A report being released today found that lesbian, gay and bisexual Americans struggle with poverty just as much as, if not more than, heterosexuals.
The Williams Institute’s “Poverty in the Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Community” revealed that all factions of the LGB community face financial hardships, with lesbians and African Americans experiencing poverty at much higher rates than other communities.
The U.S. Census Bureau analyzes rates of poverty along numerous lines, such as race, age and sex, but doesn’t include statistics about the LGB community, one of the main motivating factors for the Williams Institute, which conducts research on an array of LGBT issues.
Researchers gathered information from the 2000 U.S. Census, the 2002 National Survey of Family Growth and the 2003 and 2005 California Health Interview Surveys to analyze LGB poverty, using the federal poverty standard as a guide.
The study found that, among heterosexual and LGB men and women age 18-44, women — in particular those who identify as lesbian or bisexual — experience much higher poverty rates than males.
The study found that approximately 24 percent of lesbians and bisexual women are poor, while 19 percent of heterosexual women experience poverty. About 15 percent of gay and bisexual men fall below the poverty line, compared to 13 percent of heterosexual males.
Lesbian couples also face poverty at a higher rate than heterosexual married couples or gay-male couples, with 6.9 percent of lesbian couples falling below the poverty line, compared with 5.4 percent of opposite-sex couples and 4 percent of gay-male couples.
Similar proportions of same-sex female couples and heterosexual married couples are considered low-income — having an income that is 200 percent or less than the federal-poverty line — with 17.7 percent of married couples and 17.4 percent of lesbian and bisexual female couples falling into this category. About 11 percent of gay-male couples are low-income.
When other household members and children are included, the number of low-income same-sex female couples jumps to 22.2 percent, while 20.9 percent of married opposite-sex couples and 14.2 percent of gay-male couples would be considered low-income.
M.V. Lee Badgett, a Williams Institute researcher who worked on the study, said several factors could be influencing the higher rates of poverty among lesbians.
“The first is gender; two, women’s incomes are on average lower than two males or a male and a female added together, so I think that’s a big piece out of it,” Badgett said. “And the other reasons are a little more speculative, such as the possibility of being hurt by not having access to marriage, being vulnerable to employment discrimination, the possibility of losing a job or not getting health insurance for your family.”
There were also stark differences along racial lines.
About 21.1 percent of African-American same-sex female couples are living in poverty, compared to 14.4 percent of gay-male African-American couples and 9.3 percent of African Americans in opposite-sex marriages.
Approximately 4.3 percent of same-sex female couples who identify as Caucasian are considered poor, while 4.1 percent of white, married opposite-sex couples and 2.7 of white gay-male couples experience poverty.
The study also found that children of same-sex couples are twice as likely as children of heterosexual married couples to live in poverty. About one in five children under the age of 18 living in a same-sex household is poor, while one in 10 children living in homes led by opposite-sex married couples faces poverty.
Badgett said the report can be used as an effective resource to dispel the stereotypical myth that the LGB community is a wealthy, stabilized one.
“Part of this was just about further education of the public and even the gay community itself about who’s really part of this community; we’re not an affluent, elite group of people who don’t need protection from discrimination or don’t need legal status like marriage,” she said.
She added the results of the study are particularly significant in light of the current economic conditions.
“There’s an assumption that there are no gay people in food pantries or welfare offices or unemployment offices, but that’s simply wrong,” Badgett said. “It’s hard enough for people to go out and seek assistance, and it’s even harder if they feel like they’re going to be treated differently.”