Building an Economy that Works for Everyone

Paying an Unfair Price: The Financial Penalty for LGBT Women in America

Image credit: Center for American Progress

Image credit: Center for American Progress

New research illustrates why women in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community are at higher risk of for poverty and economic insecurity: discrimination and stigma, compounded by the struggles faced by all women in their jobs, provision of health care, and family support.

Women who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender (LGBT) have the same concerns as other women. They worry about finding and keeping good jobs, saving for the future, taking care of their children and families, and making ends meet. But LGBT women face added challenges and worries not just because of their gender, but also because of who they are and whom they love.

Discrimination and stigma, combined with the struggles faced by all women, make LGBT women and their families especially vulnerable. Anti-LGBT laws, together with inequitable and outdated policies, mean that LGBT women are forced to pay an unfair price in reduced incomes and added costs for everything from healthcare to housing. Making matters worse, the burden falls most acutely on those who can least afford it: LGBT women raising children, older LGBT women, LGBT women of color, LGBT immigrants, and those LGBT women and families who are already living near or below the poverty line.

“Even at a time when the public is showing increased understanding and acceptance of LGBT people and their relationships, the unique concerns and struggles of LGBT women are largely absent in the national conversation,” said Laura E. Durso, Director of the LGBT Research and Communications Project at the Center for American Progress.

Key findings from the report, Paying an Unfair Price: The Financial Penalty for LGBT Women in America, include:

1) LGBT women are more likely to live in poverty.

  • Almost 30 percent of bisexual women and 23 percent of lesbian women live in poverty compared to 21 percent of heterosexual women. Only 29 percent of LGBT women say that they are thriving financially compared with 39 percent of non-LGBT women. Transgender women are nearly four times more likely to have annual incomes of $10,000 or less compared to the general population.
  • LGBT women of color, older LGBT women, and LGBT women raising children are particularly vulnerable. African American and Latina women in same-sex couples are three and two times more likely, respectively, to be poor than white women in same-sex couples. Older women, ages 65 and above, in same-sex couples have nearly twice the poverty rate of older, married opposite-sex couples. Fifteen percent of female same-sex couples raising children are in poverty compared with 9 percent of married opposite-sex couples with children.
Image credit: Center for American Progress

Image credit: Center for American Progress

2) LGBT women confront burdens from stigma and discrimination.

The economic disparities experienced by LGBT women result from the stigma, the discrimination, and the legal disadvantages they experience because they are women and because they are LGBT. The report spotlights how LGBT women face unique challenges in three major areas that dramatically increase economic insecurity and poverty rates:

  • LGBT women struggle to find and keep good jobs. LGBT women face discrimination when looking for work and while on the job. The result is lower pay and fewer opportunities to advance. Workplaces also may be unwelcoming, hostile, or even physically unsafe. Transgender women face added challenges because they often cannot obtain accurate identity documents necessary for work.
  • LGBT women face challenges to good health that affect economic security. Health care can be more costly for LGBT women because of discriminatory laws, discrimination by providers, insurance exclusions for transgender people, and inadequate reproductive health coverage. The result is that LGBT women are at greater risk for health problems that can affect quality of life and threaten their ability to work.
  • Lack of support for LGBT women and their families results in higher costs. In many states, LGBT women still are not able to legally marry their partner or establish legal ties to their children. This means LGBT women may not be able to access affordable health insurance, safety net programs meant to keep families out of poverty, and job-protected leave to care for a sick partner. What’s more, similar to all women in the United States, LGBT women often are forced by law to make difficult and costly choices that can threaten their family’s economic security. The United States, for example, is the only developed country that does not offer paid parental leave.
Image source: Center for American Progress

Image source: Center for American Progress

Policy Solutions

To ensure all women have a fair shot at building economic security for themselves and their families, we need to persistently challenge discriminatory laws and practices in healthcare, the workplace and schools. We also need to advance progressive policy solutions that change the economic landscape for all working families:

  • Healthcare for All: Despite improvements from the Affordable Care Act, LGBT women have much higher rates of being uninsured because of a variety of factors. LGBT women often use assisted reproductive technology in the process of building their families, which is very expensive without proper access to healthcare. LGBT families are often not recognized by workplaces, prohibiting them from using the “spousal insurance access” heterosexual families can use. Additionally, Transgender women’s transition-related care is most often paid for out of pocket, putting Transgender women, who are already disproportionately poor, at an unfair disadvantage. Health care is a human right and should be universally and equitably available to all.
  • Increased minimum wage: Women are more likely to work in low-wage jobs and two-female households are much more likely to live below the poverty line than heterosexual women in relationships with men. We need to make sure that no one who works for a living is forced to live in poverty.
  • Equal Pay Opportunity Act: Women earn less than men across age, race and occupation groups – but often aren’t aware of it. We need to pass the EPOA to strengthen existing wage discrimination legislation and increase paycheck transparency. The bill has recently passed the Washington State House and is expected to be heard in the Senate in March 2015.
  • Paid family leave: Because LGBT families are often not recognized as “legitimate”, they do not qualify for traditional parental leave policies (in the very few states and cities in the U.S. that have adopted paid family leave.) Also, because LGBT women often incur higher costs for healthcare and family planning services, they are even less likely to be able to afford to stay home with their new infants, putting their jobs – and therefore their financial security – at risk, during a time when they need them most. Transgender women are less likely to be granted personal medical leave for transition-related care as well. Paid leave is crucial for all women – and our paid family leave policies must use inclusive language of all families and all children, whether they are biological or adopted.

The Paying an Unfair Price: The Financial Penalty for LGBT Women in America report was created in partnership with 9to5, A Better Balance, Center for Community Change, Center for Popular Democracy, Family Values @ Work, Forward Together, Legal Momentum, National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, National Association of Social Workers, National Center for Transgender Equality, National Education Association, National LGBTQ Task Force, National Partnership for Women & Families, National Women’s Law Center, Re:Gender, Transgender Law Center, and UltraViolet.

By Sam Hatzenbeler, MPHc

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