The feminization of poverty is seen in New Brunswick. The Common Front for Social Justice is marking International Women’s Day, Saturday, March 8, by revealing how New Brunswickers in the paid workforce, on social assistance and on pensions are disproportionately women.
First, women are overrepresented among the close to one in seven citizens who struggle daily with poverty in our province. Almost a third of unattached women and single-parent, one-child households (the majority headed by women) are poor.
Second, while more women than men are employed in New Brunswick , women fill close to two-thirds of all minimum wage jobs; this significantly impacts their quality of life and well-being. Women employed as home support workers, crisis interveners at transition houses, child care workers and group home workers are fighting for pay equity. Many New Brunswick women need to work more than one job in order to make ends meet (6.5% of women and 4.4% of men in 2013).
Third, many women choose part-time, seasonal, contract or casual jobs as they are required to juggle domestic responsibilities. With low pay and little job security, fewer opportunities for advancement, and often no health benefits, women are vulnerable workers. Lack of affordable childcare and flex-time and caregiver leave further limits their earning power. They often have too few hours to qualify for Employment Insurance.
Fourth, women raising children on low-income earnings or social assistance struggle to pay for rent, heat and electricity. Their low income leaves little left for food, clothing, transportation, school supplies, and other essentials. The 2012 annual social assistance income for a single-parent, one-child household in New Brunswick was $16,460 or 81.6% of the poverty line.
Fifth, women’s lower earning power means that they are more likely to join the ranks of the working poor (especially if they have children and then become separated, divorced, or widowed) and that they are less able to save for their retirement and more likely to be poor as seniors. The fear of falling into poverty traps many in abusive relationships.
Finally, women’s lifelong diminished earnings impact their pension incomes when they are older. About half of women retirees in New Brunswick received the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) in 2011. If they are single, they receive a maximum annual amount of $15,592.80 from Old Age Pension and the GIS, an amount also below the poverty line.
Eradicating poverty requires a comprehensive approach that considers how women’s lifelong economic security is undermined by government policy. On International Women’s Day 2014, women will be celebrating some victories. Also, however, they will be looking at the upcoming provincial election and asking political leaders what they will do to improve the situation for them and their daughters.
For more information, read the Common Front for Social Justice’s report, A snapshot of women and poverty in New Brunswick in 2014.
Linda McCaustlin is a co-chair of the Common Front for Social Justice.