The number of women living below the poverty line in Washington County from 2013 to 2017 was almost double the number of men.
That isn’t just a trend seen just in Washington, but also Greene, Allegheny, Fayette, Beaver and Westmoreland counties, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. It’s also seen across Pennsylvania.
In 2017, 13.1% of the population in Pennsylvania lived in poverty – 1.62 million out of 12.4 million people. While it is higher than the national average of 12.3%, women are leading in poverty throughout the state. The largest demographic is women between the ages of 25-34, with 136,754 women. There were 88,611 men in that category.
Pennsylvania Women Work is a nonprofit organization aiming to help Pennsylvania women find employment that pays family-sustaining wages. CEO/Executive Director Julie Marx-Lally said there are so many women struggling because of the wage gap, lack of affordable health care, violence and abuse from partners, and single mothers struggling with low-income jobs.
In Pennsylvania, full-time male employees made 1.34 times more than female employees in 2017.
“Why we see so many women in poverty is the wage gap,” Marx-Lally said. “Women just don’t make as much as men in this society, and that is what forces them into poverty. The next thing that can lead someone into poverty is being a single mother.”
Marx-Lally said women who find themselves in poverty find it difficult to get out of poverty because of fear of losing government assistance programs.
“Once they’re getting help from low-income housing, or food, they’re scared to earn even a dollar or two more because they might not qualify for certain assistance programs,” Marx-Lally said. “It’s not because they’re lazy, not at all, it’s because they’re afraid of making more money because a dollar or two isn’t going to raise them out of poverty, but it will cut them off from programs that help put food on the table for their family.”
Marx-Lally said one factor that can lead to single mothers having to quit their jobs is the high cost for child care, so some are forced to stay home to take care of their children.
“It really happens. Sometimes single moms can’t afford the high cost for child care so they have to quit their job, stay home to watch the children or try to get child care subsidies, and those are hard to get,” Marx-Lally said. “And then when they have to do that for their kids, they’re forced into quitting their job and then it’s like a repeating cycle they can’t get out of.”
In Washington County, the poverty level is 9.69%, or 19,600 out of the 203,000 residents.
More women are applying for low-income housing than men in Washington, according to Washington County Housing Authority Executive Director Stephen K. Hall. Currently on the Section 8 and public housing waiting lists there are 752 applicants, 463 women and 289 men.
“We always see more women than men,” Hall said. “That’s 62% of the applicants who are women, and that’s pretty usual for around here. We usually see a lot more elderly women applying.”
City Mission, a homeless shelter for men, women and children in Washington, currently has a waiting list for 34 families and 70 women. Communications Manager Gary Porter said that number continues to increase.
“Normally during the summer we see our waiting list go down because it’s not cold outside, but this year it’s actually increased,” Porter said. “The need keeps increasing. We get calls every day from women, it just keeps growing. We haven’t abandoned the women that are on our waiting list. We continue to refer them to other programs and continue to keep in contact with them.”
City Mission provides free child care so female residents can go to work knowing their child is OK at the shelter.
“It’s like a catch 22. Single women have to work but then child care is so expensive it makes them have to quit the job to stay with the kid,” Porter said. “We felt like the biggest way of supporting these women was to provide the free child care so they can work.”
The median household income for Washington County was $59,309 in 2017. The average male salary was $67,039 – $17,537 more than the average female salary of $49,502. Those numbers aren’t far off from the Pennsylvania average income of $59,195.
In Greene County, the poverty level is 14.8% – 2.5% higher than the national average – or 5,010 people out of 33,800 people. The largest demographic living in poverty are females from the ages of 25-24; 523 women compared to 173 men in 2017.
There were only two instances in Greene County in which there were more men in poverty than women: in 2013, there were more men from the ages 55-64, and in 2016 men between the ages of 45-54 were higher than women.
For residents in Greene County looking for help with employment, the Washington Greene County Job Training Agency, Southwest Training Services and PA CareerLink can be useful resources.
Pennsylvania Women Work has several programs to help women get back into the workforce in Washington County. Marx-Lally said these programs are meant to give women the confidence to overcome problems they are facing.
“Most of the time the women that come to us don’t have the confidence they need to get a job, and we help prepare them for interviews, applying for jobs, everything that they would need to get a job, we can help them achieve it,” Marx-Lally said.
A family of four making under $25,750 is considered in poverty, according to the 2019 U.S. Federal Poverty Guideline. A single person making under $12,490 is considered living in poverty.