into the system, they are not paying just enough money so you don’t qualify for other welfare programs.

      • Tony

        The ALJs are human and may be more prejudiced against a male, female, or others races.

        People on Social Security Retirement and SSDI who don’t make enough can also get SSI, so they get more than what they put in.

        If they are slightly over SSI, then they get nothing while those earning less than them get almost the same amount and additional welfare benefits.

  4. Frances

    Why do people on SS have to pay taxes, other states get by without taxing people on Social Security?

    • Dan B.

      Frances, I have been a tax professional for 32 years. Social Security has been taxed since 1984. Like now, government was spending more money than taxes were being collected, so they decided to tax SS.

      On the other hand, SS benefits are WAY more than the amount of money that was collected. Over the years I have put in a little over $100,000, but at 70 when I start collecting I will collect about $2000 per month, and will get back all the money I put in in a little over FOUR YEARS. So, in reality we have NOT been taxed on all the Social Security benefits we receive.

      But it would sure be nice if we didn’t have to pay tax on it. We just have to convince Congress to quit giving away money we don’t have, and maybe we would not have to pay tax on SS. I’m not holding my breath any time soon.

      • Jack M.

        True but what you are not taking into account is the idea that the money we pay into the plan is invested and grows during the working years. Unfortunately, under Lydon Johnson, the SS fund was raided to pay for excess government spending just as it does now.

    • S.D.

      Hi, Frances. Thanks for reading our blog and for your question. The taxation of Social Security began in 1984 after Congress passed the 1983 Amendments in response to a short-term financing crisis. As a result, you may have to pay federal income taxes on some of your Social Security if you have other substantial income in addition to your benefits (such as wages, self-employment, interest, dividends and other taxable income that must be reported on your federal tax return). In some, but not all states, you may also have to pay income taxes on your Social Security. For more information about taxation of benefits, visit our Income Taxes And Your Social Security Benefits webpage. We hope this helps.

  5. Walt

    “Our posting of this blog does not constitute an endorsement or recommendation of any non-Social Security organization, author, or webpages.”

    Not true. This article clearly lines up with the push by the current social justice warrior Acting SSA Commissioner policy wonk

  6. Suzanne T.

    I feel how embarrassing I feel because I’m sick. I would love to work but I can’t. A lot of people would love working, feel good about that. I was proud when I was capable of working. It can only get better I hope, it’s as low as you could be.

  7. Suzanne T.

    I think it’s a crying crime. The people get richer and richer. I and others don’t enough to live off of. You can barely get $10,000 in the year. That’s pitiful and hopefully they will be able enough to live. I appreciate it I have, and I’m sad about my yearly. That’s the only time I felt that way.

  8. The s.

    The increase of inflation is not proportional to social security cost of living adjustment. Is unfortunate the individuals in Washington of all party affiliations are NOT interested in this issue. The are interested in whom is getting elected not the people voting. So to all Washington elected officials please help us the people we need your help NOW not in the future.

  9. donald l.

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    • Pat

      Article would have been more helpful if paragraph 5 had included the percentage rates for Asian and White women, instead of just Black and Latina women.

      Also, the article should have specified at what age one is considered an “older/elder person”.

    • Claudia

      I was scammed by bitcoin my self. I am finding difficult making ends. As long as you are working, they take social security from your check and they’re still taking money before I you get your check. There is no way your average senior citizen can live well, with rent is outrageous, food is high not to mention paying for utilities.

      The elderly like Vets are treated like crap and are “LOW PEOPLE ORDER OF PERSONS”

  10. Albert T.


    • S.D.

      Hi, Albert. Thanks for reading our blog and for your comment. The decision on when to apply for benefits is a personal one. We encourage you to create a personal my Social Security account and review your Social Security Statement. You’ll see how much you’ll get in retirement benefits when you apply at different ages between 62 and 70. For each month you wait to start your benefits, your monthly benefit will be higher—for the rest of your life. In addition to your benefit amount, our Retirement Planner discusses other factors to consider, including life expectancy. The life expectancy for men reaching age 65 on April 1, 2023, is age 84.1. For women reaching age 65 on April 1, 2023, life expectancy is now 86.8. You may want to use our Life Expectancy Calculator to show you the average number of additional years you can expect to live. We hope this helps.

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