Nat’l Women’s Law Center: Women Experiencing Declining Income, Increasing Poverty, and Loss of Private Coverage

Census data released today for 2008 show that growing numbers of women lost private health care coverage, saw their incomes decline, and fell into poverty, according to an analysis by the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC).

The Census data released today are for 2008 and do not reflect the impact of the decline in real wages, dramatic increase in unemployment, and corresponding loss of employer-sponsored health insurance in 2009.

“The Census data show increasing numbers of women are joining the ranks of the uninsured – at great risk to their health and financial security,” said Marcia D. Greenberger, NWLC Co-President.

Compared to 2007, nearly half a million more women lacked coverage – bringing the total number of women without insurance in 2008 to nearly 17.6 million.
This increase in the number of women without coverage stems from the continued erosion of private insurance – primarily through the loss of job-based coverage. The increase would have been even higher if not for growth in public health care coverage such as Medicaid.

“Women’s security and well-being – and that of their families – depends on Congress passing health reform legislation that will guarantee quality, affordable comprehensive health care for us all,” Greenberger said.

The data show that poverty and extreme poverty increased for women, children, and men. The number of women living in poverty increased by 800,000 since 2007 to a total of 15.2 million in 2008.

“Women’s poverty was already higher than men’s, so this increase should be a wake up call to policy makers to take swift action,” stated Nancy Duff Campbell, NWLC Co-President.

“The Economic Recovery Act is providing desperately needed help to many families and communities, but we need to do more to combat poverty, especially with growing unemployment rates,” Campbell said. “For example, it’s critical that Congress acts to extend unemployment benefits by the end of the year to over 1 million workers who will otherwise lose this critical help. The states, too, need to take advantage of the federal funds already available.”

NWLC’s analysis of the Census data finds:

The number of women, men and children with employer-sponsored health insurance (ESI) continued to decline. The overall number of people without health insurance rose to 46.3 million in 2008—a number that would have been even more pronounced if not for gains in public health insurance coverage.

  • The number of women without health insurance increased by nearly half a million in 2008. The uninsurance rate among women was statistically unchanged since 2007, with 15% of all women (more than one in seven) lacking coverage.

  • Rates of private health coverage continued to decline. For example, the percentage of women with private ESI declined from 58.5%  in 2007 to 57.8% in 2008 – representing a decrease of nearly a quarter of a million women.
    Gains in public health insurance offset the decline in private coverage rates among women. In particular, the proportion of women with Medicaid coverage rose from 9.8% in 2007 to 10.4% in 2008. Nearly 850,000 additional women had coverage through this essential program in 2008.

  • Rates of uninsurance among children continued to decline from 11% in 1007 to under 10% in 2008. This was primarily due to the continued success of public health insurance programs like Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). In 2008, one in three children (33%) had public coverage, representing an increase of 1.7 million since 2007.


Poverty – and extreme poverty – increased significantly between 2007 and 2008 for women, children and men.

  • The number of women living in poverty rose to 15.2 million in 2008 from 14.4 million in 2007.  The number of children living in poverty rose to 14.1 million from 13.3 million and the number of men living in poverty rose to 10.6 million from 9.5 million.

  • Women’s poverty rate rose to 13% in 2008 from 12.5% in 2007.  The poverty rate among Hispanic women increased significantly – to 22.3% in 2008 from 20.8% in 2007 – while the poverty rate was statistically unchanged from 2007 among both White and Black women, at 9.4% and 23.3% respectively.

  • The child poverty rate rose to 19% in 2008 from 18% in 2007. The poverty rate for married-couple families with children rose significantly, to 7.5% in 2008 from 6.7% in 2007. 

  • The poverty rate for female-headed families with children was much higher than that for married couples, at 37.2% in 2008, but was statistically unchanged since 2007.

  • Men’s poverty rate increased to 9.6% in 2008 from 8.8% in 2007.
    The poverty rate for men increased at a faster rate than that of women or children between 2007 and 2008, but the poverty rate for women (13%) and children (19%) continues to be substantially higher than the poverty rate for men (9.6%).

  • The percentage of women and children living in extreme poverty – less than half of the federal poverty level – increased significantly.  The extreme poverty rate among women increased to 5.5% from 5.1%.  Among children, the extreme poverty rate increased to 8.5% from 7.8%. Among men, the extreme poverty rate increased to 4% from 3.5%.

Real median earnings declined for women and men in 2008 and the wage gap was 77%, statistically unchanged from 2007.

  • Median earnings for women working full time, year round, were $35,745 in 2008, down from $36,451 (adjusted for inflation) in 2007. 

  • Median earnings for full-time, year-round male workers were $46,367 in 2008, down from $46,846 (adjusted for inflation) in 2007.

  • Women working full time, year round in 2008 earned 77% of what comparable men earned – statistically unchanged from 2007.

  • Median earnings for White, non-Hispanic women working full-time, year round were $37,389 in 2008, 73% of the earnings of White, non-Hispanic men ($51,244). 

  • Median earnings for Black women working full-time, year round were $31,489, 61.4% of the earnings of White, non-Hispanic men. 

  • Median earnings of Hispanic women working full-time, year-round were $26,846, 52.4% of the earnings of White, non-Hispanic men.

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