Highlights from The Women’s Foundation’s Analysis of 2015 Poverty Data

Our analysis of the newly released data from the American Community Survey found women’s poverty rates during 2015 continue to be substantially above the poverty rates for men; that among women, single women with children and women of color are more likely to live below the poverty threshold; and that poverty rates vary considerably across jurisdictions. The Washington Region faces some of the largest disparities in women’s poverty in the United States.


  • Poverty rates have fluctuated with the economy, but no substantial long-term progress has been made across the region overall or in any particular jurisdiction.
  • The percent of women and girls living in poverty in our region decreased in every jurisdiction during 2015 except in Montgomery County. Overall, the poverty rate for women and girls in the region went from 10.6 percent in 2014 to 10 percent last year.
  • The poverty rate for men and boys in 2015, 8.1 percent, also diminished from 8.3 percent in 2014.
  • Women’s poverty rate in the District of Columbia (18.4 percent) is by far the highest poverty rate for women and girls among the jurisdictions that comprise the Washington region.
  • Prince George’s County (10.4 percent) and the City of Alexandria (9.7 percent) have the highest poverty rates for women after the District of Columbia. Women living in Fairfax County (6.7 percent) are the least likely to be poor.
  • Women’s poverty has been steadily increasing in Montgomery County for most of the past decade. With the exception of 2011, women’s poverty has increased year after year, while men’s poverty has decreased several times since 2010.
  • Female-headed households with children reached a poverty rate of 26.6 percent while only 3.2 percent of married-couple families in a comparable group lived below poverty across the region. In the District of Columbia the poverty rate for female-headed households was 40.3 percent. The lowest rate was 14.2 percent in Arlington County.
  • Of families with children living in poverty in the Washington Region, 66.8 percent were headed by single women. The jurisdictions with the largest share of poor families headed by single women were the District of Columbia (82.5 percent) and Alexandria (75.4 percent).
  • About 15.1 percent of Black women and 14.7 percent of Latinas in the region lived below the poverty level, a considerably higher rate than the 4.9 percent for White, non-Hispanic women.
  • The District of Columbia has the largest concentration of Black women in poverty (27.9 percent) while Prince George’s County has the largest concentration of White (7.8 percent) and Latina women in poverty (19.7 percent).

The Women’s Foundation is committed to building pathways out of poverty for women and girls across our region. As we work to achieve our mission, we recognize the value of having the most updated data on the status of women and girls in our community at our fingertips. We constantly analyze and disaggregate survey data to shed light on the issues that impact the program areas we direct our grant investments. We hope this knowledge becomes a valuable resource to our Grantee Partners and organizations that share our mission to help support a woman’s journey to economic security.


A Look at the 2013 Poverty Data For Our Region

Last month, the U.S. Census Bureau released new data that gives us a snapshot of what poverty was like in 2013 in the Washington region. The data shows that poverty rates have slightly increased from 2012 and that women continue to be more likely than men to experience economic insecurity. This means they can barely afford paying their basic necessities such as food, housing, health insurance, and transportation. Roughly 10 percent, or almost 210,000 women and girls, in our region lived in poverty, compared with 159,700 men and boys, or 8 percent. Things were worst for families headed by single mothers—almost a quarter were poor— and for women of color—about 14 percent of Latinas and 16 of percent of African-American women struggled with poverty compared with only 6 percent of White women.

Poverty Data chart

There are many reasons why families fall below the poverty threshold, including unemployment, the persistent gender wage gap, barriers to accessing education and discrimination. But one of the key factors is low-quality and low-income jobs. Many women in our region are working more than full-time at poverty-level wages with little to no benefits. That means, for example, supporting a family of four with less than $24,000  last year.  In a region like ours, where costs of housing, food and transportation are among the highest in the nation, $24,000 is not nearly enough to make a living. According to the Economic Security Index calculated by Wider Opportunities for Women, a family of four composed of two workers, an infant and a school child need an approximate annual income of $117,880 in the District of Columbia and $103,960 in Prince George’s County, for example, to meet their basic needs without receiving any public or private assistance.

