Women, families hurt most by recession, budget cuts

Every once in a while a report comes out that’s a game-changer, it makes you look at an issue in a different way . . . or at least it offers the opportunity to do so.

Falling Behind: The Impact of the Great Recession and the Budget Crisis on California’s Women and their Families is such a report, released Wednesday by the California Budget Project (CBP), along with the study’s funder, the Women’s Foundation of California.

CBP compiled truckloads of data to reveal the disproportionate impacts that the recession and California’s budget wars have had on women and their families.

The overall take-away is that when you focus on people, not just the social safety net programs, a disturbing pattern emerges.

Consider these key findings from Falling Behind:

Employment Rate

From November 2010 to November 2011, women’s employment rate in California declined by 1.2 percentage points to 49.5 percent, while men’s employment rate held at 62.6 percent.

In California and nationally, men experienced greater job losses at the onset of the recession, but appear to be recovering more quickly, while women’s re-entry into the workplace is lagging behind.

Average Hours Worked by Single Mothers

Mothers raising children without a spouse saw their employment rate decrease by a whopping 10.4 percentage points, from 69.2 percent in 2007 to 58.8 percent in 2010.

This dramatic decrease leaves single moms with their lowest employment rate since 1996.

Single mothers who worked also saw a decrease in the number of hours they were employed each week, decreasing from an average of 38.6 hours in 2006 to 36.6 hours per week in 2010 — the largest decline in at least 20 years.

Income and Poverty Rates

Family income (adjusted for inflation) for families headed by single mothers decreased from 2006 to 2010 by 8.7 percent — from $29,247 to $26,711.

During the same period, the percent of families headed by a single mother living below the federal poverty level (FPL) increased 3.7 percentage points from 31.7 to 35.4 percent, compared to an increase of 2.3 percentage points for married-couple families.

Talk about dramatic differences: In 2010, more than a third of families headed by single mothers lived in poverty, compared to just over 10 percent (10.6) of married, two-parent families.

Older Women

While women ages 55 to 69 saw a minor increase of .8 percent in their employment rate from 2006 to 2010, the poverty rate for California women 65 or older was 3.3 percentage points higher than that of their male counterparts in 2010 (it was 2.6 percentage points higher in 2006).

Cuts to Social Safety Net Programs

Welfare. About three-quarters of the adults in the state’s welfare program, known as CalWORKs, are women. Eighty percent of all recipients are children. From Fiscal Year 2008-09 to FY 2011-12, CalWORKs was cut by $3.3 billion, or about $3,000 for each of the 1.1 children served.

Child Care. Child care is essential for parents, and particularly single parents, to find and keep a job, but state child care and preschool programs were cut $1.5 billion from FY 2009-10 to FY 2011-12. In addition, income levels that establish eligibility for subsidized child care were reduced.

Taken together, these changes are expected to reduce services for at least 35,000 children in FY 2011-12.

And there’s a ripple effect. Cuts to child care programs mean that child care workers, mostly women, lose their jobs.

Medi-Cal. From FY 2008-09 to FY 2011-12, $2.4 billion was cut from Medi-Cal, the state’s version of Medicaid that provides health services for low-income families. About two-thirds of Medi-Cal adult recipients are women.

SSI/SSP and IHSS. About half of the 1.3 million low-income senior recipients on Supplemental Security Income/State Supplementary Payment (SSI-SSP) are women, which was cut by $4.6 billion between FY 2008-09 and FY 2011-12, about $3600 per recipient.

Nearly two-thirds of the 439,000 recipients receiving In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) are women and girls. Hours of support were cut 3.6 percent in 2010, with a ripple effect of reducing earned income for the care providers.

At a legislative hearing on the report held Wednesday afternoon, Senator Loni Hancock reflected that the “statistics show us that women and children first doesn’t mean into the lifeboats, it means over the side….we need to look at ways of changing that.”

We also need a better understanding of how women of color, who historically have higher rates of poverty, were impacted by the recession and budget cuts.

Nevertheless, the CBP report is a game-changer.

By focusing our attention on people, not just programs, we see how the combined impacts of the Great Recession and budgets cuts have disproportionately affected women and their families.

And they are falling behind.

Kate Karpilow is executive director of the California Center for Research on Women and Families.

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