Women in the U.S. disproportionately experience hunger and poverty compared to American men.
About 10 million households with children in the U.S. are headed by a single mother, and 26.6 percent of these families live below the poverty line, compared to 14.9 percent of single fathers. According to USDA’s most recent report, single-parent, female-headed households are also significantly more likely to be food-insecure than single-parent, male-headed households (31.6 to 21.7 percent).
Here are three ways advocates and policymakers can reduce food insecurity among women.
Strengthen federal nutrition programs. Females account for almost two-thirds of all adult and senior participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). While SNAP is critical to low-income women looking to stretch their food dollars, the monthly benefit often falls short.
Researchers, advocates, and emergency food providers have been praising SNAP but saying that SNAP benefits are inadequate for years, and in 2013, the prestigious Institute of Medicine, after a thorough study, outlined the factors that explain why the SNAP allotment is not enough to get most families through the month with a minimally adequate diet. Policymakers should make increasing the monthly SNAP benefit a priority so that more women can be made food-secure and lifted out of poverty.
Congress should also improve funding for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) to ensure that all eligible women have access to the program. The latest USDA data show the WIC program reaches only 53 percent of eligible people — only 46 percent of eligible pregnant women. Increased funds would eliminate participant-limiting strategies, in order to provide low-income mothers healthy food, nutrition education, and access to health care.
Close the wage gap. On average, white women in full-time, year-round jobs earn 80 cents for every dollar paid to men. For women of color, the divide is even wider. According to the National Partnership for Women and Families, African-American women are paid 63 cents and Latinas are paid just 57 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men. The nation’s economic strength and growth must be shared equitably. Doing so will most certainly reduce food insecurity.
Current figures for a year’s worth of wage disparities equal approximately 78 weeks of food lost for a woman’s family.
Support paid leave policies. Women comprise 47 percent of the American workforce, and mothers are the sole or primary breadwinners in half of all families with children under 18, but paid leave for women who work outside of the home is woefully inadequate. Women should not fear endangering their economic security to care for loved ones or themselves.
Research demonstrates food-insecure women are at higher risk for obesity and subsequent health issues. Low-income, food-insecure households on average are more vulnerable to poor nutrition and health challenges, which require more medical care than their higher-income, food-secure counterparts. Paid leave policies, from maternity leave to sick leave, can provide women and their children support to access the appropriate resources and care they need to lead healthy lives.
Advocates must continue to fight for holistic, inclusive approaches in ending hunger and poverty in order to help all Americans and create a healthier, more equitable society.