Poverty Underscores Need for Reform


by Sarah Stoesz
President
Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota Action Fund

As a safety net provider to some of the region’s most economically vulnerable women and families, I’m always looking for ways to raise awareness of the need for affordable, accessible health care. So when the U.S. Census Bureau released its annual poverty numbers, it presented a natural opportunity to weigh in on the inequities facing many of the women Planned Parenthood serves.

The numbers from the report were grim.

Right here in Minnesota, incomes are dropping and poverty rates are increasing. The Pioneer Press’s Jeremy Olson writes: "Household median income in the state dropped from $59,900 in the two-year period ending in 2006 to $57,600 in the two-year period ending in 2008"; meanwhile, the state’s poverty rate "increased from 8.1 percent to 9.6 percent during those same periods."

But the picture appears to be worse than the data alone suggests. The Center for American Progress explains that while these numbers are alarming, they may not be a fully accurate depiction of the depth of poverty in Minnesota and across the U.S. Why? The numbers were compiled in 2008 and don’t reflect the current slump in the economy. Additionally, unemployment has gone up, workers are staying unemployed longer and food stamp requests are growing.

Read the entire story here.

Additionally, many experts say that the federal poverty guidelines are woefully out of date, with measures that have not been adjusted for more than forty years and based solely on food costs. So the true scope of poverty in the U.S. is likely much more profound than even the Census report shows.

Planned Parenthood knows firsthand the effect the economic downturn and job loss have had on women across our region. We see women who have lost jobs and the insurance coverage that they rely upon putting off much- needed health care, women who are worried about being laid off opting for longer-term birth control and scrimping to afford the basic health care that many of us take for granted.

Consider this:

  • In 2007, one-quarter (25%) of women reported delaying or skipping health care because of cost.
  • Uninsured women are at least two times more likely than insured women to not fill a prescription due to cost.
  • Uninsured women are more than twice as likely as those with insurance to have not received a pap test in the last year.


The plain truth is that economic status should not determine a woman’s health or her fate. The disparities experienced by uninsured women are intolerable.

The Census report highlights the need for meaningful health care reform. As Congress prepares to tackle the issue, they must address the needs of women. True health care reform must include access to affordable health care services for all women, including comprehensive reproductive health care, regardless of income. It must include coverage for basic, preventive health care and protections for trusted safety net providers on whom women depend for their care, particularly given the shortage of primary care providers in rural communities.

Health care reform can help level the playing field for women who have been overlooked for too long. Simply put, women must not be left out of the most important public policy discussion of a generation. As a leading provider of health care for women and families, we are committed to making certain their voices are heard.

All women must have access to the health care they need to build healthier, brighter futures regardless of the ability to pay. It’s a core principal that defines Planned Parenthood and drives our work in communities across the region. And it’s a conversation we intend to continue during what may be the most important public policy discussion of our time.

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