Down and Out in Boston: Massachusetts Women Encounter Great Economic Hardship

Although Cambridge and its sisters Boston and Quincy remain economically prosperous and have a combined population of 830,000 people and 430,000 women, women still have a higher poverty rate than men.

Cambridge, the home of Spare Change News, has a population of 105,000 people. The Cambridge household income has almost doubled from $55,000 to $95,000 fueling economic growth, while the national median income level has remained flat. Cambridge has become wealthy, while poverty has grown to well over 10 percent. The U. S. Census recorded the poverty rate for women as 15.7 percent compared to 14.2 percent for men. The disparity in the gender poverty rate represents 1.5 percent. The 2008 Cambridge Public Health Commission Report highlighted that 40 percent of the households were led by a single women. The CPHC report documented that 2,288 single women lived with children compared to 413 men with children. This breaks down to a 6 to 1 ratio of women compared to men with children. Leah Cefab Domestic Violence Liaison for the Cambridge Police Department commented to Erin Baldasssari in the Wicked Local Cambridge on Oct. 22, 2012 that the biggest issue of the economy has been the depletion of resources to help women come out of poverty and domestic violence. She continued that it is difficult for women to get out of a relationship because of financial-child care or job dependency.

Boston, the capital and the largest city in the state, has a population of 625,000 people. The U. S. Census recorded the poverty rate for women as an alarming 20.1 percent compared to 18 percent for men. Suffolk County, the home county to Boston, represents one of the most uneven country’s economically in the nation. In fact the Boston Foundation Indicators Project highlighted that Boston is uneven in terms of the haves and the have-nots, meaning the city has a strong working-professional class and also a struggling low-income class. Of the 13,000 low-income families residing within the city, 85 percent or 11,000 are headed by single-parents. The city has also suffered due to an underperforming public school system, which has a student-base that is primarily low-income. More than two-thirds of the BPS students were from low-income households earning under 130 percent of the federal poverty standard which comes to approximately $20,000. In an earlier article from Dec. 2, 2011, Spare Change News reported that 86 percent of African-American families with children were headed by a single mother, followed by Latino families at 84 percent, white families by 72 percent and Asian families at 50 percent.

Minerva of Metro Boston (pseudonym) spoke to Spare Change News about her economic difficulties during our ongoing recession while selling Spare Change News in Brookline. Minerva represents a 50‘s baby boomer who has been struggling during our recent recession and has been getting by with (SNAP) food stamps and subsidized housing. “I am barely getting by with my food stamps,” she said, pointing out that she has received about $200 a month the last few years.

Just south of Boston, the city of Quincy had a population of 92,200 people in 2011. The U. S. Census recorded the poverty rate for women as 9.9 compared to 8.2 percent for men. The disparity in the gender poverty rate was 1.7 percent.

Having a strong education, knowledge and financial economy within the Route 128 try-city region has not helped women to meet their basic needs of housing, food, and health care. The effect of poverty on women has been very significant in terms of meeting the basic needs of housing, food and health care. The expenditure of rent as a percentage of income reported by the Metro Boston Indicators Project to has increased from 20 percent in 1999 to 25 percent in 2009. In a period of ten years the percentage of the increase in income rose 25 percent. Housing has become a major portion of a women’s budget even without paying for food or health care is seven times the 2011 inflation rate of 3 percent. The Fair Market Rent for a 2 bedroom apartment is $1,444.00 in Boston-Cambridge and Quincy for the 2013 fiscal year.
Meanwhile, Minerva commented on her experience with subsidized housing—the only affordable option for many of these single mothers.

“My housing authority has not been responsive to complaints over the lack of heat and the need to replace the lock on my front door,” said Minerva. “I have called the housing authority without a good response.”

Minerva continued that she has started to make calls to other housing authorities all over the region. She highlighted that she is beginning the process of applying for housing in other municipalities.

In their October 2011 release, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the Boston food index rose 1.8 percent as grocery store prices shot up 1.5 percent and restaurant prices increased 1.8 percent. These prices increased due to several factors which included the drought and warm weather which had affected beef and wheat prices. Additionally Massachusetts gets three fourths of its food from out of state, and any adverse weather conditions affect supermarket prices. Locally expansion of the farmers markets to low-income families via the Bounty Bucks and availability of SNAP (food stamps) helps the community. Adding to higher food prices Julia Keho, Commissioner of the Department of Transitional Assistance, reported to WBUR in November 2011 that SNAP usage in the state has skyrocketed. Over a twelve-month period, from July 2011 through June 2012, the Massachusetts SNAP population grew 6.3 percent and now represents 875,000 people or slightly more than 12 percent of the state population.

“I go to food programs all over the region for what I need,” Minerva said. She pointed out that she has to go food pantries-meals programs to help make up for what she cannot get with food stamps.

—Robert Sondak

Robert Sondak is a vendor and a writer for Spare Change News.

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