The newly released data highlights the urgency of the work we are doing at The Women’s Foundation. In collaboration with our Grantee Partners we are helping women access basic education, enroll in workforce development programs, access financial education programs and find high-quality and affordable early care and education for their children. Such efforts help build their economic security and give them the opportunity to achieve their goals. Securing stable employment with living wages can alleviate the burden of living pay-check to pay-check and the constant worrying about how to make ends meet and care for their families, while allowing them to save and plan for a bright future.

Based on the stories we hear from our Grantee Partners and learn from our evaluation efforts we know we are impacting women’s lives. Maya was enrolled in one of YearUp’s workforce development programs. The odds were against her. She was living in a low-cost housing complex for mothers with many rules that made her participation in the program more challenging. She had to miss several days to take care of her sick child and money was always a concern for her, but she pushed through these obstacles and exceled at her classes and job internship. Upon graduation from the program she secured a full-time job with benefits and a salary that lifted her and her son out of poverty and changed the trajectory of their lives.

As we continue supporting the work of our Grantee Partners many more lives and families like Maya’s will be impacted. In the meantime, the updated poverty numbers are an important reminder that the work we do together is crucial to our community. We still have a long way to go before we realize a future where all women are economically secure.


When Data Tells a Local Woman’s Story

CFED asset scorecard coverWorking in the nonprofit sector and philanthropy, it helps to be a bit of a data nerd.  Increasingly, tracking, crunching, and assessing data is not just a “nice to do” but a “must do.”  At The Women’s Foundation, we work hard to make sure we’re investing in strategies that are data-driven and evidence-based.

For those who are not data nerds, it helps when data tells a real story of a woman’s life.  That’s why I do a happy dance when CFED launches its annual “Assets & Opportunity” scorecard.  The scorecard is user-friendly and includes data beyond financial assets, such as education, health and jobs.

So, what does the 2014 scorecard tell us about the lives of women and families in the Washington region[i]?  Here are a few things that struck a chord for me:

  • DC and Maryland have stronger asset building policies, and stronger outcomes for families.  Virginia has weaker policies, and weaker outcomes for families.  For example, DC and Maryland have eliminated “asset tests” for SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps) that discourage recipients from building the savings that could otherwise help them move toward self-sufficiency.
  • Maryland has the highest adoption of asset building policies in the US – but it’s still only 60% of what could be adopted.
  • DC has the worst ratio of homeownership rates in the US, comparing the rate between two-parent (67.7%) and one-parent households (29.2%).  This, to me, says a lot about the financial status of one-parent households in the District, and the importance of investing in asset building for the low-income women we aim to serve.

When the scorecard comes out, I also always look at the “liquid asset poverty rate.”  It’s a jargon-y term for the savings on hand (cash and other accounts that can be liquidated quickly) to help individuals and families in the event of a crisis, like a job loss or medical emergency.  What I’m always shocked to think about is that these assets are what allow someone to “subsist at the poverty level for three months in the absence of income.”  We’re talking about the ability to simply subsist at poverty levels, which is awfully close to slipping below, and is certainly not enough to get by in our region.

  • In Virginia, 51.8% of single female-headed households live in liquid asset poverty.
    If it’s a two-parent household, this rate drops to 27.5%.
  • In Maryland, 48.4% of single female-headed households live in liquid asset poverty.
    If it’s a two-parent household, this rate drops to 21.4%.

These numbers are consistent – or in some cases even lower – than national rates, but they are nevertheless striking.  If half of female-headed households are living in liquid asset poverty – meaning they don’t have the savings to cover three months of basic expenses, let alone the savings to plan for the future – then we have a lot of work to do.

I encourage you to dig deep into the data.  Find out how it speaks to you.

Lauren Stillwell is a program officer at Washington Area Women’s Foundation.

[i] Washington Area Women’s Foundation’s geographic focus includes the District of Columbia; Montgomery County and Prince George’s Counties in Maryland; Arlington and Fairfax Counties, and the city of Alexandria, in Virginia.  Based on available scorecard information, this post broadly discusses state-level information for Maryland and Virginia. There was insufficient data available in many cases for the District.